• Mobile App For Android Now Online!

    Download it here. The app is searchable in the Google Play Store under Sailboat Owners.

    Sorry iPhone/iPad users, we are still waiting on Apple. :(

    Click the X in the upper right corner to make this go away

Bilge burden

Phil Herring

Dethroned Admin
Mar 25, 1997
Hunter 450 Bainbridge Island
It's always there. Lurking just out of sight. Underfoot. Beneath your bunk.

More fertile than the most productive farmland. As fragrant as a holding tank.


How do you maintain your bilge?

Is it as clean as your toothbrush, or a place where you're afraid to look?

Share your maintenance tips here.



Mar 23, 2017
Hunter 30 Snug Harbor, Lake Champlain
It has depended upon my boats bilge set-up. I had a boat with a deep keel bilge, that was don't look, don't see... Hopefully nothing grows out of it that needs attending to. Other boats the bilge is easier to access so in that case I keep it clean simply by washing and wiping. I'm sure there are places I can't get to so those are on their own, so to speak.



Alden Forum Moderator
Jun 22, 2004
Alden 38' Challenger yawl Rockport Harbor
Our last boat had a deep bilge. After sitting at a mooring for a couple weeks, upon going below, your nose would wince.

Now with a much deeper bilge, that you can't reach, we have no odor problems. I chalk it up to this simple device:

Garboard plug removed._.jpg

Called a Garboard plug(which in this photo, the plug is removed). So for 7 months of the year, the bilge is drained of the last inch or so of water that usually lurks in a deep bilge. In the spring, you can put an extension on a shop vac and suck the dust-out.

We have a separate sump for the icebox that keeps any organic material out of the deep bilge. I have a manual bilge pump with a strum box on the inlet that rests on the bottom which leaves less than an inch of saltwater in the bilge. That pump also tells me instantly by priming, if we have a small leak somewhere.

The above and plenty of passive ventilation from cowl vents - which flow through the engine and bilge compartment - are our bilge maintenance through the season. No chemicals or cleaners needed. There are few smells worse than a stinky bilge.

Deep bilge vaccumned_.jpg
  • Like
Likes: jon hansen


Jul 24, 2005
Beneteau 323 Manistee, MI
The bilge in my Beneteau is so shallow that if it got much water in it, the floorboards would float.
Fortunately the bilge is dry and has been for 15 years. We avoid draining anything into it.
Thorough cleaning in the fall and winter storing with all of the floorboards pulled up keeps it nearly as clean as the day it left the factory.
Oct 22, 2014
CAL 35 Cruiser Portland OR, moored EVERETT WA
In the 5ft keel of my 1974 Cal lies the Hole known as the Bilge. It is a black deep void. After the purchase and getting her to her marina, I backed into the slip, and began to pump the effluent out into 5 gallon buckets. Carried them across the marina to the Bilge Water Disposal tank. It was a 5 hour job. 200 plus gallons of foul oily stanch. Unknown years of previous owners neglect and a dripping stuffing box.

it is not a pristine place you want to explore, yet it is not as foul odor producing either. We kind of exist along side each other. No more feeding, not yet steam cleaned. On the plus side the boat sits about 2 inches higher in the water.


Jul 30, 2016
Hunter 31 Lewis and Clark Lake
Oh,,,so much to share on this topic! Mine is a Hunter 31 which has a bilge, but also has a cavity between the hull and the interior lining of the cabin that acts like a bilge,,sort of. Water that drains from the ice box and from the motor area (along with any debris, diesel, etc.) finds its way into this (what I call) "false bilge". It turns into an organic chemistry experiment and your nose knows that something is very wrong. Several years ago I took a dremel tool and cut access holes into this cavity so that: 1) I can get cleaning agents into it, and 2) it will ventilate and dry out, avoiding future challenges (pic below). If it remains dry, all is well, if it gets wet or contaminated it needs attention. PREVENTION: I put a plug in the ice box drain and sponge it out after each use rather than allow that water to drain into "who knows where". I put a plug in the drain under the motor and use oil absorbing bilge diapers to collect any drips of diesel or oil. I use a small pump up sprayer with a wand and fill it with half bleach and half water and stick the wand into the access holes and every nook and cranny I can find and spray chemicals in before I go home each weekend. I open the bilge cover and run a high powered floor drying fan in the boat while I'm gone to keep air moving and moisture from building up. I leave the AC on while I'm gone to keep humidity down inside the cabin. All of this has helped immensely but is certainly a bit of a pain.


Jun 4, 2009
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
I suppose if I had access to the deepest part of our bilge I could stand up under the floorboards. It's difficult to get the bilge pump lines down there and there isn't even access to see down there. A Wookiee could be living down there and we'd never know.
We do have a Garboard plug which is about the first thing we open when in drydock. We'll use a hose from forward and aft to rinse the bilge in drydock, but that's about the extent of the maintenance we do.
It doesn't smell so I assume it's fairly clean.
Jul 7, 2004
Hunter 30T Cheney, KS
The bilge in my Beneteau is so shallow that if it got much water in it, the floorboards would float.
Fortunately the bilge is dry and has been for 15 years. We avoid draining anything into it.
Thorough cleaning in the fall and winter storing with all of the floorboards pulled up keeps it nearly as clean as the day it left the factory.
likewise on my Hunter. The seller we bought from would boast how squeaky clean she kept the bilge. I do test the pump regularly just in case.
Feb 3, 2015
Marlow Hunter 37 Reefpoint Marina Racine, WI
Both a/c units condensation lines drain to the bilge so keeping it dry rarely happens. I hose it out monthly. I do dry it out in the spring and fall. MH37 is the boat btw.

Rick D

Jun 14, 2008
Hunter Legend 40.5 Long Beach, Shoreline Marina, CA
My 40.5 Hunter has a super deep keel. I blocked the refrig and freezer drains. I put head bacterial treatment in there occasionally and it seems to work. No odor at all. FWIW


Nov 4, 2010
Beneteau 331 Deale, MD
I'm another with the super shallow Beneteau bilge(s). Pretty easy to keep it spick and span. But I do have to watch all of that hidden and inaccessible drain space under the liner. Thank goodness Beneteau doesn't drain the frige or shower in there, but I have had a can or two of soft drink burst and drain their sticky goodness into that area.
Dec 25, 2000
Hunter Passage 42 Shelter Bay, WA
Main bilge remains dry with a slight pleasant odor. I say pleasant, since growing up on a milk farm, my olfactory senses can tolerate odors that others find highly offensive. It seems what little seawater appears enters from the stuffing box. That water first enters a stringer space between the main bilge and the one beneath the shower sump. It will first spill over through a limber hole into this bilge area before overflowing into the main bilge, so I make it a practice to extract what little water (maybe a pint) appears in these two areas when I complete each daily cruise.

The aft cabin shower sump water is the one most prone to stink if left for a period of time, because the pump float switch leaves about a quart of soapy water. Showering every other day keeps the sump water cycled before any rotting can begin. After the first rotting experience that stunk up the boat several years ago, I now dry out the sump at the end of each cruise. Otherwise, if left, the boat will smell like a rotting roadkill carcass in a matter of a few days.

I do need to clean the bilge area again and will use a cleaner that has worked in the past. I place a small weight on the float switch, pour fresh water into the bilge until the dirty area is covered, then add the detergent and blend. After a day of cruising, that action will spruce up the bilge nicely.
Jan 17, 2020
Hunter 326 Oriental, NC
I am installing a shower sump above the level of the bilge on my 2004 Hunter 326. Into that sump box, I will also be sending the icebox melt water and another hose (I think it's from the prop packing). Unfortunately there is now way to run a hose all the way from the AC condensing water hose. This, I think I will "T" joint into the bilge's output along with the T that takes the output from the shower sump. How does this sound? So far, I've only bought all the parts and hoses, so comments are welcome!!@!


Jul 30, 2016
Hunter 31 Lewis and Clark Lake
If I'm reading this correctly you say you are going to "T" into the bilge's OUTPUT line. I would NOT recommend this! If you have water in the bilge it will be pumped back through this line under pressure from the pump. There is a very good chance that this bilge water will never make it out of the boat at the existing through-hull fitting and instead, end up in your shower sump, icebox, etc. It will then drain BACK into the line, trigger the float switch and continue a circular movement of nasty water.
Apr 12, 2007
Hunter 420 Herrington Harbor South
Pretty much self cleaning ;) both A/Cs drain into the bilge and with the high humidity there is lots of condensation to deal with. Fresh cold water supplied each time we use it. Keeps it pretty clean except that last inch which is always there but refreshed with A/C water all the time. As with Terry above other items drain into the shower sump or are so small they either evaporate or a sponge will clean it up with one swipe.