Installing Washdown Pumps


A typical pressurized system install will include the following:

12-volt DC washdown pump (marine grade with pressure switch)

2. Hose (garden hose will work OK above deck, but reinforced hose should be used for runs belowdecks.)

3. Corrosion-proof through-deck fitting

4. Correctly sized breaker or fuse

5. Marine-grade wire and connectors

6. Stainless-steel hose clamps (enough to double clamp each point)

7. Intake strainer

8. Y or T connector

9. Water source

Most washdown pumps are plumbed to draw directly from the water you’re sailing in (fresh or salt), in which case, the amount of water available for use is unlimited. The only problem with using a raw-water system in salt water is the residue left behind—although a salty boat is often better than a nasty one.

A second option is feeding the system from the boat’s freshwater tank. This will typically limit the amount of water you can use, but it does offer the advantage of reducing the effects of corrosion on metals via freshwater washdowns.

A third option is plumbing your system to both, giving you an unlimited supply of raw water and the option of that final freshwater rinse with minimal drain on your potable water supply. Freshwater washdowns are plumbed into the freshwater system at a convenient point (possibly near the tank), while systems supplying raw water require either a dedicated through-hull or connection via a “T” fitting into an existing raw-water system hose (a head intake for example, but not a raw-water engine-cooling intake). When deciding which existing through-hull to “T” into, make sure the ability to meet its original function (providing engine-cooling water, etc.) doesn’t suffer.

Using an existing through-hull is the most common route as most shy away from punching new holes in the hull below the waterline. It also allows you to complete the installation with the boat in the water (simply shut off the seacock for the raw-water system you’re tapping into prior to installing the T fitting).

Use properly reinforced hose during the install (especially on the pump’s suction side to prevent the hose from collapsing) and ensure all hose transition points are double clamped with marine-grade, stainless-steel clamps where possible.

Washdown pumps should be located in an accessible area well above the normal accumulation of bilge water between water supply and deck outlet, ideally as close as possible to its power source (to simplify wiring runs). Pumps push water better than they pull it, so it should also be as close as possible to the water supply in a location that doesn’t exceed the pump’s self-priming capability. Be sure the pump installation itself is in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and that it includes an intake filter between pump and the water supply to prevent pump damage due to debris.

When planning an install, you’ll also need to figure out where to locate the deck outlet. Most folks simply mount it on the foredeck (close to the anchor) as cleaning ground tackle is often viewed as its primary job; however, there’s no rule saying it has to be there. If tapping into the head raw water through-hull, for example, a coachroof installation above the head will make for a shorter internal hose run, while allowing you to wash more of the entire boat using a shorter hose.

Wherever you install the outlet, be sure that you have enough space beneath the deck to accommodate the hose and associated fittings, and that you won’t be drilling into anything unexpected (wiring, cables, etc.).

Seal the hole’s edges with thickened epoxy when cutting through cored decks to prevent water intrusion into the core and the possibility of rot later on—bedding the fitting with a suitable marine caulking will help too.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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