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HomeNL-2017-08 Gear Tip: Bailing Sponge

Gear Tip: The Bailing Sponge
August 2017
by John Rich
Back in January I talked about the necessity for having a bailing bucket for your canoe, which you can read here.  A close companion to your bailing bucket should be a bailing sponge, sometimes called a bilge sponge.

Many of our Texas rivers have muddy banks, muddy bars and/or muddy bottoms. You never know where mud is going to turn up. And when you step in it, that mud gets transferred to your boat deck. Then you've got a muddy mess inside your boat. You can spend all day wallowing in that mud like a pig, or you can clean it up to make a nice tidy ship, and a more enjoyable trip. So, that's when you need a bailing sponge.

That's going to require a sponge!

A bailing sponge is also handy for removing water from the inside of your boat. Water gets inside when you've tipped over, of course. And water also creeps in by dripping off your double-blade paddle as you tilt it up and down, your single blade paddle when you switch from side to side, and by stepping in and out of your boat from the water. Water is sneaky, it finds all kinds of ways to get inside your boat. A bailing bucket or bilge pump will remove most of the water, but there are always nooks and crannies that only a sponge will reach, or that last little pool on the deck which you can't scoop up with your bailing bucket. 

And water weighs 8 pounds per gallon. So it doesn't take much of it sloshing around to cause you extra work. That's unnecessary additional weight that you have to push around all day. You wouldn't add 4 lbs of weight to each of your shoes and walk around like that all day, would you? Of course not. So why do it with your boat? It's enough work already paddling that heavy boat - you don't want to add more weight to it that you don't need. 

That's going to require a sponge!

The best thing for cleaning up that mud and small amounts of water is a sponge. Any old sponge will do, like the one you use to wash your car. But just like all our other gear, there are customized versions which work better for canoes and kayaks.

What are the desired requirements for a canoe bailing sponge? Well, you want one that is durable so that it doesn't start shredding apart, leaving bits of foam all over the place. That requires that the delicate sponge itself be covered with some durable material on the outside, which both lets the water in and out, and protects the sponge from wear. It also needs to be fairly big so that it soaks up lots of water, and squeezes it back out easily. And you want to be able to attach it to your boat so that when you tip over, the sponge doesn't fall out, sink to the bottom of the river and get lost, because that's exactly when you'll need it most.

So, what's out there in the market to fulfill this need and meets those requirements? Here are a few examples:

(click to enlarge)


The first sponge in purple on the top left is a $10 model, with a fabric covered sponge and an attachment loop. Good, but kind of small.
The second version in yellow on the top right is a $15 deluxe model with a funny name, but no attachment loop. It also has a viscose cover, whatever that is, but it sure sounds good. 

Actually, "viscose" is just another name for rayon, but if they told you it was rayon, it wouldn't sound as fancy, and you wouldn't want to spend $15 for it. Do you want to spend $15 for a sponge just to have it get lost in the water because there's no attachment loop?

The third version in blue at bottom center is just an ordinary car wash sponge, which can be purchased for a meager $5 at any auto parts store. It has a terry cloth cover to protect the sponge, and it's large enough to soak up lots of water. The only problem is there is no loop with which to attach it to your boat...

Being a cheapskate and not wanting to pay shipping charges for a specialized $10 sponge, I bought the car wash sponge, and then attached a loop to it myself. I used a piece of nylon tape I had laying around. Nylon is easy to work with, because you don't have to worry about folding the ends inside themselves when you sew to prevent unraveling of threads. With nylon, you just run a flame from a cigarette lighter over the ends, and the threads melt and fuse together, and will then never unravel. Next, I pulled the cloth cover away from the sponge far enough to get some slack so it would fit under the presser foot on my sewing machine, and ran several small zigzag bar tacks across it to attach the loop to the sponge. Done! Quick and easy. Then I slipped a spare carabiner through the loop to serve as my means to attach the sponge to my boat.

Basic sponge With loop attached

Close-up of loop Clipped to boat

Click here to see many more examples of bilge sponges.

I keep my bailing bucket and sponge clipped to my gunwale right behind my seat. I can reach around behind me at any time and lay a hand on whichever one I need.

Do you need usage instructions? Really? Oh, okay... For water, squeeze the sponge down small in your hand, shove it into the water, and let it expand. This will suck up the water. Then lift it over the side of the boat and squeeze again to release the water back into the river where it belongs. Repeat as necessary. For mud, it's more like a mop, where you first get the sponge slightly wet in the river, mop up as much mud as you can, rinse off in the river, repeat.

The sponge is also handy for cleaning up camp tables, getting the sand out of your tent, or even for cleaning the sand and mud off your boat and car at the car wash on the way home. It's a sponge multi-tool!

That's all I can think of to say about the bailing sponge, and it was probably more than you cared to read. Are you still here?

The bailing sponge - don't be caught without one, or you may have no choice but to wallow in mud all day like this pig: 

He likes it. Do you?

The author, John Rich