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HomeNL-2017-01 Gear Tip

Gear Tip: The Bailer
January, 2017
by John Rich

An essential gear requirement for every paddling trip is to have some means available to bail water out of your boat should it become necessary.  Of course, you hope not to ever need such an item, but one should always be prepared for the worst. It's better to  have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it. If a boat overturns or gets swamped, and it will sooner or later, it'll be filled with water.  And you need some means to remove that water to get the boat back into shape for paddling to continue your trip. 
Sometimes you can get most of the water out of the boat by using your muscle to tilt the boat sideways to pour most of the water out.  But you won't get all of it.  And in some circumstances, you might not have a decent place to stand with firm footing to be able to tilt the boat to get the water out - bailing may be your only option.  With kayaks and their enclosed decks, this is much more difficult, as the water stays trapped inside. You'll still need to bail water out of the inside of the hull.
A typical canoe can hold over 100 gallons of water.  At 8 pounds per gallon, that's 800 pounds of weight.  That's a lot of weight for even several strong men to try and lift and tip.  And since your bailer only holds about a gallon, that's a lot of bailing action to remove all the water.
And even if you don't need your bailer for your own boat, someone else might tip over, and you can use your bailer to help them out.  They'll be grateful for the assistance. And with multiple people bailing at once, the job gets done quicker, and with less wear and tear on each individual. It's called teamwork.
So, you need a bailer.
Here's what I use for a bailer - it's cheap, simple, sturdy and highly functional.
Start with a gallon of windshield washer fluid for your automobile.  It only costs $3, and you need it anyway for your car.  Once you've used up all the fluid pouring it into your car's windshield washer reservoir, don't throw that gallon jug away!  Cut the bottom off of the jug with a sharp knife or razor blade. Then glue the cap on the top, so it'll never come off again.  Don't use a water soluble glue like Elmer's, but instead use something like super-glue, epoxy or waterproof sealant.  If you lose the lid, that's like having a hole in the bottom of your bailing bucket, so it's important that it stay in place.  
Presto - you have a bailer!
The jug plastic is thick enough to be durable, yet also pliable enough to conform to the shape of the curves on the inside of your hull wherever it's needed, from the ends to the corners, to maximize water collection efficiency.  And the built-in handle is perfect for scooping and lifting the water over the side.
Windshield washer
    Bottom of jug
cut off
    Lid glued
in place
    Conforming to
The next thing to do is to find a way to attach it to your boat so that it's always available, and can't be lost. If it's just laying loose inside your boat, and sinks to the bottom of the river or floats away when you overturn, then it hasn't done you any good to have it.  So, it needs to be secured in such a manner that it doesn't get lost just when you need it most.  I clip a cheap carabiner to the jug handle, and then use that to attach it to my boat. I clip mine right behind my seat so that I can reach it while underway if necessary.

Carabiner attached
to handle
   Clipped to
And there you have it: an inexpensive, sturdy and effective bailer, ready to employ whenever it might be needed.  All you need to do is unclip it from its attachment point, and you can start bailing almost a gallon of water per scoop.  This is also much quicker and less work than those hand-powered bilge pumps, which move only a few ounces of water per cycle.  Although a bilge pump can be handy for those hard to reach nooks and crannies inside a decked kayak.

Bilge pump
You might come up with some other means of bailing water - you don't have to use my technique.  But the important thing is that you have something to do it with.  Sooner or later, you'll be glad you did.

~  ~ ~ ~ ~

For a companion story on the bailing sponge, click here.

The author, John Rich