Electric Bilge Pump Review
* Update on this item: I have concluded that it is not worth having an electric bilge pump. If you have a solid roll, you will likely never be in a situation where you would need it while trying to get back in the kayak, if you do happen to do a wet exit because of very rough conditions, chances are you're probably not getting back in before the next wave knocks you off again. Better you point your kayak to the beach, swim to shore and sort things out there. Also, the electric bilge pump is just another thing that will eventually break and need to be replaced.
The purpose of installing an electric bilge pump is safety. If the kayak rolls over and the paddler needs to do a wet exit, the kayak will fill up with water. Once the paddler is back in the boat, then the question becomes what to do next. Do you pump water out or do you paddle to safety? If conditions are rough, paddling to safety should be the first priority, but with a water logged cockpit that may be difficult and slow. Opening the the spray skirt may a bad idea as you not only have to stop paddling to pump the water, but a wave can wash it all back in. The electric bilge pump will solve this problem. You can paddle to safety while the pump works. The safety aspect of the electric bilge pump is all the more apparent when paddling solo, as there won’t be anyone around to help you get back in the boat, let alone help to get the water out.
There are essentially two types of electric bilge pumps. Float operated and switch operated.
The float operated pump comes with an internal float that will automatically switch on the pump when the water level in the cockpit reaches a level high enough to elevate the float. It has the advantage that you don’t have to think about turning the pump on or off and has fewer components that need to be installed or that can break. The pump also starts pumping the moment you wet exit the kayak, so by the time you are back in, a portion of the water will have been pumped out already. The disadvantage of a float operated pump is that you will have some water swashing in the cockpit before the pump engages, and there will always be some left over water after it has finished pumping, which you either need to pump out with a hand pump or mop up with a sponge. Depending on the pump location in the cockpit, the amount of water left inside can be about 2 inches deep. Another minor inconvenience is that you have to remember to disengage the pump from the battery if you store the kayak upside down, as the float will engage the pump and drain the battery.
The switch operated pump has a switch that manually activates the pump. The advantage of the switch is to be able to operate the pump whenever you want and depending on the pump location in the cockpit, it might be able to drain all the water in the boat. The disadvantage of the switch pump is that you have more pieces to worry about when doing the installation, more wire that needs to be installed around the cockpit, and more things that can malfunction.
Given that I only use the electric bilge pump as a safety tool that I hope will be used as little as possible, I decided to get the float operated pump.
There are two locations to place the bilge pump in the cockpit. Either it goes behind the seat, or in front of your feet.
Behind the Seat - Placing the pump behind the seat will ensure that the pump is located in the lowest point in the cockpit and will be able to pump the water to the lowest level possible. This location also has the advantage that it is out of the way and won’t interfere with paddling. There are however some disadvantages with the back-seat location:
It takes up a precious space for cargo where I could put a water bladder or other important items that did not fit in the day hatch. This might not be an issue for short expeditions, but for multi week trips with limited ability to resupply, especially for water, that space is valuable.
The discharge point may be too close to the water line, which may result in waves washing water into the cockpit through the discharge hole. This can be solved by running the discharge tube to the front and top of the cockpit, but unless you purchase a very powerful electric bilge pump you will run into issues with friction and static head losses. Most electric bilge pumps don’t deliver much more than a foot of head, so every inch counts (that’s what she said). The other issue with running the discharge tube to the front of the cockpit is that it can get in the way of your legs and feet, especially when doing a messy wet reentry.
Lastly there is the question of where to place the battery I’ve seen set ups where the battery is installed inside the day hatch, with the wires needing to run through the bulkhead. I was keen to avoid this, not only because it takes up space in the day hatch, but also because I didn’t like the idea of drilling a hole in the bulkhead.
In the Front of the Cockpit - Placing the electric bilge pump in the front of the cockpit behind the foot rests uses a space that is normally wasted in most kayaks. In the Taran 18 there is quite a lot of room there which normally would go unused, and I found that there was enough space for both the pump and the battery box side by side. The location of the pump there also eliminates the issues related with the long discharge tube and low discharge point. There are, however, some obvious disadvantages which I list below:
The pump is not at the lowest point in the cockpit so you may have about 2.5 inches of water inside the cockpit before the float switch engages (this can be partly negated by edging the boat on its side to engage the float, but I have found that too much edging will leave the suction end above the water surface)
You have to be careful not to kick the discharge tube. At first this it can be a cumbersome, but eventually you develop an instinctive knowledge of where to put your feet without causing issues.
Access to the pump and the battery is considerably more difficult. As long as you don’t have to fiddle with the pump or the battery this is not a huge issue but reattaching the battery box with the bungies can be difficult. Depending on your finger dexterity that can be both frustrating and time consuming. I found that on good days, I can do it in 2 minutes, and on bad days, I might fiddle with it for a frustrating half hour.
You can’t forget to reattach the battery before going to paddle or the end connections will be exposed to the sea water and corrode. This is very important. I have found myself wondering sometimes if I had remembered to do that and the stress of not knowing was enough for me to turn back, get out of the boat and do a check for my mental sanity. I try to touch the battery as little as possible and only take out to recharge once every 6 months.
Given that I have already installed my pump and battery in the front of the cockpit, there is no do over on this. I’m happy with the bilge pump as is as it works hasn’t failed me and is strictly for safety. However, I think that the more traditional back of the seat location would probably be better for the vast majority of expeditions, especially given the large amount of gear space the Taran 18 has.
Below are all the components I purchased for the pump installation. I would highly recommend having the pump installed by someone who has experience with this type of work and knows what their doing. It’s money well spent for peace of mind. Thank you Jay Rose! - Paddle Sports of Naples