Sunday, May 22, 2016

Switching Switches: Rule to Johnson
By Michael

This is our set up, pulled out of the bilge.
Note the black rectangle beside the lower
pump. That's our new switch.
Except when a boat is sinking, there’s no need for a functional electric bilge pump. It’s one of several pieces of equipment on board that we tend to and will likely never depend on. But still, common sense tells us it’s necessary to have a pump that’s ready to save the boat when things unexpectedly go south.

For five years our primary, automatic electric bilge pump has not always been ready to save our boat. When I last realized it was (once again) not working, it was days before we left for California, leaving Del Viento afloat and on her own for three months to face cyclones without a working primary bilge pump. As if the stress of leaving her wasn’t enough.

I’ve been a good Rule customer. Soon after I moved aboard, I bought a new Rule pump and float switch for the first Del Viento. That was 23 years ago. Since that time, I’ve owned a lot of Rule pumps and switches.

When we moved aboard this Del Viento, I bought a monster of a bilge pump, a 4000-GPH Rule with a snazzy built-in switch. Before we solved the problem of our leaking freshwater tanks, our new pump moved many gallons of water. I was pleased with myself. I’d spent a lot of money on that pump, but I could tell it was going to be money well spent, we self-insure.

Two months later, before we’d even left Puerto Vallarta, my pump died. I took it apart. The circuit board inside, part of the integrated switch, had been sitting and corroding in bilge water. It looked like water had entered the case via the wiring harness. West Marine refunded my money.

I went back to old school, replaced the fancy, failed pump with a 2500-GPH pump and separate float switch, same set-up for primary and secondary.

The pump failed after about 18 months. I replaced it. The float switch failed after another few months. I replaced it too. I stuck with Rule.

Things have been okay since then, a little over 2 years.

Until I tested the pump before we left Del Viento in Tonga. The float switch was the failure point, again.

I shopped for a replacement while we were away. I decided to steer clear of Rule. There are other manufacturers. I learned that Johnson offers a 3-year warranty on their non-mechanical bilge pump switches. Rule offers only a 1-year warranty. That was enough for me.

The new switch is a small black box. It senses water and completes the circuit. I can’t say whether it will prove itself over time, I can only point to the warranty.

In Tonga I told another cruiser about our Rule float switch failure.

“Ha! I think we’ve got three backups of those aboard, we’ve gone through so many.”

I decided to find out why my switch failed.

In short, water ingress. I don’t know from where. Check out the photos.

I took the float arm off the base. So far so good. It was
clear that as the arm rises, it rotates the axle on the base
and triggers a switch inside.

It was not easy to pry apart the float arm. Once I did,
dry as a bone inside, just air.

Prying to the two halves of the base apart was difficult too.
Once I was successful, water poured out. Note the black
wire detached where it corroded. Interestingly, the axle turns
a cam that closes something that looks like the points found
under the distributor caps of old cars. Frustratingly, there is
no excuse for not making this hardware water-tight, like forever.
If we can send a man to the moon...
Again, I suspect the wiring harness is the culprit.

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