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Bilge Pump Early-Warning System

Watch Stander

How about a comparatively simple to install early-warning system for your bilge?

Just the other day, I received in the mail a device called a BW8 Bilge Pump Activity Monitor from British manufacturer Celectron. Manufacturers occasionally send me products in hopes I’ll feature them in this column and, after looking the little unit over (and reading the lengthy blurbs on the box it had arrived in), I decided the BW8 would most likely make an excellent subject for this month’s “Yard” as well as a nifty addition to Betty Jane’s list of onboard safety equipment.

There are several relatively simple bilge pump monitors and counters on the market today, of course. But at first take, this particular one seemed to share quite a few features (disabling functions, selectable alarm delays, etc.) with high-end, PC-based yacht-monitoring systems from companies such as Palladium Industries, Krill Systems, Blue Seas, Maritron, and others, albeit in a comparatively inexpensive ($178) stand-alone package. This seemed really cool, so I began carefully reading the user handbook.


1. The three wires at the back of the unit are color-coded for easy installation.

Compelling stuff! The handbook warned that boats that sink typically do so at the dock, usually due to faulty seals, cracked hoses, corrosion problems, worn-out underwater fittings, and other problems. And while an increase in bilge pump activity certainly signals trouble, bilge pumps with automatic float switches tend to hide problems, primarily because they give the impression that all is well while operating with subtly increasing frequency. Monitoring bilge pump activity, the handbook concluded, provides a trustworthy advance warning of disaster.


2. The simple installation diagram. I found there was no other info needed.

I slipped into installation prep mode, closely scrutinizing the handbook’s install guide, the BW8 itself, and the 14 color-coded wires (to handle the BW8’s eight-pump capacity), knurled nuts, threaded studs, cable ties, insulation sleeves, and other odds and sods that had come with it. After a while, I was forced to draw two conclusions. First, the install guide was virtually impossible to follow. Not for nothin’ did the second paragraph advise hiring a qualified electrician should doubts creep in. Second, the BW8’s myriad number of settings and options made the unit so complicated (the section on using it was 15 pages long) that the specter of technological overkill began to loom. A call to Celectron in England offered little enlightenment—the best I could get was a suggestion that I read the handbook and guide “more carefully.”


3. When energized, the unit simply counts your bilge pump’s activations.

Because poring over electronics manuals is not my idea of fun, I decided shortly thereafter to abjure the BW8 in favor of a simpler unit, and soon found one in a popular marine discount catalog. Called the Bilge Pump Count and manufactured in the United States by Aqualarm, it has just one basic function (to count the times a single bilge pump activates), offers an easily understood one-page install diagram, is accompanied by absolutely no extra reading material, and costs $69.

The installation took two hours. I temporarily removed the three-way bilge-pump switch at Betty’s lower helm station, attached the three color-coordinated wires at the back of the Bilge Pump Count device to the three leads at the back of the switch (in accordance with the install drawing), replaced the switch, and, after doing a little carpentry work, flush-mounted the face plate of the device on Betty’s steering console.

And the thing functions with no-sweat simplicity, thank you. Every time I visit Betty these days I merely check the number on the LED, record it in the ship’s log, and reset the counter. As luck would have it, I’ve noticed nary a problem so far. But hey, at least I’m keeping tabs.

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This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.