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Kayak Bilge Pumps – Complete Guide to Choosing One

As you paddle your kayak, some water is going to get into your yak due to waves or the paddling process. Usually, the amount of water that gets into your vessel is small, isn’t a cause for concern, and can be easily removed through scupper holes. But if you intend to paddle far away from shore or on whitewater, your kayak can begin to get filled with water at a very fast rate.

You may also fall out of your kayak or your kayak capsizes. In all of the scenarios I described above, you’ll need a kayak bilge pump to efficiently and quickly remove water from your vessel. Below, you’ll find a buying guide to help you choose the best pump for your kayak.

Do I Need a Bilge Pump For My Kayak (Even if My Kayak Has Plugs)?

A kayak bilge pump is designed to remove water from your kayak. Water is going to get inside your kayak majorly through waves and sloppy paddling. Even if your kayak comes with a plug, you’ll still need a bilge pump especially if you are well offshore or in the middle of a lake.

The scupper hole isn’t going to remove water as efficiently as a bilge pump. And should you fall out of your vessel or your kayak capsizes, your best bet to get rid of the unwanted water is by using a bilge pump.

When paddling on whitewater, the rate at which your kayak gets filled up may far exceed the rate at which the scupper hole removes water making bilge pumps a necessity in such situations.

Note that it’s important you practice kayak rescues which involve turning your boat back over and then lifting yourself back inside if you’ll be paddling far offshore or in an environment where it’s difficult to drag or walk your vessel back to shore.

How To Use a Bilge Pump?

A kayak bilge pump is a long and narrow piece of equipment that reaches the bottom of your vehicle to seek and expel the suctioned water over the top. You’ll notice small puddles forming in the lower areas of your vessel as you suction water out of it. To efficiently remove almost all the water, move the bottom of the bilge pump around to the pool of water.

kayak bilge pumps - guide

Manual vs. Automatic Pumps

There are two types of bilge pumps namely manual and automatic bilge pumps. Manual pumps are operated by the paddler to remove water from the vessel. Automatic pumps, on the other hand, automatically remove water from your kayak. This type of bilge pump will require a power source to automatically detect water in the vessel and expel it.

Convenience is the major advantage of automatic pumps over manual models. However, the installation of automatic pumps is a bit more complex and may be challenging for someone with no DIY project experience.

How To Install An Automatic Bilge Pump?

There’s a bit of installation to do as far as automatic bilge pumps are concerned. The first thing to do is to read the installation manual included in the package. However, the general procedure for installing an automatic bilge pump goes as thus:

Firstly, you need to figure out where to mount the pump. Depending on your kayak, the front bulkhead might be a good place to mount the pump. You may also want to mount your pump longitudinally as the sensor would work better in this position.

The next step is to figure out how to mount the pump and the battery. A marine-grade sealant will help attach the pump to the floor of your kayak. Put the battery in a spot where it won’t be in your way as you paddle or carry out other activities.

You’ll also need to choose a location for the Thru-Hull fitting. This location has to be above where the waterline of the kayak will be fully loaded. You’ll have to drill a 1″ hole at this sport. Note that this spot also has to be flat but an angle away from the kayak.

The next part is the wiring which is really simple. Make sure all the wiring isn’t in your way and do a test run to make sure everything works.

How to Choose Your Kayak Bilge Pump?

Below are factors to take into consideration when buying a kayak bilge pump:

Size / Length

Your kayak doesn’t have unlimited space. As a result, you should buy a bilge pump that will easily fit into your vessel. This means you should be on the market for a compact and lightweight pump.

Apart from occupying less space on your vessel, you’ll be able to comfortably transport your pump alongside other gear comfortably.

Materials & Corrosion Resistance

Most bilge pumps are made of top-grade plastic and stainless steel components which makes them sturdy and durable. However, you must pay extra attention to the materials of the bilge pump if you intend to use it on saltwater. In this situation, you’ll need a corrosion-resistant pump and the good news is that there are corrosion-resistant pumps on the market.


What if your pumps fall off your kayak? No worries as the pump is going to float on water as most manufacturers coat their products with foam to make them buoyant.

Even if your pump is buoyant, it’s possible for it to flow away. And this is why some paddlers attach leashes to their pumps to prevent them from straying away.

Handle Design

This applies to manually–operated pumps as they will still be able to firmly grip the pump even when the handle is slippery and wet. As a result, it’ll be a lot easier to use the pump and consequently get water out of your vessel.


Bilge pumps don’t require a lot of maintenance and this is why you should always keep the pump in a place free of dirt and waste. You’ll also have to clean the screen of your pump as it’s one of the most important parts. And if you are using an automatic pump, you’ll have to periodically inspect the electrical connection.

Final Thoughts

A bilge pump quickly becomes an essential kayaking gear if you intend to paddle far away from shore or on whitewater. There’s a high tendency for your vessel quickly fill with water in these situations and you will need a pump to remove water from your vessel.

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