I Learned About Boating From This: Check Those Check Valves!

These nonrecommended devices must be inspected and maintained if used. Here's how to do that and protect your boat.
Checking check valves
The one-way valve can create an air gap in the line, making it impossible for some pumps to prime. Tom King

Look out for one-way valves located in your bilge-pump overboard discharge hose. The intended purpose is to prevent the water left in the bilge hose from flowing back into the boat after the pump shuts off. In theory, it’s a great idea. In reality, it could sink your boat.

Being a cautious boater, I constantly check to make sure everything works properly. The -normal procedure for checking bilge-pump operation is to run it from the manual switch at the helm and also check that the pump runs when the float switch is activated.

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One day, while cleaning the bilge, I decided to test the pump system by running the hose into the bilge. The pump kicked on, but no water pumped out. I ordered new valves and installed them. Sometimes it would work, sometimes not. This perplexed me because the bilge-pump system in a boat is pretty simple, and this shouldn’t happen.

As it turns out, the one-way valve can create an air gap in the line, making it impossible for some pumps to prime. The one-way valves will reportedly work with diaphragm pumps. I think it’s important that people are aware of this. I fully expected that my bilge pumps were ready, willing and able to do their job when needed. Apparently, I was wrong.

Ron Wolfson
Treasure Island, Florida

[Check valves violate ABYC standards but can prove helpful for low-freeboard boats. The bilge outlet of such boats can become submerged, especially while launching from a -trailer, flooding the bilge if there is no check valve. However, these valves must be routinely checked and maintained. Also, new Rule bilge pumps utilize an integral check valve that is said not to air-lock. —Ed.]

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