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 categories types of Bilge Systems:

Bailing Sponges
Hand Bilge Pumps
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.

Hand 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!

Beckson Hand Bilge Pump "Thirsty-Mate" is the one and only! A durable and reliable hand pump - it pumps for years and does not rust or jam.

  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

We use and recommend:

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.

A simple block of foam or auto sponge will do the job but it is usually the first thing seen floating away after a capsize! Secure your sponge in a bag such as the Sea to Summit XXS (2.5L) Mesh Stuff Sack or purchase a SealLine Bailing Sponge, tied on and clipped with a Nylon Snaphook.

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!

The Magnetx kayak bilge pump system consists of:

  • Magnetx switch - magnetic read switches sealed in a box, mounted inside the cockpit or day hatch. A magnet mounted on the deck above the switch , within reach of the paddler, is used to complete the circuit.
  • The switch is connected to a battery in a sealed container - Pelican 1020 Microcase with glands to seal the electrical connections. This battery case is mounted using velcro inside the day hatch (or back hatch). We always recommend keeping your battery in a water-resistant container.
  • The 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) . 
  • We now recommend Lithium ferrous oxide batteries. These come with matching charger as a set.

Our YouTube below shows how to install this system, or we can arrange installation for local customers.


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.