Why is my Bilge Running so Much?

13.06.23 08:52 PM By Richard Westrick

Pay attention to your survey.

Some years back, I was sailing with my good friend, Skip (that's him on the left). He is the guy who got me into sailing and we ended up going into a boat together. We purchased a 1985 O'Day 35 sloop.  I still have her, though we moved her to Boston from Lake Michigan when I moved out East.

We would do destination sails around the holidays to maximize our vacation time. Upon coming back from Sheboygan, WI on our way to Milwaukee, WI, Skip noticed the bilge was running every 15 minutes. Normally, our bilge would run twice a day.

We were motoring back because I have a deal with Poseidon.  Anytime I wanted to do a destination sail, he would cease all wind OR put it on the nose.  This was one of the times he just killed the wind. To this day, I don't know what I did to offend Poseidon...

Skip has been sailing since he was 14 out of Marina Del Rey, CA I think. Anyway, he was the older, wise sailor from whom I got my sailing bug and most of my experience the first few years. He was the one that made sure we had a survey when we purchased the boat and played "bad guy" while I negotiated the price.  So when he said the bilge shouldn't be running that much, I listened.  

So we slowed down and I took a look in the bilge and engine compartment. The stuffing box was dripping like it should and I could see the damp trail as it rolled from that, under the engine and into the bilge.  Frankly, I couldn't see anything.

This took about 25 minutes and Skip reported that the bilge had not run while I was down there. Cool. So up I went to the cockpit. We resumed speed and silently mused on that for a bit.

Well, 15 minutes later, the bilge ran again.  Skip called it out and said he wanted to take a look. So we reduced speed (and engine noise so we could communicate) and he went down to look. He checked the same things I did and saw the same things I did.  This is where Skip was brilliant.

He called up to resume speed. I resumed our speed to almost six knots.  Then I heard Skip yell "slow down!" I did that. Then he called to speed up.  Then to slow down.  And then he came up.

"One of the thru-hulls is leaking. I think it is the one tied to the scuppers." The scuppers ie drains from the cockpit, take water that gets in the cockpit and drains out to the sea via a hose connected to a thru-hull fitting.  That thru-hull is above water unless we motor over 5kts.  Then the stern squat brings the stern down and covers the thru-hull opening which lets the water in.  So we reduced our speed and the bilge was quiet.

Upon arriving in Milwaukee, I squeezed to where I could get to the hose under the cockpit all the way at the stern. It was then that I found that I can get a little claustrophobic... Anyway, I tugged on the hose and it FELL OFF.  Now I can see daylight through the thru-hull fitting.  Basically, I have a hole in the boat just above the water line.

One of the things the surveyor said when we bought the boat was that there was only one clamp on the hoses on the thru-hulls and there should be two to ensure no leaks.  Well, that was one of those items that wasn't high on our list to deal with and here it was biting us in the backside. In all honesty, we really didn't think that the second clamp was a "need to have". Note to self; review the survey and address any other issues and don't be cocky!

Fortunately, we had a couple of clamps and I was able to overcome my claustrophobic feelings and add the second clamp and secure the hose back onto the fitting, tightening both clamps. I went to the starboard side and pulled on that hose and, it too, fell off. So I added a clamp and secured that.  

What I learned; pay attention to the survey. There is a reason we pay good money for that information. Be persistent.  Once the bilge stopped I figured it was just a weird anomaly. Skip was not so easily satisfied. Also, connecting the speed of the vessel to the source of the bilge issue was great troubleshooting. Even though you might assume that there can be no connection, Skip realized that we were moving slower when the bilge stopped going off. That was brilliant. We've been friends a long time, and I think of him as the "Old Man of the Sea".  I often forget that he is also renown neuroscientist!...

For those of you using BoatProject, we have a template called "Survey Inspection Items". To view this or to copy it to your vessel, add a project, choose "From Template" and type "Survey Inspection" in the search field.

Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. We'd love to hear from you! Rich

Richard Westrick