Pumps [35]

By Andrew Eddy

How did all that water get in there anyway?

Damn, it just happened, the unthinkable! You’ve capsized in the ocean, you’ve done a wet exit. Now that you’re in the water, hanging on to the kayak and your paddle, what are you going to do? You have choices: you can re-enter and roll; you can climb into the cockpit over the stern deck; you can pull out that paddle float, or inflate those sponsons, and put into action what you refined in those practice sessions at the lagoon and at the beach.

Regardless of the method that you use to get back into the kayak, you still have a flooded cockpit. When you are upright and in the boat, that water will still be there. It will slosh around, out of time with your motion. The same conditions that capsized you will still be there. With all that water moving around, inside and outside your kayak, you probably won’t have as much control of your kayak as you want. You must get that water out.

Some kayaks meet the Australian Board of Canoe Education’s guidelines on a ‘minimum volume cockpit’. This means that the kayak was designed and built to take in as little water as possible. Some designers take this to an extreme – there is one Australian kayak with a cockpit volume of only 80 litres – that’s 40 litres of water once your legs displace their own volume. Contrast this with kayaks that have 120 litres or more in the cockpit. That’s up to 80+ litres – the weight of another person – of water sloshing around your body and upsetting the kayak.

In some kayaks, it may be possible to empty the cockpit before you roll the boat upright, just by pushing the stern down in the water. Those boats may have a cockpit pod (like the Puffin) or a podded seat (like the Arctic Raider and its siblings) or a cockpit sock (like some folding boats). These kayaks have lower-volume cockpits. But if the kayak is loaded with gear, you won’t be able to empty the cockpit in this way. The kayak is already too heavy.

Try it with your own kayak; see if it is possible to empty the cockpit, by pushing the stern down, and then climb back in.

Now, how do I get that water out?

From the NSW Waterways’ Safe Boating Handbook:

“The following lists… minimum safety equipment …[for] boats 5 to 8 metres:

  • bucket – minimum 9 litres, with rope lanyard
  • bilge pump – minimum 45 litres per minute – optional”

Well, the Waterways regulation on bailing out a 5 metre boat doesn’t look all that practical. Try getting that two gallon bucket between your knees! Try storing it afterwards! There must be a better way of getting that water out.

From the Australian Board of Canoe Education:

“Some means of removing water is required, and it must be capable of ‘hands off’ operation.”

It would be best to be able to get the water out:

  • while you are in the kayak
  • with the sprayskirt on, so more water doesn’t come in (remember the breaking waves that capsized you?)
  • while paddling out of the area to somewhere calmer, or at least staying upright and bracing against that next set of waves or the wind.

Table 1 discusses the different equipment available for emptying the cockpit (and other flooded compartments) with the good points and the bad for each piece of gear.

So, how do other people do it?

Within the Sea Kayak Club, different members use different combinations of gear. Many members are well-equipped; some are able to look after themselves and help out their companions when they’re in difficulties.

The most popular combinations are:

  • a high capacity (350 gallon-per-hour or more) electric pump together with a sponge or bailer
  • a foot pump and sponge or bailer
  • a yabby-pump type of bilge pump and a sponge or bailer

Check the pros and cons of each. Think about what can go wrong with each, the spare parts you might carry. Think about how they might work in rough conditions.

Owners of folding kayaks are especially restricted as to the pump system they can use. They’re limited to portable electric pumps, ‘yabby pumps’, bailers and sponges. Some of these boats are sold without a cockpit sock, so the whole kayak can flood in a capsize. Try bailing out 700 litres of water in big waves!

The last thing to consider is: how would you deal with a hole in the hull? Rocks and other peoples kayaks can do some spectacular damage. Many paddlers, who never expected to damage the kayak’s hull at sea, have had to deal with holes, and leaks, in their boats. In some instances these people have been well off-shore. It helps a lot to have secondary buoyancy behind your bulkheads. Flotation bags, gear in dry-bags, inflated wine-cask bladders are all good options for excluding some water from the kayak’s compartments. A roll of duct tape comes in handy too.

My typical belt-and-braces approach is as follows (copy it or chuckle, as you wish):

  • an Arctic Raider, with its podded seat – somewhat-reduced cockpit volume
  • a foot pump, mounted in the foot plate – this will empty the cockpit in about three minutes from the start of the re-enter-and-roll, meanwhile I’m outta there …
  • a sponge, for the mud
  • a ‘yabby pump’ for the rest of the group, or to empty my own hatches
  • flotation bags in the bow and stern, gear in dry-bags
  • a roll of duct-tape and a Chux, to dry the fibreglass ready for patching

Now I can paddle and relax. Provided that the kayak isn’t broken in half, I should stay afloat and get back home OK. What about you?

Table 1: Pump Systems and Their Features
Type Pros Cons Notes
  • simple, handy
  • can move large volumes of water, with the right wrist action
  • you can bail out a friend in need
  • required by law (!!)
  • can be hard to get a 9 litre bucket between your legs!
  • any bailer can be hard to use in a small cockpit
  • requires an open cockpit – no sprayskirt- you must bail out water while waves are washing in
  • you can only keep one hand on the paddle – maybe enough to stay upright, but not enough to get away from trouble
  • useful last-ditch back-up to a pump system
  • “Made in Australia from recycled materials” – use a cut-down plastic juice-bottle with handle
  • car-wash sponges work well simple, handy
  • can remove that last bit of water, sand and mud
  • you can sponge off a friend
  • only moves small volumes
  • requires an open cockpit – you must sponge out water while waves are washing in
  • you can only keep one hand on the paddle – maybe enough to stay upright, but not enough to get away from trouble
  • good as a supplement to a pump system
  • dirt cheap – $1.50 or so
Hand-operated pump, i.e. “yabby pump”
  • cheap
  • you can pump out a friend in need
  • you can pump out a flooded compartment other than the cockpit
  • use one to cool down your friends at sea or at the beach
  • they don’t float – until you glue on closed-cell foam and a lanyard
  • requires an open cockpit – you must pump out water while waves are washing in
  • you can’t paddle at all, and may have trouble staying upright while you use both hands to pump – you will need the support of a friend
  • useful for helping out others in the group
  • $25 or so – no excuses!
Deck-mounted hand pump, e.g. Henderson Chimp
  • you can pump with the sprayskirt on
  • someone else can pump you out while you raft up
  • can move a good volume of water
  • do not need to be fitted for the paddler’s leg-length
  • some methods of fitting allow you to pull out a hose and pump out someone else’s boat
  • low maintenance
  • hard to leave at home
  • require one hand off the paddle – you can brace, but not paddle out of danger
  • some models or fitting locations require the paddler to twist around in the cockpit, reducing stability
  • some models, with detachable handles, allow you to lose the handle!
  • may require custom fibreglass work
  • an old style of doing things, popular in older British boats
  • from $50 to $150 for the pump – add fitting costs
  • requires fibreglass work to recess the pump into the deck, therefore they are potentially expensive
Foot pump
  • mounted on the forward bulkhead or a foot-plate can pump with the sprayskirt on
  • can move a good volume of water
  • you can brace, and paddle out of trouble, while pumping the cockpit out
  • low maintenance
  • hard to leave at home
  • needs to be fitted to the boat
  • needs to be fitted to the paddler
  • from $50 to $150 for the pump – add fitting
  • highly recommended for low maintenance, ease of use, and efficiency
Fixed electric pump some models (eg Rule 1100 gph)
  • can move enormous amounts of water out of the boat, very quickly
  • even the smaller 350 gph pumps are very effective
  • you can brace, and paddle out of trouble, while pumping the cockpit out
  • fairly easy to fit
  • hard to leave at home
  • requires some maintenance – occasional checks for corroded wires and terminals
  • batteries need recharging before trips recommended for high volume and ease of use
  • a complete system could start at $80, including all hoses and fittings, battery charger extra
  • highly recommended
Portable electric pump
  • portable
  • hands-free – pump while you paddle out of trouble
  • you can pump out someone else’s boat – one model even fits into the small VCP and Henderson hatches
  • some run on D-cells
  • you must open the spray skirt to set the pump up, and open the spray skirt to switch the pump off
  • the commercial one, with D-cells, pumps slowly – but surely!
  • you must check the batteries
  • they don’t float until you remove the steel base-plate
  • the commercial kinds are not especially expensive
  • or make your own
  • highly recommended
Dinghy self-bailer
  • simple to fit
  • cheap
  • can move a good volume of water, especially with a vortex generator plate and while under sail
  • you can brace, and paddle out of trouble, while pumping out the cockpit
  • ineffective unless paddling fast – upwind you might sink anyway (or at least get very wet feet)
  • you must open the spray-skirt to turn it off
  • as soon as you stop, the boat floods again
  • surf lifesaver’s boats stopped using them in preference to electric pumps