Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Solar Bilge Buddy

So I have this dinghy dock neighbor. Smart man they tell me. A man of letters, I’m told. Ivy League at that, they say. Yet, as sure as the seasons, his skiff will sink and dunk its shiny new-ish outboard at least once a season. That, “they” don’t have to say. I can generally see it happen. Must get expensive running a boat that way. I know it gets frustrating. I’ve heard the chanty to which the inevitable post-dunk start up is set and it isn’t choir music. As I write, we are getting one of those refreshing summer downpours that is so often the opening curtain on this drama.

There are a few things about living aboard that I would gladly give up. High on the list was going out in the middle of the night to bail the skiff during persistent heavy rains in order to preclude becoming act 2 of the afore mentioned drama. Not that it happens all that often, but once out of a sound sleep and into the cold rain on a work night is enough.

And another thing…I hate asking anyone else to tend my chores. Since I have a tendency to wander for undeclared lengths of time, and as the fleet has expanded to include a pretty little Whitehall pulling boat besides the E-10 gasoline allergic outboard skiff, I wanted a way to take bailing both off everyone’s chore list.

In full conformity with a friend’s assessment that I have the “most complicated simple life he’s ever seen,” I came up with a fix. Presented herein is prototype 2. Prototype 1 works just fine, but isn’t as sleek and svelte. It’s living in the motor skiff. The Whitehall needed a bit more style, even in its' bilge pump.

The fix is this. One small 12 volt bilge pump and standard issue float switch, connected to one 12 volt battery (from one of those kiddie plastic monster trucks at Wal-Mart,) connected in turn to a solar panel and all bundled together with tie wraps in a Tupperware type box. That and an inline fuse holder to protect the sensitive parts from shock, though at this time I cannot say exactly which are the sensitive parts.

I don’t plan to get into wiring instructions. Some legal type would probably eat me alive for it anyway. Suffice it to say that you connect the positives to the positives and the negatives likewise, installing the float switch in between on one side or the other, and set the whole thing in the sun for a while to get the battery charged up. Avoid the rain dance until you are sure it’s full up. If red and black wires get you all confused, write and I’ll build you one. Just don’t expect it to cost less than the parts. Or for that matter, less than one of the several engine repairs it will save you.

Here are a few things I learned in early experiments with the idea.:

Avoid the solar panels intended to be set on a car dashboard and plugged into a cigarette lighter. For one, I don’t know what good those are in a car since every car I ever owned had the lighter socket switch off with the ignition, but that’s outside the scope of this study. The fact is they can’t take getting wet, and the whole premise here is that the thing will eventually get rained on. Here’s what one looks like after a few dunkings……Utterly useless. And for obvious reasons, a downbound spiral that can only end with the whole project submerged and me bailing. An E-bay source delivered the replacement panel today. If it works out I’ll add the link.

Make big holes in the bottom of the plastic box and install both the pump and the float switch to hang down below it so they rest on the dinghy bottom. This way you will get the water down to a couple of scoops of residual instead of a couple of inches.

Come up with a good way to secure the pump hose overboard. It’s a loosing proposition if that hose gets loose and winds up in the bottom of the boat with the pump. No battery will keep up chasing it’s own tail. I have a system with a piece of wood dowel and an oarlock holder, but I suspect almost anyone can beat that idea.

Make sure the assembly stays out from under seats and lifejackets and such enough to charge up the battery. I feel like I shouldn’t have to include that, but I will anyway just so I can say I told you so.

DO NOT try to take this on an airplane. It has far too much in common with an I.E.D. and will not get past security no matter how much 'splainin you do Lucy.

That’s all there is to it. Go forth. Build it and be smug in climbing aboard the one un-swamped dinghy at the dock after the next downpour. Unless you live in Seattle, in which case you may want to consider a wind turbine charged pump……

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