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Thread: "High Water Bilge Alarm Tips Sought"

12,268 posts on 2,444 threads   •   From Mar 07, 2004 - Jan 08, 2012


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High Water Bilge Alarm Tips Sought

Randell 'Randy' Kocurek

Just a note to say all my contacts have strongly advised me to install a high water bilge alarm on my W32. Sounds like a necessity to me. Any ideas would be appreciated on installation tips. Just read a report online where one installer used a float switch and an exterior runabout 12v horn to get the alarm out in the open where folks/skippers could hear it. That may be a good idea. On the other hand, perhaps something that sounds more like an alarm/buzzer might be better.
Naturally, I'm tempted to just buy the commercial package for $50-$80. Problem is those have buzzers that remain below in the cabin and may not be heard.
Thanks in advance.

Randell 'Randy' Kocurek

Don and Lana,
Wow! And thank you very much. Certainly you have thought through and engineered through the project much more than I have even considered. I shall re-read and study your comments further in the next few days. I must say that I believe an awful lot of it makes a lot of sense.
I sure appreciate your excellent input and hope you feel secure that you have done all you can to protect your boat.
Excellent help for me. Thank you very much.

Don Montgomery and Lana Nelson

Hi Randy,

Not sure if this is what you are looking for but this is how we handled it.
We installed two bilge pumps. The primary is a 2000 GPH and is the lowest of the two. The second is a 3700 GPH pump and is three inches higher. It is installed on star board with space under it to allow water to drain to the primary. Both pumps are on thier own heavy duty float switch. Both pumps were wired through the new electric panel so that the breakers serve as the manual switch. No independant bilge control panel. The other circuit (hot all the time) is protected with thermal fuses that reset automatically when they cool off after triping. Both pumps activate a very loud "whistle type" alarm devise that we installed in the new cockpit dashboard. The pumps are wired to the alarms through diodes so that the current does not feed back to the other pump. The primary pump exits out a dedicated bilge hose. The secondary pump exits through the manual whale pump so that we did not have to put yet another hole in the hull. Both hoses are run up to the highest point of the bull work on opposite sides to prevent siphoning. The primary pump has a defeat switch on the alarm so that we can turn it off after we identify the source of the water and determine it is not a major issue. There is no defeat switch on the secondary pump because if it is sounding then we have bigger problems that an annoying alarm. Our boat is very dry and I can't tell you the last time we heard the bilge alarm. So we opted for a bilge pump alarm rather than a high water alarm. We want to know if the pump is running and how often long before there is high water to content with. We also have a red light that comes on when the alarm sounds that is marked bilge pump so that we know what is causing the alarm. We also have a similar alarm for engine temp, high and low transmission pressure and oil pressure. They all have there own light so we know what is alarming in an instant. This may be more than you are looking for but it will at least give you other options. Hope it helps.
Don and Lana

Don Montgomery and Lana Nelson


We live aboard as well as planning to cut dock lines this January for an extended cruise with no return date scheduled. The lithmus test for our bilge system was to put the water hose from the dock in the bilge and let it run to simulate a broken water line while hooked to city water. We did not want to return from work to find a mast sticking out of the water in our slip. The 1700 GPH bilge pump failed the test and that is what drove the pump size specification. You are welcome to write if you have questions or come visit if you are in the area.
Don and Lana

George and Rayna Shaunfield

Thank you for the good desription of your approach to the potential problem. You obviously have given it a lot of thought. Draining the batteries with the pumps running would be a problem for many. However, your extensive solar panels could probably keep both pumps running during daylight hours. Then the batteries would last part of the night. Surely someone would respond well before that time even if you were away from the boat. Good idea mounting the alarm in the cockpit, too.

I decided to adopt the approach recommended by Don Casey - install a small pump with 1/2" hose lowest in the bilge controlled by a float switch. It works the most, but is inexpensive to replace when it fails, as they all do eventually. Then install a really large capacity pump a few inches higher with large hose. His reasoning is most water in the bilge is relatively small amounts (shaft packing drips, etc). The small hose holds very little water to drain back into the bilge when it cycles off. (A large diameter hose lets a lot more water drain back in.) Hmm, an alarm might be a good thing for me even though my boat is in the slip here at my house (far from a marina with other folks around). I think an alarm tied into the high capacity pump might be the appropriate combination for me.

Thanks for your contribution. Randy, thanks for bringing this subject up.


Randell 'Randy' Kocurek

Quick report:
You're welcome, George. I liked your input alot, especially since I already have small and large electric bilge pumps set up.
Bought a Rule from West Marine. Did not think the alarm volume or light were adequate. Easy return/refund "no hassles policy". $60.
Made a custom rig. Bought a better float switch with housing and 5 yr. warranty (not 2 as before) for $40 from West Marine. Went to Radio Shack and bought a "buzzer" 12v that put out a siren-like sound at 110 decibles. Now, that will do! $15, and a 12v red light (2 for $2.50). Much brighter than the packaged unit I returned.
Now, made a little teak shelf to hug the starboard side of the bilge sump area. Painted it white. Plan to glue it on. The float switch mounts on top of it (two screws). Had to be level.
So, all ready to install. Plan to put the buzzer and light up under the cover of the stbd. side of the companionway hatch where it will be easy to hear/see from the cockpit or inside, and hopefully, other boaters in the vicinity if it should go off dockside.
And, George, I don't know if you would hear that 110 decibles very well in your circumstances. Still, it's something to work with.
I think I'll install the alarm on its own ciruit. If the bilge pump were to fail due to an electrical failure, well, . . . you get the picture.

Randell 'Randy' Kocurek

Ouch! had to make a third engineering effort to get this right. On further reflection the Radio Shack siren alarm and red light were not going to work. They were both very lightly wired, and any motion of the boat would have quickly snapped the wires, no matter how carefully soldered. So, I ditched that plan and went with the 12v horn as an alarm, cost of horn about $24. It looks and sounds good now.
Also found a Rule commercial package online for about 65$ that had an 85 decibel alarm. That should be enough (but the Rule I tried first was a solid very high pitched tone with not much character-- hard to explain but probably would not wake up a dog). I did not try the newly located commercial unit as I had already started my own custom package and had the float switch installed.
Then, when the 12v horn came out of its box, it was a surprisingly heavy current draw (probably explaining why the original Rule commercial package I bought was so weak on the alarm sound level-- allowed for cheap installation as heavy copper wire is no fun paying for). Luckily, the previously purchased and installed wiring was adequate.
So, it may be possible to wire the second/bigger 12v bilge pump directly to the high water bilge alarm float switch-- but I may need to run dedicated wire due to the anticipated high current draw on a Rule 3700 pump. Just have to do the math.
All in all, it would have been nice to use a commercially packaged high water bilge alarm product, but I sure know that horn sounds like an alarm neighbors can hear, and no doubt it will wake up a snoozing sailor.

Randell 'Randy' Kocurek

Went to the merchant that sold the horn. It only draws 3 amps. So, no problem there. System is AOK, and I am very pleased with it. Seems to be the only boat on the pier that has a high water alarm installed.
By the way, two fishing buddies have recently relayed experiences of near disasters that could have been minimized with such an alarm.
The 3700 bilge pump draws 15.5 amps. So, it'll probably need its own run of pretty stout wire, # 10 maybe.
One thing I did learn is that 16 AWG wire is the minimum for boat wiring according to the Boat and Yacht Council. So, the Radio Shack siren and light were not even close to compliance. It was good to ditch those before shutting down the job.
It was a lot of work due most probably due to my inexperience with electrical installations.

Tom Crank

16 AWG is the minimum for wiring runs. You can still have smaller wires connected to the load you just use step down butt connectors between the heavier wire and the light (often 18 or 22awg) wire of the load.

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