Fish blood, seagull droppings, and mud: You’ve got to get them off the deck and fittings quickly, or they’ll dry out and become harder to clean once you’re back at the dock. A high-pressure washdown system will allow you to do just that.
Like many of the products we test at Practical Sailor, high-pressure water pumps live in the bowels of a boat. They are expected to function when called to duty and generally don’t get much thought or maintenance until they require replacement or repair. When that time comes, or you’re adding a washdown system to your boat, you’ll want to choose a pump that reliably meets your needs and performs as advertised.
We looked at a dozen pumps that would serve well as either raw or freshwater washdowns. Most even come packaged with their own hose nozzle.
What We Tested
Our goal was to assemble a wide range of high-pressure water pumps capable of handling washdown chores aboard anything from a small weekender to a mid-sized cruiser. We amassed a group of pumps whose prices range from $80 to almost $1,300, with advertised flow ratings from 3.5 to 11 gallons per minute. The three most expensive pumps came from Groco: the C-60, C-80, and Paragon Senior. Two makers each sent a pair of mid-priced pumps: From Jabsco came the Par-Max 3 and 4 and from Johnson Pump the Aqua Jet 3.4 and 5.0. SHURflo sent four pumps, including the low-priced Blaster, two versions of the Pro Blaster, and the Extreme Pro Blaster. A single pump from West Marine rounded out our group. We limited the field only to pumps using 12 volts DC as their power source.
How We Tested
Each pump was connected to DC power through the appropriate fuse. The power source was a marine-grade size 27 battery constantly held at 13.6 volts by a CSI Speco PSR-50 power supply. We monitored the supply voltage with a Sperry DM-4100A digital multimeter. This power supply setup effectively simulates using the pump aboard a boat with the engine, generator, or shore powered battery charger on line. Power usage was measured with a Fluke 336 ammeter.
Open-flow measurements were taken by pumping fresh water from a supply tank 28″ below the pump into a second 5-gallon tank at the end of 12 feet of standard 1/2″ garden hose. We calculated per-minute flow rates by timing the flow into the measured tank. Inlet lines for all pumps were 3/4″ nylon reinforced plastic.
Pump outlets were connected directly to a garden hose when possible. On the pumps that could not directly connect to the garden hose fitting, we inserted an inline converter to connect the pump outlet and the hose. The converter was 3″ long. We recorded the calculated gallon per minute flow rates and measured power usage for each pump.
Restricted testing was accomplished in the same manner, except we added a hose nozzle to the end of the garden hose. The same nozzle was used to test each pump. Again, we recorded flow rates and power usage.
Each pump was also given a “pressure rating.” This was a subjective rating based on how well the pump was able to push water through the nozzle. If water came out with the same velocity and reach as it did when connected to our municipal water supply, we gave it an Excellent rating. However, if the water came out of the nozzle without good pressure, we rated it Poor. The tester also took into account price, pressure rating, performance, and warranty.
Groco’s C-60, C-80, and Paragon Senior are powerful, well-built, but pricey. The performance of all three was exceptional, though none met their advertised flow rates in our test. Groco spokesman, John Cly, explained the reason they did not meet advertised rates is because Groco pumps are rated at zero head height with no outlet plumbing.
The pump housings and motor casings are all metal construction with bronze plumbing used throughout.
The biggest and baddest of the group was the Paragon Senior. It outperformed all the other pumps by a substantial margin. However, with a price of just under $1,300, this performance comes at a steep cost. It’s a brute in other ways too. Both the large electric motor and the all-metal pump housing are mounted on a husky metal frame; the whole rig tips the scales at 37 pounds. Power requirements are big as well, with this pump requires an electrical circuit protected by a 50-amp circuit breaker. No pressure shutoff switch is included with the pump; it must be added to the system at installation. A large open-ocean cruiser might find a need for this pump, but for most it would be overkill.
The C-60 and C-80 are nearly identical in appearance. Unless you notice the slightly larger motor on the C-80, checking the label is the only way to tell them apart. Both are packaged from the factory with the motor, attached pump, associated plumbing, pressure switch, and electrical gear mounted to a plastic board.
To install either pump in a boat, the plastic board would be bolted to an appropriate bulkhead or deck location. A one-way check valve is included with these pumps and must be installed in the water inlet line to maintain a positive feed to the pump. A hose nozzle is also included in the pump package.
Both C-series pumps performed well, hitting over 5 gallons per minute in open-flow testing and nearly that high in restricted flow. Both garnered Good pressure ratings. The C-series pumps are very powerful and offer more flow than is likely needed for any single outlet water system like a deck washdown.
We’d recommend installing an accumulator tank with either of these pumps to limit pump cycling. We found the C-60 priced at $305 and the C-80 at $399. Both carry a one-year warranty.
Bottom Line: If you want reliability and need a high flow rate, any of the Groco pumps will do the job.
Jabsco and West Marine
Jabsco supplied two pumps for testing, the Par-Max 3 and 4, both similar in size and appearance. The Jabsco pumps have plastic pump housings, containing both the pump and the pressure switch, and metal motor cases attached to a plastic bracket with four rubber shock mounts. Each kit includes the pump, an in-line inlet filter, and a quick disconnect spray nozzle. The Par-Max 3 is rated at 3.5 GPM while the Par-Max 4 with its larger motor is rated at 4.3 GPM. The single pump from West Marine is a re-branded Par-Max 3 with a different style of mounting bracket.
As expected, performance of the Par-Max 3 and the West Marine pumps was similar. Each nearly managed to hit their advertised GPM ratings in open-flow testing, with the Jabsco registering 3.49 and the West pump 3.40 GPM. Both achieved a Good rating during pressure testing. One problem we had with the West Marine version was short lead wires. We located the power supplying bus bar just behind each pump to accommodate short pump wires, but we still had to add a short section of wire to the West Marine pump to reach the power lugs.
Initial Par-Max 4 testing did not go well. As soon as we hit the switch to power up the pump, the 15-amp fuse burned up. We re-checked the setup and wiring. All looked good, so we installed another fuse and tried it again. The same thing happened.
We retired that pump and contacted the maker with a request for a second test pump. When we didn't hear back from the company, we went to the local West Marine and bought another Par-Max 4. This one performed well, recording high water flow in both open and restricted flow tests and didn’t burn up a fuse. Still we can’t recommend the pump due to the first pump’s problem.
We found both the Par-Max 3 and West Marine version for $120, and the Par-Max 4 for $150. The Jabsco units carry a three-year warranty. West Marine does not specify a time period. Instead, West calls its warranty a “No Hassle Guarantee.” Writing on the packaging says, “If you are ever dissatisfied with your purchase, simply return it. We’ll repair, replace the item, issue a credit, or send you a refund.” We think that’s an admirable policy.
Bottom Line: Good performance and an outstanding warranty make the West Marine version of the Par-Max 3 a smart choice.
We tested a pair of Aqua Jet series pumps from Johnson. Both the WD 3.4 and WD 5.0 have metal motor housings with four-hole metal mounting brackets attached. A large plastic pump casing sits in front of the motor and contains the factory preset pressure switch. In addition to the pump, each package contains a filter and quick-disconnect nozzle.
Both Aqua Jet pumps were good performers. The WD 3.4 was the only pump able to reach its rated output in the test. In open-flow testing, it managed a flow rate of 3.57 GPM, besting all other pumps with an advertised GPM rating of 3.5 or less.
That pump’s big brother, the WD 5.0, mustered a more than respectable flow rating of 4.69 GPM, while only drawing 6.4 amps in open-flow testing. That’s close to the flow of the higher rated and far more expensive C-series Groco pumps-and it uses about half the electrical power. We’re impressed.
Finding pricing and purchasing information for the Johnson pumps was a little more difficult than some of the others. The extra web surfing was well worth it, however, as both pumps are stars in the mid-price range of our test group. We found the WD 3.4 priced at $140 and the bigger WD 5.0 for $163. Both carry a three-year warranty.
Bottom Line: We’d happily buy either of these pumps; they are priced fairly, have outstanding performance, and long warranties.
Four test packages arrived from SHURflo: the Blaster, sold as a pump only for $85, two versions of the Pro Blaster, one packaged with the pump and nozzle only for $130, and the other a full kit containing the pump, filter, quick disconnect nozzle, and a coiled hose. It sells for $200. All three of these pumps have a GPM rating of 3.5. The company also sent the Extreme Pro Blaster (pump only) rated at a 5.3 GPMflow rate.
All three 3.5 GPM rated pumps, the Blaster and the pair of Pro Blasters, performed adequately, ranging from 3.19 to 3.26 GPM in open-flow testing. And all were in a similarly tight range in restricted flow testing, ranging from 3.06 to 3.19. Construction of the Blaster and Pro Blaster is similar. Both have a small plastic, three-chamber pump housing with an integral pressure switch. Why the extra money for the Pro Blaster? The motor is slightly larger and the warranty is longer. The Blaster has a one-year warranty, while the Pro Blaster has a two-year warranty.
The 5.0 GPM Extreme Pro Blaster is $200 and carries a three-year warranty. Its performance was poor. This pump achieved only 2.75 GPM in the open-flow test and 2.31 in restricted flow.
We rated it Poor on pressure testing too. Water only went about five feet out of the hose nozzle. We advised SHURflo of this pump’s poor performance and the company sent another to retest. We retested the second Extreme Pro Blaster with the same results. We even tried the pump set at zero head height to see if performance would improve. It did somewhat, managing 3.75 GPM in open flow. This is still far below its advertised rating of 5 GPM. We’d steer clear of this weak performer.
Bottom Line: At $85, the SHURflo Blaster is a good buy.
In the higher-flow ranges, we like the Groco C-series pumps for their quality construction and high output, but they’re expensive.
We’d opt to spend substantially less and get nearly equal performance with the Johnson WD 5.0. It’s about half the price and carries a three-year warranty. Those not needing as high a water flow should consider the Johnson WD 3.4; at $140 with top-rated performance and a three-year warranty, it’s our top pick in its size range. If money is tight, opt for the SHURflo Blaster.
Also With This Article
“Value Guide: Washdown Pumps “