Kayak Bilge Systems

Most states in Australia have a requirement that vessels with enclosed compartments or cockpits must have a means of removing bilge water if they are not self-draining. This is only common sense - in choppy conditions and when launching in waves you will nearly always get water in the cockpit and if a capsize occurs you may not necessarily get the kayak fully drained during a self- or assisted rescue.

In reality this should not be the case - the cockpit should be emptied as much as possible before re-entry (see Learn to Kayak)- we use our Beckson Hand Pump more for cleaning out the kayak!  It pumps sand and heavy grit with ease, never gets blocked and we have had most pumps still functioning after 6 years of work! Sponges are great way of cleaning up the remaining drips and splashes over you cockpit

Under flat conditions a hand pump is usually sufficient but if you kayak in challenging conditions or like to surf, you will want to be able to pump out your kayak while leaving your hands free to keep paddling. This is where an electronic bilge system comes into its own and when you need it you need it! And it can get exciting! 

There are different levels of Bilge Systems:

Bailing Sponges with
Hand Bilge Pumps and/or
Electronic (Hands free) Bilge Systems

Each state has their own laws and safety requirements - most (including Victoria) specify that any paddlecraft with a covered bilge or closed underfloor compartments must have a manual or electric bilge pumping system. A minimum requirement would be a bailing sponge and hand pump. See our page on Minimum and Recommended Safety Equipment for more information.

Hand Bilge Pumps

A hand pump is a simple device for pumping water from the cockpit or the hatches and is not to be mistaken for a water cannon! Its two-handed operation is fine in an assisted rescue when you are rafted up but if you need to use it after self rescuing you may find yourself repeating the rescue. Learn to empty the kayak before re-entering if you have missed your roll, or invest in an electronic system.

Why carry a hand pump if you have a hands-free system? Well you may be rescuing someone else and your pump is the most conveniently placed (or it may be a double kayak) or you may need to pump out a hatch - covers may implode in surf or a carelessly re-fitted day hatch cover can lead to flooding.

A hand pump is also your back up in case your electronic system fails - maintenance is crucial in the salt water environment or you might simply have a flat battery after too many pump-outs!

Carry a hand pump and sponge - make sure they are easily accessible from the cockpit

Carry a hand pump and sponge - make sure they are easily accessible from the cockpit

Beckson "Thirsty Mate" Hand Pump

We use and recommend the Beckson Hand Bilge Pump "Thirsty-Mate". It is the one and only! We use it on all our programs and courses - it is a great reliable pump that can really move a good volume of water - around half a litre (500ml) per stroke, so you can pump out up to 30 litres of water in a minute.

The pump is just under 46cm long - you should keep your pump accessible so stowing it under the deck bungees or in the cockpit (use some velcro to keep it in place). The floatation sleeve ensures it will not sink if it does get loose.

The construction of this hand pump is very sturdy - some of our pumps have been going over on our programs for several years with solid use. The heavy-duty plastic construction is reinforced by aluminium - doesn't flex and we've never seen one break.

Sea To Summit Solution Gear Hand Pump

The Sea to Summit Solution Gear Bilge Pump is designed specifically for canoes and kayaks. It is 46cm long - stow it under the shockcord (bungee elastic) on the deck or down the side of your seat - somewhere you can get to it easily. If you need more reach in a canoe a hose can be attached to the outlet.

The pump is surrounded by a big bright foam sleeve that will keep it floating and visible if you drop it overboard.

Sea To Summit Hand Pump

Sea To Summit Hand Pump

The pump capacity is approximately 400ml per pump. The construction is robust - marine grade screws and anodised aluminium in the body to reduce flex.

Bailing Sponge (Bailing 'Bucket')

This is a fancy name for a sponge, but the regulations say you should have a “Bailer Bucket!” but that would be silly!  And this is the most useful device for getting out the last bit of water, as demonstrated at the end of our YouTube self-rescue video.

It is also the best thing to clean up that last bit of sand and grit from your cockpit and hatches and making sure your kayak is spick and span before you put it away.

Our Bailing Sponge in a bag

Our Bailing Sponge in a bag

Most of us would probably tuck a simple block of foam or auto sponge away in the cockpit, out of the way. Somehow, when we capsize, the sponge seems to readily escape, last seen floating away and becoming another bit of non-biodegradable marine debris. The solution to this is to fit a clip to the sponge so it can be attached to deck bungees or cockpit fittings.

    Available complete or you can DIY.


    Sponge, mesh bag and nylon clip

    Sponge, mesh bag and nylon clip

    Electronic Bilge Systems

    When you do not have time to pump!  Refit your spray deck and get paddling and supporting! Speed defies gravity! 

    If you paddle in anything other than flat water or if you sometimes paddle without your paddle buddies, you should consider installing a hands-free bilge pump system. This should also be considered if you are planning a major expedition. Being able to pump out the cockpit while still paddling is a must in rough seas when you don’t want to be sitting still, with water sloshing in as fast as you pump it out!

    An electronic system consists of a switch, a pump (and associated mountings and connections) and a battery in a waterproof container. We have tried toggle switches and air switches but have found the sealed magnetic switch to be the most durable.  Some maintenance is still required - charging you batteries and occasionally replacing them when they fail!

    Our Magnetx kayak bilge pump system consists of:

    • Th Rule pump kit is mounted (usually) on the bulkhead behind the seat or wherever the lowest part of the cockpit allows water to pool (might also be the front bulkhead). 

    The pump kit comprises a Rule 12v 500gph pump, 60cm plastic tube, a plastic outlet and a bracket.

    Tip: remove the mesh at the mouth of the outlet so it doesn't clog if your pump sucks up sand.

    • Magnetx Switch - magnetic read switches sealed in a box, preferably mounted inside the day hatch. A magnet mounted on the deck above the switch, within reach of the paddler, is used to complete the circuit. While the magnet is positioned above the switch box the pump will be on.
    Rule Pump Kit - pump, bracket hose and outlet - view from inside the 'cockpit' behind the seat

    Rule Pump Kit - pump, bracket hose and outlet - view from inside the 'cockpit' behind the seat

    The switch comes with 2x Deck line guides and a length of shock cord to string the magnet holder on - we find the best place for this is slightly behind and to the side of the cockpit so it can be easily reached and this means the switch is mounted inside the day hatch.

    • The switch is connected to a battery in a sealed container - in a Pelican 1020 Microcase modified with glands to seal the electrical connections. This battery case is mounted using velcro inside the day hatch (or back hatch if no day hatch) - we are now transitioning to using deck line guides and shock cord (bungee cord) to mount the battery box.

    We always recommend keeping your battery in a water-resistant container.

    Magnetx switch, battery box containing 2x Lithium batteries - view from inside 'day hatch'.

    Magnetx switch, battery box containing 2x Lithium batteries - view from inside 'day hatch'.

    Tip: No box is completely waterproof! If you leave water in your day hatch for long periods it will eventually seep into the battery box. Always check the o-ring seal when you finish charging the battery and make sure there are no grains of sand or salt crystals to break the seal. Mount the box up near the top of your day hatch to minimise the chances of water seepage if you flood your day hatch.

    • You will need a 12v battery to power the system. We now recommend Lithium ferrous oxide batteries. These come with matching charger as a set. The battery box is big enough to carry a spare Lithium battery if you are going on a long expedition and want to carry an extra battery.
      Gel cell batteries are also good for this system - available to pick up or from your local electrial store (we can't post these!).

    For very large cockpits or double kayaks with connected cockpits you may require a bigger pump to move more water quickly (Rule 800 or 1000gph) - this requires the system scaling up - bigger Gel Cell battery and a bigger battery box to protect it - contact us to advise on larger bilge systems.

    Our YouTube below shows how to install this system, or we can arrange installation for local customers in the Melbourne area.
    Note this video shows the older Rule pump - the newer model has an oval profile so we have devised a new bracket for it - shown in the photos above.


    Note: Stay tuned for a Youtube featuring our new Lithium battery based system!


    For more info and to see our range of Bilge pump system products click here.

    For a demonstration of self-rescues - draining the kayak, re-entry and hand pump & bailing sponge use, see our YouTube videos:
    Kayak Self-Rescue - Paddle Float
    Kayak Self-Rescue - Cowboy Scramble
    How to Fit an Electric Bilge Pump " Magnetx" Sea Kayak Mirage 580

    We recommend you undertake instruction with a qualified instructor to learn rescue techniques.