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How (and Why) to Use a Bilge Pump

Whether it’s from a splashy paddle, rain, or an intense wave breaking, there are many scenarios in which water can get into your kayak while on a trip. No matter how skilled you are, you’ll find yourself needing to bail out your cockpit even if it’s just for a more comfortable kayaking experience.

Kayak bilge pumps are a great tool to keep with you on the water to help you get rid of any standing water you’ve taken on. It’s important to have them and know how to use them in case of an emergency and to ensure you’re able to paddle smoothly without any extra weight holding you back.

The Ins and Outs of Kayak Bilge Pumps

When you’re out on the water, you need to be prepared for everything from the weather changing to your boat capsizing. A bilge pump is a helpful tool to have in your kit in either of these instances, but it isn’t one anyone immediately thinks of except in cases of emergency.

The name is a little funny, so what does it actually describe? A kayak bilge pump is a self-bailing device that allows you to manually pump water out of the bottom of your boat. It looks and operates almost like a bike pump without the bottom foot holds - there’s an open end of the tube that you put in the water, and then you push the handle up and down to suction the water up and out through a tube that points over the side of the kayak deck.

The helpful thing about bilge pumps compared to other self-bailing devices is that it should be long and thin enough to reach down into your cockpit by your legs and draw water from there while you’re in it. This allows for a more complete removal of water from your kayak. Some even come with extended hoses to allow for greater reach, and there are also automatic bilge pump systems you can have installed that will allow for hands-free water removal.

Key Kayak Bilge Pump Features

Whether you’ve taken on water because of an unexpected tip overboard, your paddle splashed some in during your stroke, or the weather isn’t in your favor, and it rains heavily, a bilge pump will have you back to enjoying your kayaking trip in no time.

Some like the ease of automatic bilge pump systems, which do require a more intricate installation system and can be bulky depending on where you like to kayak. If you’re just looking for a reliable pump that checks the safety box, a manual one will get the job done.

There are a few things to consider about manual kayak bilge pumps, to ensure it will perform well when you need it:

  • Will it sink? A manual bilge pump should be lightweight and buoyant–look for one with foam around it.
  • Can it reach far enough out of the kayak? Check that it’s long enough to get the water out of the boat, but not too long that it becomes cumbersome to bring along.
  • Is it easily operable? Most bilge pumps should have a grippy padding on the handle and move smoothly enough that you won’t strain anything while bailing your kayak.
  • Will it corrode over time? Stainless steel bilge pumps don’t corrode as easily over time and are recommended especially if you do a lot of ocean kayaking.
  • Where can I store it? The easiest place to store a bilge pump is in the deck rigging, as they easily slide under the elastic cords on top of the deck. If you have a storage compartment that will fit it, you can keep it there as well.

 

Not only are kayak bilge pumps a helpful piece of safety equipment to have with you on the water, but they can also be used in non-emergencies to have a more comfortable ride. Look out for one the next time you’re shopping for kayak gear and get out on the water with ease. Happy Paddling!

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