Winter Projects: Clean and Green-up Your Boat's Bilge

by Jennifer Brett

While it’s definitely not many boater’s favorite places on their boat, it’s one that can have direct contact with the marine ecosystem: the bilge. With much of my life spent messing about in boats, I’ve seen a range of bilges, from pristine and orderly to dark, smelly and grimy. While it goes without saying that the clean bilge is more pleasant to work in and be around, did you know that it’s also better for the environment? Here are 6 tips to make your boat’s bilge better for both you and the ocean.

Bilge water gets pumped directly overboard, so it's important (and also good seamanship) to keep the bilge clean and free of oil and fuel residues

1.    Start with a good clean out and scrub. Use mostly water for this step, but if you need more cleaning power, use a non-toxic bilge cleaner diluted to the recommended strength. If there is any oily residue, soak it up with oil absorbers, or pump out the bilge at a designated bilge pump-out station. While you are in the bilge, be sure to clean all limber holes and check all plumbing, hoses, and seacocks. 

2.    Prevent future oily messes by keeping your engine tuned. Keep up with oil and filter changes. Perform an engine inspection before each excursion by checking seals, clamps, gaskets and filter connections for leaks and drips, and inspecting hoses for peeling or cracking. If you see any fuel, oil or other liquid spills, wipe up immediately. 

3.     Check to make sure all bilge pumps are clean and fully functional. Check and clean out any filters and be sure the float switches are operational.

4.    Once everything is clean, tidy and in good working order, consider giving the area a fresh coat of bilge paint. Not only will this brighten everything up, but the paint will also protect the hull and make leaks and dropped tools easier to spot.

5.    Place a fresh oil-absorbing pad underneath the engine and an oil-absorbing bilge sock near the bilge pump. This will help keep oil and fuel out of the bilge water, help keep pumps clean and protect the marine environment.

6.    Do not use dish soaps to make a spill disappear. It causes the oil to break down into tiny particles, which if pumped out, make the spill much harder to contain and clean up. Many dish soaps are also highly toxic to marine life.

Help protect the marine environment from pollution by preventing oil and fuel leaks into the bilge. Use oil-absorbing pads under the engine and near the bilge pumps.

For more information on this and other Green Boating topics, visit our Green Boating Guide