Battle Of The Bilge


Within the first few months of living on the boat we noticed that living aboard came with a certain perfume. We’re not talking about your designer fragrances or colognes, we’re talking a specific boat smell. But, what was it exactly, and where was it coming from? There is no denying that living on a boat comes with it’s own constant battle against humidity, dampness, and mildew, each cultivating their own unique smell. But, this was different. I had noticed the smell on and off in our clothes and hair. It was an oily, diesel smell that wasn’t doing us any favors.  We followed our noses to the bilge, and I took the job of cleaning it. Using an entire bottle of bilge cleaner, I got to work. My task served two purposes, defeat the smell, and see how many gallons of water it took to float our automatic bilge pump.

Seven gallons of water later, and our float started to bob. I had turned off the automatic pump ahead of time. This procedure wasn’t your basic fill and dump, this was a fill, soap and soak. We let the soapy water slosh around the bilge for a few days at the dock. The smell was delightful!  Then, it came time to remove all the water from the bilge. Sure, we could have turned on the automatic bilge pump and let the pump vacuum the water out for us, but that would be too easy. Besides, I didn’t want to send that gray oily diesel mess through the pump. Instead, I used an old fashioned hand bailer (cup) and bucket, to get the majority of the water and floating pieces of dried black bits out. Then I switched to using a hand pump (syphon) we bought from the local hardware store. But, the hand pump fell apart in my hands, and I took no hesitation to throw it away. A sponge and paper towels got the rest until the bilge was once again dry.

Tea Tree Spray

The smell? Definitely better, but there was still some black oily residue in the bottom of the bilge. I determined this battle was not over, and made plans to complete the entire process at least 2 more times. Since moving aboard, we’ve made some adjustments to storing our clothes which includes using plastic bins and zip lock bags to keep out the smell, and dryer sheets to soak up any humidity. Everything else that has material on the boat is routinely put into the sun and doused with a good vinegar and tea tree oil spray, to fight against any type of mildew or mold. Plus, the tea tree oil leaves everything smelling clean and fresh!

One comment

  • Have you looked into replacing the cushions. The foam in the cushions might have picked up an odor over the years. But it seems like you have cleaned up the source.

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