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Old 12-04-2015, 21:10   #1
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Bilge Pump Switch Systems

OK, I went through the bilge pump set up on my new/old boat this weekend since the automatic float switches work sometimes and sometimes don't. Sometimes sticking on and sometimes not coming on at all.
What I figured out is that the previous work done was done by either a drunk monkey or a stoned yard employee in a small Maine town, tough to tell which would do better work.
I'm looking to rip the whole mess out and start over.
It has a total of three bilge pumps and a large manual pump, the manual pump is OK, looks like it was installed by the manufacturer correctly, just needs a rebuild kit.
I want to put bilge switches at different levels in the bilge sump, which is about 36" deep, for regular, serious and REALLY SERIOUS water intrusion, with an alarm at the serious level. The deep sump is about 8" wide by about 18" long so only one submersible pump goes in it, the other two electric and the manual have pickups with strainers on them
I've had really bad experience with standard float switches (12 month life average) and am looking for feedback on alternatives, so far in my online searches I've seen all kinds of information both ways, good and bad on different brands of solid state switches. It has a traditional prop shaft with a traditional packing gland so some slat water will always be in the mix, but a certain amount of rainwater finds it's way in (I'm working on that buts its a longer term effort). The boat also has a Perkins 4108 so oil finds it's way into the bilge from time to time, it is going to be corrected in the next 24 months but is currently an issue, oil absorbing mats do wonders for that.
I'm just looking for a system that works, I'm OK with putting my bigger pump on a relay to take some of the load off of the bilge switch.
I'm starting from zero to redo this important system and would like some feedback from others who've put in systems and what their experience is with different brands of bilge switches and their dependability.
Yes, I've had the experience of having to hand the most scared guy the 5 gallon bucket and having him bail, it's crude, it's effective, but not my first choice, but it does move water faster than any bilge pump I've ever seen.
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Old 12-04-2015, 21:36   #2
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

I've had the same switch issues as you. Now I use only Smartswitch float switches. Never had a failure in over 10 years of use. Great product! Marine Water Sensor | FS2A
Or see my website...
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Old 12-04-2015, 21:38   #3
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

I think you will hear a lot of positive feed back on Ultra Safety Systems bilge switches. It is not unusual to hear of them lasting ten years or more. They are not cheap.
Their Senior Model incorporates an alarm switch.
Switches, Panels, & Parts
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Old 12-04-2015, 23:18   #4
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

As I have just crawled out of the bilges of both our boats doing maintenance and mods. Both deep bilges are comparable to yours in size and depth. As one boat is a new/old boat such as yours I will start there. In your assessment of your existing configuration, open ALL of the bilge access panels and assure yourself that everything can freely drain to the deep bilge. Check the mast step, chain lockers, water tank vents, ice boxes, shower sumps, stuffing boxes.....and that you don't have a medium and high bilge area that requires mechanical transfer to the deep bilge.

In our case, shortly after purchase, a middle bilge that was intended to collect mast water, but required pumping to the deep bilge was found. Now I am dealing with a chain locker with no drainage path to the middle bilge except over the forward cabin sole??

The system for the deep bilge is configured with the manual guzzler pickup at the bottom, a 2,000 gph submersible with a water witch switch (101) mounted 3" above the suction level of submersible. The big pump, 5,000 gph, is mounted 12" below the salon sole, with the automatic function controlled by a Water Witch 230. Both of these switches are electronic and have been in service for 10 years according to the previous owner's maintenance logs. Now, to power these pumps the auto function is powered from the house banks, while the manual switch is powered from the start battery circuitry.

I was so impressed with these Water Witch switches that I installed one with a new pump on the the other boat prior to sale. The white rule float switches seem to last about a year at best.

New 30 year old boats have a surprise every day!!!


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Old 13-04-2015, 06:41   #5
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

The rest of the bilge has been gone through and drains well to the deep sump, when I first got it there were a couple drains through the stringers that were clogged, but all has bee cleaned and all drain well. Both showers in both heads have their own sump pumps for the showers, this keeps the slime buildup in the sump to a controllable level.
Only one pump requires replacement since it burnt out due to a stuck float switch, it was a submersible 1500 GPH and worked well until that point, the largest pump is not submersible but is mounted above the bilge with a hose into the bilge with a strainer on the end, the manual pump has a a hose with the requisite strainer on the end at the bottom of the sump.
The mounting of the submersible pumps was awful, they were basically held on a 3/4" x 1-1/2" stick with band clamps as were the switches. I'm fabricating an aluminum mount which bolts to the bulkhead and has dedicated mounts for the pumps, this will allow me to have easy access to the pumps and switches should they need to be removed. It can be unbolted and lifted out for easy servicing.
Has anyone here used separate high amperage relays to carry the pump loads and reduce the amperage load on the switches? I work in the OEM manufacturing business, where we engineer and manufacture large production lines, the use of solenoids to carry higher amperage loads is common since the sensors employed would not be as dependable long term carrying the full load. In production manufacturing equipment ultimate up time and minimizing stoppages due to equipment component failures is a major concern. In those applications the sensors see thousands of cycles daily and last for years.
Just want to make sure I get the correct hardware before putting it all together.
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Old 13-04-2015, 07:40   #6
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

I have sure bail float switches the blue mercury ones.
They are now 15yrs old & still work well.( x3)
Am about to add 2 extra bilge pumps & will
Use the same type.
Why screw with success.
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Old 13-04-2015, 08:26   #7
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

Here's a description of my system on the venerable 1978 Cal 39 MKII: sailorslifeforme.com/maintenance/electrical/bilge/.

My Atwood float switch has been going for two years so far. The Rule has been going for almost one year. Here's hoping they go for 10 more.

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Old 13-04-2015, 08:39   #8
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

Quote:
Originally Posted by HopCar View Post
I think you will hear a lot of positive feed back on Ultra Safety Systems bilge switches. It is not unusual to hear of them lasting ten years or more. They are not cheap.
Their Senior Model incorporates an alarm switch.
Switches, Panels, & Parts
That's what I use and never had a problem.

But to the OP -- I think you've got the right idea.

I have mine set up like this:

1. Whale Supersub set up in the deepest part of the bilge as a maintenance pump. It has its own switch/sensor.


2. Big Rule 4000 as an emergency pump. It is set higher in the bilge with the Ultra Junior switch at a higher level than the maintenance pump. That is so it doesn't activate with maintenance amounts of water. Another reason is that this pump has large hoses and no non-return valve, and if you allow it to work on maintenance water, it will kill your batteries by endless pumping water which flows back through the large hose. Don't ask me how I know this . I switch this off when I'm off the boat on the theory that the boat will sink anyway (God forbid) if there's a leak too big for the maintenance pump to deal with.

3. Second Ultra Junior switch specifically to trigger an alarm, although you could also just wire the alarm up with your emergency pump, since this won't come on unless you have a problem.


Besides this I have the large Whale manual pump, and a second Whale Supersub in the engine room's separate bilge.

But it would be good to add to this a real dewatering pump. For this I plan to buy a heavy duty 230v trash pump -- Honda makes a good one. With a roll-up fire hose type discharge hose. My generator is mounted high up in the engine room high above the waterline. I will install a changeover switch which will isolate it from the other 230v systems and power just one waterproof outlet for the crash pump. The Honda trash pump has the huge advantage that it can handle quite large solids -- if you've ever been on a boat with a leak, you know that the bilge quickly fills up with all kinds of debris -- no matter how clean you keep the bilge -- which will clog a normal pump. How many boats have been lost because of this.

A 230v electric pump is also better than a gasoline/petrol powered dewatering pump, in my opinion, because of all the problems of storing such a gasoline powered pump (can't do it within the main hull volume because of the gasoline vapors) and keeping it running and ready to start at all times (gummed up carb if you don't use it frequently).
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Old 13-04-2015, 08:55   #9
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

I also forgot to mention the engine cooling raw water pump is also attached to one of the strainers so it can be utilized by flipping a valve.
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Old 13-04-2015, 09:16   #10
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

I don't believe in submerging the device which is going to save my life, under the liquid which is trying to take my life, -- with electricity thrown in for good measure !!
Blue's bilges are 3 1/2 ft deep below the cabin sole, and are kept dry with belt-driven pumps ( all with spare belt and tools bagged and attached ).
My float switches are the pivot type mounted high and dry under the floors, operated by float-on- rod system attached vertically to b/heads. I can simply test each float's integrity from a hatch in the sole. BTW, I step my suctions up in size to accomodate larger clapper type non-return valves, which I check seasonally.
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Old 13-04-2015, 09:18   #11
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

Quote:
Originally Posted by lifeofreilly57 View Post
OK, I went through the bilge pump set up on my new/old boat this weekend since the automatic float switches work sometimes and sometimes don't. Sometimes sticking on and sometimes not coming on at all.
What I figured out is that the previous work done was done by either a drunk monkey or a stoned yard employee in a small Maine town, tough to tell which would do better work.
I'm looking to rip the whole mess out and start over.
It has a total of three bilge pumps and a large manual pump, the manual pump is OK, looks like it was installed by the manufacturer correctly, just needs a rebuild kit.
I want to put bilge switches at different levels in the bilge sump, which is about 36" deep, for regular, serious and REALLY SERIOUS water intrusion, with an alarm at the serious level. The deep sump is about 8" wide by about 18" long so only one submersible pump goes in it, the other two electric and the manual have pickups with strainers on them
I've had really bad experience with standard float switches (12 month life average) and am looking for feedback on alternatives, so far in my online searches I've seen all kinds of information both ways, good and bad on different brands of solid state switches. It has a traditional prop shaft with a traditional packing gland so some slat water will always be in the mix, but a certain amount of rainwater finds it's way in (I'm working on that buts its a longer term effort). The boat also has a Perkins 4108 so oil finds it's way into the bilge from time to time, it is going to be corrected in the next 24 months but is currently an issue, oil absorbing mats do wonders for that.
I'm just looking for a system that works, I'm OK with putting my bigger pump on a relay to take some of the load off of the bilge switch.
I'm starting from zero to redo this important system and would like some feedback from others who've put in systems and what their experience is with different brands of bilge switches and their dependability.
Yes, I've had the experience of having to hand the most scared guy the 5 gallon bucket and having him bail, it's crude, it's effective, but not my first choice, but it does move water faster than any bilge pump I've ever seen.
We have a similar bilge pump set-up to what you describe with 3 tiers of automatic submersible pumps installed at different depths in the bilge. This is the 3rd boat I have set up this way, and it works well for me.

I define the bilge pump tiers as:
  • Maintenance Pump [On the bottom; Keeps the bilge dry]
  • Secondary Pump [1/3rd up from bottom; Maintenance pump can't keep up. Alarmed. 4000gph]
  • Highwater Pump [2/3rds up...; Connected to airhorns and screamer electronic alarm. 4000gph]
  • Emergency Pumps [Edson emergency manual pump and electric crash pump.]

For the maintenance pump- and answering one of your questions re: type of switch- I have had great success over time using the Whale Smart SuperSub pumps [with check valve at pump]

They only come on if submerged, and pump out all but the last ~1/2" [or less] of water. [And fit in tight spots...]

The other 2 submersible pumps are high and dry most of the time, so their switches, while critical, remain clean and undisturbed. I still use solid state sensor switches anyway... [The kind with the 2 probes- can't remember the brand off hand- and I'm not on the boat right now...]

All 3 electric pumps have idiot lights. The maintenance pump is wired to a simple resettable counter so I can log the cycles. The secondary pump has a 15 second delay between sensor activation and pump activation so it doesn't short cycle in a seaway. The secondary and high water pumps have mutable alarms. All 3 are also wired to the boat monitoring system which diligently reports (via text message) when each bilge pump comes on (by pump name) and when it turns off. This also creates the historical log.

I am very happy with this arrangement and have yet to replace one of the Whale maintenance pumps. [They cost just a little more than the solid state water sensor switches...]

I like your idea of having relays- tied to a common local bilge pump buss- activated by the switches, reducing the wiring run lengths for the larger pumps. I suspect waterproof / potted 20-30Amp relays won't be difficult to find.

Have fun making things right for you on your new vessel.

Cheers!
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Old 13-04-2015, 09:43   #12
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

57--don't over-complicate this with relays or other unnecessary components.

To keep up with the tiny bit of water that enters and collects in the bottom of the sump, first a diaphragm pump, mounted high and dry, plumbed to a strum box in the very bottom of the sump, and connected to a float switch also at the bottom of the sump. This way water does not run back down the hose after the pump stops, as with a submersible centrifugal pump. A fine mesh filter is placed right at the pump inlet, where it can be easily cleaned, as diaphragm pumps can be fouled by the smallest debris.

Very slightly higher than the bottom of the sump can be your centrifugal pump and switch, so it will come on if more water comes in than the diaphragm pump can handle, or in case of failure of the first pump/switch. And so forth, with additional pumps, though pickups can be as low as possible.

Besides float switches, manual switches are also provided.

All outlets go to a vented loop which will always be above sea level.

Never install a check valve in a bilge pump line.

Never combine bilge pump outlet plumbing.

I like to run all electrical connections to an accessible, dedicated, guarded terminal strip, over whose connections I may paint Liquid Electrical Tape.
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Old 13-04-2015, 10:12   #13
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

Hello, we use an air switch. No electric part submerged. It works well since years. The only think to do, is to clean the clutch from time to time. See Jabsco, Hydro Air, Bilge Pump Switch, 59400 Series at Jabsco, Hydro Air, Bilge Pump Switch, 59400 Series.
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Old 13-04-2015, 10:36   #14
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

I plan to add a clock to my bilge pump setup, that runs while any pump is running, that way you can check the clock to see if you have a problem that needs attention.
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Old 13-04-2015, 11:23   #15
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Re: Bilge Pump Switch Systems

Never install a check valve in a bilge pump line.
Does this mean a separate out line for each pump? If the pumps were hooked together, I would think one would pump water into the other and then back into the bilge.
Straighten me out.
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