When your boat starts to sink, you pray the automatic bilge pump kicks in and saves the day-tragedy avoided. But what happens when your dinghy gets swamped, your baitwell clogs up, or your bilge pump needs a boost? If your first reaction is to grab a bucket, know that there are many gadgets that make bailing a whole lot easier. Here's a rundown on a few of our favorites.
Of the Cloth. If stowage is a problem, consider a 1½- or 3-gallon canvas bucket ($8 to $10; www.greenmountainproducts.com). Made from pre-shrunk 21-ounce cotton with a 2" cotton web handle, it won't mar your boat's gel coat. The bucket is malleable, so you can bend its edges to get into those hard-to-reach places that a solid bailer always misses. Plus it scrunches down to fit in any locker.
Power Pump. Don't rely on elbow grease. Get the WaterBuster electric portable pump ($50; www.attwoodmarine.com). Powered by three D batteries, this submersible pump has a 42" discharge hose and can pump as much as 200 gallons per hour to a maximum height of 4' for as long as 5 hours. It has a garden hose adapter if you need to reach deep into the bilge.
Heavy Artillery. The new 5' Bazooka Bailer ($45; www.taylormadeproducts.com) has three functions-bailer, boat hook, and power washer. Built from aluminum, it's sturdy enough to handle boat hook duties. As a bailer, just put the tip under water and extend the handle. It will suck up close to half a quart of water and, when you retract it, shoot it overboard like a water cannon (good also for targeting perching birds and guys who speed in the anchorage). There's also a larger 8' model ($55) that sucks up a quart per pump if you need the extra length and volume. For washing, the √" Acme thread on the end will accommodate many accessories, even ones from competitors.
Hand to Hand. For small dinghies, try this yellow plastic hand bailer ($10.50; www.datrex.com). Scoop up rainwater or spray almost to the final ounce. It doesn't rust, plus it comes with a lanyard, so you can't accidentally drop the bailer over the side. It also clips to an oar lock or motor mount for ready access. And get this: When you take Rover ashore to do his business, it can double as a pooper scooper.
To the Last Drop. You're down to the dregs and you need to get out the last drops of water. Time for a serious sponge like the Gigunda ($7; www.starbrite.com) or the Reggae ($10), which looks like a piece of 1960s shag carpet. Both use manmade sponge, but the scraggly part of the Reggae is made of microfiber, which allows it to absorb more water.
DIY. Of course, you can make your own hand bailer for nothing. Just save any quart- or gallon-size plastic bottle (with a handle, of course) and cut the bottom to shape with a sharp knife or box cutter. Square bottles work best. Don't forget to keep the cap or you'll be bailing forever.
Old Faithful. If volume on a budget is what you need, use a bucket-a plastic one won't scratch your fiberglass. Tie a short length of line to the handle to avoid tossing the bucket overboard. And remember, water weighs around eight pounds per gallon, so forget the oil drum.