• Happy National Telephone Day! 🔔☎️📱📶

Is it time for an electric bilge pump?

Joined
Oct 9, 2016
Messages
98
Reaction score
77
Location
Woonsocket, RI
I was back with the kayakers yesterday to paddle a short, fun river in north central CT – the Scantic. The Scantic arises near Springfield, MA and flows southwest into CT to join the Connecticut River. We would be running the 5-mile section from Somers to Hazardville that is the site of the annual Scantic Spring Splash downriver race.

With all the rain this week the river was at a nice level - Jo-Ann described it as “sporty”. We had 9 boats – 8 kayaks and 1 canoe – what else is new. There are 4 class II+ (maybe class III at this level) rapids - Trestle, Stokers, Chimney and Staircase.

collage.jpg

I made it through all the rapids fine, but filled up my boat running the bottom drop at Chimney. I pulled into the eddy, but I didn’t have my bailer and there wasn’t anyplace to get out to empty my boat, so I pulled back out into the current to find a place downstream. Unfortunately, with a boat full of water I flipped in the small drop – second swim of the year for me.

Every time this happens, I think it is time to put in an electric bilge pump. Then I think of the weight, the work of putting it in, and how many times I’ll actually need it. If I was paddling bigger water or long rapids it would be one thing, but maybe I should just remember to bring my bailer.

Has anyone around here sprung for a pump? How often do you actually put it in the boat?

Few more pictures here:
 
I added one to my Spanish fly, after holding out for a few years. With thr LiFePo battery that lasts a weekend, it’s only 3lb for the whole kit. It’s great for play boating. It also allows me to be safer in situations like you just described. I don’t love the aesthetic of the pump. I am currently adding one to a different ww canoe.
 
I mounted a pair of pumps in my Encore, right behind the pedestal. They weren’t permanently mounted, but I never removed them. The pumps were connected to tubes that were connected to the thru-hull discharge fittings on either side of the hull, so the setup was semi-permanent. And besides, I only used the Encore for whitewater, so why would I take out the pumps?

That was 2011, and LI batteries were not as available as they now are. My pumps were powered by a lead-acid motorcycle battery. Pumps, tubes, and fittings only were a few pounds, but that LA battery was a portage wrecker. I usually carried it apart from the boat and installed it at the water’s edge.

I loved having bilge pumps. Coming into a rapid with heavy waves, I could flip the switch to the pumps. When I crashed through a wave, it was great feeling the half swamped boat gain bouncy as I paddled rather than sink lower, wallow through the rapid and continue to swamp as each subsequent wave overtopped the gunwales and reduced the freeboard.
 
My Blackfly Condor came with a pump installed in the bulkhead saddle when I bought it used. All I had to do was buy the battery pack from Ridge Spirit Outfitting, who I’ve bought from before and is excellent to work with. Aside from plugging in the battery pack, it’s not the kind of thing you occasionally put in the boat. Once it’s installed, it stays there, but your install may be different, but then again, why take it out? I usually try to bring the battery pack inside for the winter, but that’s it.

It’s definitely not cheap, but it is really good quality and relatively lightweight at maybe 3lbs. The lithium ion battery lasts FOREVER! I’ve read reports of one battery lasting an entire 21 day trip down the Grand Canyon. That’s a lot of bilging! I honestly don’t think I’ve charged it in two years, because I don’t run it that much. I tried to source the parts myself and the minor savings wasn’t worth the hassle. https://ridgespirit.com/

In a boat like mine, the only alternative to a pump is getting out and dumping, since there is no open space to scoop with a bailer, and like you said, getting out is not always an option either. Your Outrage will take on more water with all that open space, but with a good bailer and technique, you can also move quite a bit of water in a hurry. I think it would take a while to pump out a fully swamped Outrage, but it is really nice to just flip a switch in the eddy. Maybe consider a twin pump setup if you go that route.
 
Looks like a great day on the river!

I haven't tried a bilge pump yet, but I sure could have used one back in the days in my Perception HD-1, the wettest whitewater canoe that I ever owned or paddled.
 
Would a hand pump be better than a bailer? For either a hand pump or a bailer, would finding a way to stow it safely for transit enable you to always leave it in, thus circumventing the possibility of forgetting it? I'm not a whitewater paddler but I carry a handpump on swiftwater trips. Easy to slide in it amongst packs and pump out without having to move packs to get a bailer in the bilge.
 
If you get a hand pump, also get some tubing to extend the nozzle a foot or so. Otherwise, it’s difficult to direct the outflow of the pump over the gunwales.

I really liked having a bilge pump in my sea kayak. The hand pump takes a lot of work to empty the cockpit. My Sostice has a tight cockpit, and I couldn’t figure out where to install a pump. It seems like a product should exist: a portable pump you can carry between boats, or use to help a buddy empty their boat. I searched online and didn’t find anything suitable, so I thought I should invent one. I thought it’s simple—a pump, a battery, a switch and some tubing. And oh ya, it should float.

I tried building one. My prototype turned out too big and clunky, but it worked, for a while. The allegedly waterproof switch soon failed (salt water). I ordered some other switches, but never got around to building a mark 2. Here’s a photo of my first attempt.

P8160004.jpeg
 
I never paddled the Sciantic River. It looks ledgy. Nice pictures and write-up as usual, Erik. Thanks again for sharing.

While you asked for feedback from whitewater paddlers who have installed electric pumps, please indulge my strong contrarianism. In fact, I'll quote what I wrote to the pumpophiles on the now defunct cboats.net on September 28, 2019:

*************

Why not use a pump?

Weight, hassle, but most importantly, it is inconsistent with my view of the ancient sport of open canoe paddling. To me, it's not such a different question as using an electric motor to attain upstream.

Moreover, pumps are not part of my personal history and cherished memories. Learning to pick the driest lines and surgically to carve up a rapid, learning how to block water intake by hull orientation and heeling, paddling while full, and planning dumping eddies are all parts of the historical sport, to me. I've only seen a pump once -- in 1987 on the Ocoee when test paddling a Whitesell Piranha with Nolan.

In my early days, a common solo canoe was an 80+ pound, 17-2 Old Town Tripper. They were paddled by women. Bags were usually just 15" end bags, or none at all. Fill up that canoe and it was pretty heroic to paddle it ashore. But maybe people were stronger 40 years ago. I know I was. Full bagging would also interfere with paddle scoop bailing, which requires space in front of the paddler. You heel the canoe to the rail and speed scoop with your paddle at about 50 spm.

I suppose that's why 15' canoes became so popular. You only had to paddle or bail with 2000 gallons of water instead of 3000.

But, although we rolled open canoes, we were weenies. We didn't run class 5 waterfalls as YouTube now proves everyone does. Still, I wouldn't use a pump for those, even today. I'd use my shoulders.

Pump iron, not water.
 
Why not use a pump?

Weight, hassle, but most importantly, it is inconsistent with my view of the ancient sport of open canoe paddling. To me, it's not such a different question as using an electric motor to attain upstream.
You are right - you'd never find a trolling motor or bilge pump in the canoe of a Native American or French-Canadian voyageur, but I'll bet they would have used them if they could. Park Rangers up in the Allagash do...


For most of what I do a pump isn't needed - rapids aren't that big, swims aren't that long, and rescues are relatively easy with someone to chase down the boat. But there are a couple of places where I would rather not take the chance, like the Dead up in ME. A swim there could be long and the hike to find your boat even longer. It would be nice to flip a switch and at least start to empty the boat as you head to shore.

Most of the instructions online now are for bulkhead saddles. There are a few for pedestals in old-school boats like mine with the lead-acid battery, so I guess a could figure it out.
 
Last edited:
You are right - you'd never find a trolling motor or bilge pump in the canoe of a Native American or French-Canadian voyageur, but I'll bet they would have used them if they could. Park Rangers up in the Allagash do...


For most of what I do a pump isn't needed - rapids aren't that big, swims aren't that long, and rescues are relatively easy with someone to chase down the boat. But there are a couple of places where I would rather not take the chance, like the Dead up in ME. A swim there could be long and the hike to find your boat even longer. It would be nice to flip a switch and at least start to empty the boat as you head to shore.

Most of the instructions online now are for bulkhead saddles. There are a few for pedestals in old-school boats like mine with the lead-acid battery, so I guess a could figure it out.
It is relatively easy to mount a pump in an open boat that has a foam pedestal. I typically mount an Attwood Tsunami T1200 right behind the pedestal by applying some heavy duty Velcro to the bottom of the pump basket and the hull floor, and securing it with a loop of shock cord that runs through a piece of PVC pipe transversely through the back of the pedestal. You can either simply run the exhaust tubing over the gunwale behind the saddle, or through a through-hull fitting if you prefer.

A small sealed lead/acid battery can be mounted in a small plastic case like the one shown in the link and you can mount the switch on the portion of the box that will face upward. The whole box/switch can be secured to the front of the pedestal with a loop of 1" webbing that again runs through a piece of PVC running transversely through the front of the pedestal. It is easy to remove the whole set up when you don't want or need it or even switch it from boat to boat.

box

If you are running relatively straight-forward Class II stuff that might have an occasional Class III with a good recovery pool beneath the drop you might not want or need the pump. As for myself, I would not run more difficult water in an open boat without a pump. The great majority of open boaters that I have paddled with in recent years all have pumps, at least for the more challenging stuff.

When I first started boating the Ocoee in the late 1980s in an open boat I only remember one guy who had a pump in his canoe. Since then batteries and pumps have become much lighter and more compact. Although the Ocoee by today's relaxed rating standards is only Class III there are long stretches of Class II that make recovery of a soused canoe quite difficult and a swim with a capsized boat very challenging and sometimes painful. Emptying the canoe after every major rapid became very tiring and really detracted from the enjoyment of the whole experience, at least for me. In fact, it was the Ocoee that got me into a decked boat for the first time ever.

There are times when it is possible to get a soused canoe into an eddy along a steep bank in water too deep to stand. In such a location, emptying the canoe without a pump might not be possible. I will sometimes start my pump at the top of a long rapid. Unless you use multiple pumps, which is becoming more common, you might not be able to empty the boat as fast as water is coming in, but you might at least be able to keep the boat drier. With a pump you can also keep paddling while you bail when you get to the Class II run-out below a major rapid. If you are running lead in a group you can pull into an eddy and get your boat dried out more quickly to be able to set safety as the rest of the group runs the drop.

There are times when a pump will be of no benefit, however. Years back my daughter and I were running the lower Youghiogheny in my Dagger Caption which has pronounced curvature to the sheer line even for a whitewater canoe. I missed my line running River's End and we went through a big hole. Even though I had end bags and as large a center bag as the canoe would accommodate, we took on so much water that both gunwales were underwater amidships so a pump couldn't empty any water. There is a fair stretch of Class II water right below River's End and it was all we could do to remain in the boat until we could horse it over to the bank.

On one occasion on Slippery Rock Creek a friend and I pulled into a bank eddy to empty our boats after a drop. We both had pumps with exhaust tubing running over the top of the gunwales, his on the port side and mine on starboard behind the paddling stations. We sat watching the rest of the group run the rapid. After a while we noted that our boats were not getting any drier because we were sitting side by side with his pump discharging water into mine, and mine discharging water into his. A new form of recirculation, I suppose.
 
Last edited:
This HD-1 has(had?) an electric bilge pump installed in the pedestal, at the opposite end of the pedestal there was a back up manual pump!

bike_trailer.jpg

The bike and the boat belonged to my 2nd regular tripping partner (1999-2011). The owner, a rafting guide and part time park'n'play paddler taught me a lot, converted me to solo paddling, bought me a "real" pfd, motivated me to buy my first solo boat and constantly reminded me that my paddle was useless if it wasn't in the water, it's possible that learning the various permutations of the brace was the one thing that made more difference than anything else.
 
This HD-1 has(had?) an electric bilge pump installed in the pedestal, at the opposite end of the pedestal there was a back up manual pump!

View attachment 140133

The bike and the boat belonged to my 2nd regular tripping partner (1999-2011). The owner, a rafting guide and part time park'n'play paddler taught me a lot, converted me to solo paddling, bought me a "real" pfd, motivated me to buy my first solo boat and constantly reminded me that my paddle was useless if it wasn't in the water, it's possible that learning the various permutations of the brace was the one thing that made more difference than anything else.
What a rig!
 
Back
Top