How to Use a Canoe or Kayak Bilge Pump

A kayak instructor demonstrates how to use a paddle float and bilge pump.
A kayak instructor demonstrates how to use a paddle float and bilge pump. © by George E. Sayour

When thinking of paddling safety gear, one of the lesser considered articles of equipment is a bilge pump. One might argue that paddling bilge pumps are a required safety item for all sea kayaks and canoes. This how to will explain the how to use and store a bilge pump in your kayak or canoe.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: It depends on how much water is in the boat

What You'll Need:

  • Kayak or Canoe
  • Paddle


1) Properly Stow Your Bilge Pump

Before you head out on the water be sure to securely stow your bilge pump in your canoe or kayak. If you are in a kayak, placing it under the bungee cords on the back deck of the kayak is usually a good place for it. While a bilge pump can be placed under the bow bungee cords, it tends to get in the way there. If in a canoe, you can clip or tie the bilge pump into the canoe. Whether in a canoe or a kayak, the bilge pump should be easily accessible and not packed away in a dry bag or hatch.

2) Deciding When to Bilge Out Your Boat

When too much water accumulates in your canoe or kayak it will make it unstable. When you start to become aware of this instability or begin to notice a loss of control over your boat that you suspect is related to taking on water you will want to bilge out the excess water. Of course, if you capsize your boat you'll need to implement one of the kayak rescues.

  Upon reentering your kayak, you'll need to bilge it out.

3) Accessing Your Bilge Pump

Your canoe or kayak is likely to become unstable with the excess water in it. If you are in a canoe, be sure to get low in the boat, as in on your knees, to acquire the bilge pump. If in a kayak, place the kayak paddle across your lap so it is easy to grab and brace if necessary.

If your kayak is completely unstable you can use a paddle float to assist in staying upright. Once stable, locate and unsecure your bilge pump.

4) Positioning Your Bilge Pump

If there is a lot of water in your boat, just place the pump in the place where you can maintain maximum stability. The handle of the pump should be at the top and the opposite end represents the intake of the bilge pump. Up toward the top of the bilge pump you'll see the exit of the pump. In some models there may actually be a tube coming out of the exit. Aim the exit of the pump over the side of the canoe or kayak.

5) Pumping Out the Water

With the intake in the water and the exit aimed out of the boat, lift up on the handle of the bilge pump and then push it back down. This will create a suction that draw the water out of your boat and through the pump. Continue this pumping action until the water is removed. You may relocate the intake as needed to remove all the water from inside of the boat.

6) Using Your Paddling Bilge Pump on Land

If you are done paddling for the day or are just taking a rest on land, you able to use your bilge pump from outside of your boat. With the boat on land or in shallow water, tilt your canoe or kayak to the side to allow all the water to collect in one place and then bilge it out as described above.