Soundings - - Contents - BY DAVID J. MAHLER

In­stalling a bilge counter is an easy project that lets you know if your bilge pump is work­ing over­time when you’re not around.

What’s go­ing on in your bilge? While you’re run­ning your boat, per­haps you no­tice the stream flow­ing from the tell-tale thru hull. Or maybe you hear the pump suck­ing air and then re­mem­ber to turn the switch off — yes, that same switch you meant to turn on for only a minute about an hour ago …

Maybe you have a “bilge pump on” id­iot light? That works, and lets you know that the good ol’ pump is do­ing its thing.

We all have our per­sonal tricks to en­sure that the sea water stays on the out­side of the boat, and bar­ring disas­ter, those usu­ally work when we’re en­joy­ing our boats. But do you ever won­der what’s go­ing on in your bilge the rest of the time, when you’re not aboard?

You left the boat on Sun­day af­ter­noon, and af­ter a thor­ough wash­down and un­load­ing all por­ta­ble gear, you’ve headed home, and you won’t see your float­ing baby un­til next week­end. As you’re driv­ing, you’re fo­cused on the fluke that got away, the bass that was right at the boat, the fun time the kids had ski­ing and tub­ing ... and then, for a brief mo­ment, the ques­tions flash through your mind: Did I turn the bat­tery switch off? Did I lock the cabin door? Is the hose back on the dock? All wor­ries are soothed by the thought that, well, my bilge pump will do its thing — just in case. Right?

So, here’s a fast, sim­ple and in­ex­pen­sive project to keep your mind at ease. In­stall a bilge pump counter that will tally each time the auto switch senses water and turns on the pump. They come in 12 or 24 volt vari­a­tions, de­pend­ing on the volt­age re­quire­ments for your ves­sel, and are avail­able at most marine stores.

Sim­ply mea­sure your bilge counter and cut a hole in the de­sired mount­ing lo­ca­tion, prefer­ably in a dry space where you will have in­stant vis­ual ac­cess once aboard. This counter will be­come one of the first things you look at when you board the boat, and the last thing you check when you leave (to re­set it to zero). The counter has a bezel so there is some lee­way for over­cut­ting, but not much, so be care­ful.

The counter I have been us­ing re­quires a small rect­an­gu­lar hole started with a ¾ inch hole saw to cut the cen­ter and then a small hand saw to square off the edges. You can also use a Ro­toZip or Dremel tool to make the cutout.

If your ves­sel has an in­di­ca­tor light for when the bilge pump is on, you can sim­ply wire the counter right to the in­di­ca­tor light, sav­ing the need for a bilge level con­nec­tion. Oth­er­wise, be safe, and switch off the main and backup bat­tery switches and turn off the auto bilge pump breaker. Just be sure to leave a sticky note on the helm that says, “bat­ter­ies are all off/dis­con­nected.”

Lo­cate your ves­sel’s ex­ist­ing auto float switch and find the power wires. They are of­ten grey in color, or brown and brown striped, de­pend­ing on the man­u­fac­turer. These will be in the bilge and near the pump, so they will be easy to lo­cate.

Cut the POS cable from the auto switch and con­nect the red con­duc­tor with a length of 16/2 marine grade wire by cut­ting the ex­ist­ing con­nec­tion at the ex­ist­ing splice (I pre­fer to re­place the ex­ist­ing butt splice with a 3-way splice and then re-seal the en­tire con­nec­tion, but you can also use a vam­pire con­nec­tion any­where along the wire — just be sure to thor­oughly seal the splice with heat shrink tube and/or sealant. I use 3M sealant tape). Con­nect the other wire (black) to the black ground wire lead­ing from the ex­ist­ing bilge pump in the same man­ner as above. Run the length of cable through the boat to the de­sired mount­ing lo­ca­tion and through the back of the hole you cut, leav­ing enough cable to make your fi­nal con­nec­tion.

Con­nect the new bilge counter switch to the 16/2 cable and seal with heat shrink or sealant (I al­ways add an in­line fuse on the red cable, with the fuse re­moved un­til the task is com­pleted). Now sim­ply slide the switch into the neatly cut slot for a dry fit.

Once you con­firm a proper fit, put a bead of clear sealant on the back of the bezel, put two small mount­ing screws in the pre-drilled holes, in­stall the in­line fuse, and you‘re all set.

Switch your bat­ter­ies back on and hit your bilge pump switch. The counter should click off each time the switch is hit. Your new vis­ual watch­dog is now in place and ready to alert you to an over­ac­tive pump. Just press the re­set but­ton each time you leave the boat and re­mem­ber to take im­me­di­ate ac­tion if the counter in­di­cates that there is more ac­tiv­ity in your bilge than the typ­i­cal rain drip, or shaft log weep.

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