Learn More About a Boat by Looking in the Bilge

Last week we saw how an anchor locker can give you a window into a boat’s soul, and this week, we’ll delve into another way to see beyond skin deep. In the cockpit, below deck level we can once again see just how deep that boat’s beauty goes.

Look below the deck level, like in this Cobia, to see how well a boat’s really built.

Open every access hatch and look to make sure all bilge items of importance—pumps, seacocks, valves, batteries, etc.—are within reach; you’d be amazed at how many builders bury these items in spots that only a contortionist could ever access. Remember that any through-hulls below the waterline should be fitted with seacocks that can be shut off via a ball valve, and all hoses and fittings should have double hose clamps securing them. Stainless-steel clamps are a must, and here’s where a small magnet can come in handy. Many clamps are called stainless, but the screw and worm gear in them is made with cheaper metal. This is really dishonest marketing by a company that prints “stainless-steel hose clamp” on the package, yet fails to disclose that these other pieces-parts are garbage. But you can tell the difference for sure—run your magnet across them, and if the magnet reacts to the metal, the clamps are crap. Magnets won’t react to real stainless-steel. You can use this trick throughout the boat, to check suspect hardware and make sure it’s real high-quality stainless.

In the bilge is also the area where you can slap an eyeball on the boat’s stringers. These make up the backbone of the boat, so they’re an imperative part of its structure. Usually stringers are either fiberglassed to the hull, or are set in a bed of Plexus or similar adhesive. In either case, look along the bottom edges to make sure there are no gaps or cracks between the stringer and the hull. In older boats, any indication of rot (older stringers were often cored with wood) or stringer separation should scare you away, period, because massive repairs could be required to get the boat ship shape. Same goes for bulkheads where they meet the hull.

Another item you’ll want to pay attention to in the bilge is the bilge pump outflow hose. What you’ll look for here is a loop in the hose, above the waterline, just before it mates with the through-hull fitting. This is called an anti-siphon loop, and if the through-hull dips below the waterline this loop is what prevents the hose from back-filling the bilge with water. It’s an ABYC requirement, but one we’ve seen neglected on many new and used boats.

While we’re back here, might as well check out the power system, too, right? Maybe you feel comfortable doing so, but I recommend that on any used vessel, a trained marine mechanic be called in. Sure, most of us know enough to check the oil and make sure it’s not milky (a sign of water intrusion) and look at the plugs and belts to be sure they’re clean and in good shape. But the power plant is a complex beast on which you depend—so shell out the bucks for a pro, if you’re serious about buying a used boat. On new boats, naturally, powerplant problems usually aren’t much of a concern. Still, there are a couple of performance details to check for. But that will happen during your sea trial… and in next week’s blog, we’ll cast off the lines!

Lenny Rudow:
Related Post