View Full Version : Oil in bilges
Ever since I bought my old pilot cutter, I have been bothered by oil in the bilges. I suspect a previous owner or a sloppy engineer disposed of old engine oil by taking advantage of gravity. I am now in a situation where the boat is constantly surrounded by an unpleasant oil slick - not nice when you are moored in a congested marina; not nice when you want to go for a swim; not good for the environment. I want clean bilges - but how do I achieve that? Are there chemicals available that break down oil into something bio-degradable that can be pumped out, or what? To complicate matters, the bilges are full of odd bits of lead, iron and concrete that are shifted with great pain and difficulty...
I'm certainly not an expert, in fact I know much of nothing about cleaning the bilge. But in my un-profesional opinion, I would think that you will have to pump the bilge dry, remove all the ballest and than clean the bilge. Once all that bits of iron and concrete and what not are removed you might try some dry sweep or kitty litter and let is soak up as much of the oil as it can. Simple green or greased lighting are good cleaners but I'm not sure how they react with wood.
07-13-2004, 07:19 AM
Having heard about oil-eating bacteria I did a guick Google and found this (http://www.eatoils.com/eatoils/biosolutions/MBC.html) .
Don't know, never tried it, but it sounds better than using a soap product then pumping it overboard.
07-13-2004, 08:03 AM
While a bilge cleaning might help a bit, some boats just have a lot of soaked in oil. Some engines throw a bit around, fittings drip a bit, and so on. My old Goblin had pin holes in her sheet steel fuel tanks. They rusted on the beams that supported them and the oil wept into the planking. I discovered the problem when I could not get paint to stick to part of the hull. Additionally, Goblin had had coal stowed in the bilge.
In the bad old days you'd just pump. Maybe add Ivory first to settle the oil and then pump. As one of my Souix friends said, never trust the water downstream of a white man.
There are mats and things that look like a fender in a net that absorb oil and not water. You can wring them out in a bucket and take that ashore from proper disposal.
07-13-2004, 09:56 AM
I had the same problem years ago in an old cape boat. A friend of mine in the car repair business put me on to a product used by garages to clean up oil soaked concrete floors. I don't remember the name of the product but it was Orange based. It was a liquid type product that looked like soap but was biodegradable. I just soaked the bilge with it using a spray bottle, left it for a couple of days, then flushed it with water. It combines with the oil and brings it to the surface. Left the boat smelling like an orange grove - much preferred to the oil smell. The bottom line is that you are doing no more harm to the environment by pumping this out in one shot than you are by weeping the oil out over time. My understanding is that the product breaks down the oil into a less harmfull liquid.
07-13-2004, 10:38 AM
You seem to have two problems--one is the oil, the other is pumping it over the side. The latter (a "visible sheen") is worth a $10,000 fine around here. I've had spills, leaks, etc., but have a three-part system that keeps it from getting into the water. First is a drip pan with a couple of oil-absorbant mats under the engine. Then a couple more oil absorbs in the bays near the bilge pump. Last, I set the float so that the bilge water never gets lower than a couple of inches from the pump intake. The latter is what keeps the oil from pumping overboard, since it floats on the surface of the bilgewater. For cleaning the bilge, there are lots of standard bilge cleaners that you dump in, go sailing with a couple of gallons of water, let slosh around, them pump out.
07-13-2004, 10:48 AM
I'm curious about the Orange oil cleaner... I'll have to look it up.
RARUS' bilge is insanely oily. Years of build up, now quite messy. The bilge cleaning has been ongoing, and generally not very productive.
I met some folks at the winter marina who suggested a "Bio-Sok":
It is supposed to absorb all oil / petroleum products in contact with any water in which it lies. I finally put one in last weekend, and am still waiting for the miraculous disappearance of the oily critters under the engine - talk about limited access, those two or three sections of bilge between floors are virtually impossible to reach with any elbow grease.
I did find on this morning's visit to RARUS, that the water visible in the forward sections of her bilge (just forward of the engine) was clear - mor than usual. AND, the wood exposed by a couple bilge pumps was clean (!!). It looked like it was scrubbed. I don't know if I can entirely credit the BioSok, but I am incredible hopeful. Though each Sok is supposed to last a season, I'm planning on adding the second one in a few weeks, right under the engine, two floor compartments after, where the water is really dirty.
Fingers, toes, eyes, all crossed.
07-13-2004, 10:54 AM
Go with the bugs. I had the same problem with my old fishboat. I can't recall the brand now. The place I purchased them, Doc Freeman's in Seattle, went out of business, or I'd ask.
When I pumped the mess overboard, it looked like muddy water. I had even spilled about a gallon of diesel in the bilge while I was doing the clean up (I figured better to mess with diesel lines while the bugs are still alive and hungry). Not a bit of sheen appeared on the water. I have since scraped out sludge from under the engine, and mixed it with water. Not a bit of sheen there either.
07-13-2004, 10:57 AM
Manufacturer's Website (http://www.petrolrem.com/bio_index.htm)
Perhaps better than the other one, where they charge so dearly (we got 2 for $20 instead of 1 for $45, so shop around if you are interested).
Terry, I don't understand? "Bugs"?
07-13-2004, 11:08 AM
I don't remember the name of the product but it was Orange based. We used a product called “Big Orange” from Zep in my shop. It’s great stuff but a little hard core for use in the bilge. It will remove some paints and adhesives, although if you’re gutsy I guess you could heavily dilute it.
07-13-2004, 11:24 AM
If after you've cleaned it you still have oily bilge water, you could place some of that oil absorbent cloth in the bilge and just leave it there. It soaks up the grease and oil but not the water. Then you can pump the bilge if the water doesn't look too bad. I have a bilge sock also that is filled with cork. It works the same way. I didn't have oil but a fair amount of grease in the stuffing box and engine area. As the water ran down into the bilge it got a bit greasy. I'm not sure what the oil abosorbent cloth is made of but it has a funny texture to it that is a bit hard to explain.
07-13-2004, 04:55 PM
Bugs = Micro Organisms
I believe I used Bio-Marine Clean (http://www.envirosales.com/Business/productorder/productinfo/biomntxt.htm) , but I can't be sure.
[ 07-14-2004, 12:06 PM: Message edited by: Terry Etapa ]
07-13-2004, 06:26 PM
Dishwashing soap really does cut the oil slick put out by my outboard, but I'm getting a case of castor oil to be more green. I suppose the right thing to do would be to put detergent or one of the other things suggested above into your bilge and then use a sump pump to pump it out into a barrel or some kind of container mounted in a pickup truck or SUV? Easy for me to say. Still have to get rid of it somehow.
[ 07-13-2004, 08:26 PM: Message edited by: Victor ]
07-13-2004, 09:00 PM
At least oil floats on top of water in the bilge.
You might pull the boat out and pressure wash the bilge.
You can also scrape down all the exposed wood.
The boat I bought had an inch of oil floating in the bilge. Bad news from a mising oil plug in the head. Never pumped out an oily sheen unless I ran the pump manually and drained the bilge water all the way down. The pump was low enough or the switch high enough to prevent the pump sucking down the oil floating at the surface of the water in the bilge. Perhaps you could raise the automatic switch to a higher level until you figure this out.
07-15-2004, 06:41 PM
After you get out what you can and are left with only the oil soaked wood, mix up a solution of TriSodiumPhosphate, TSP available in better paint stores. It's used to clean and degrease woodwork prior to painting. A good dose of that sloshing around in the bilge and then pumped out would be my recomendation.
07-16-2004, 02:56 AM
You will have to get all the internal ballast out.
Trust me; this is the Voice of Experience speaking!
First, remove all the soft furnishings and anything else that might be damaged, arrange a route up the companion steps and somewhere to put each item (which will be quite disgusting!)
Having done that, lift all the sole boards, take the ballast out and scrub everything through with hot water and detergent, preferably TSP, getting into every corner.
07-16-2004, 08:46 PM
What Andrew said. It may take two or three washings. You will need to use hot water and some elbow grease.
mike from Boston
07-22-2004, 07:36 AM
You might want to try Simple Green, I believe it is a pine based cleaner. Very good at disolving grease and oil, non-toxic and bio degradable. Available at Home depot like places in gallon jugs for about $5...I use it alot on the boat and to clean my bike chain etc...
07-22-2004, 09:53 AM
I'm stick with "bugs". As I've been told, soap solution only emulifies the oil. It will just sink the oil to the bottom. Your still dumping oil overboard. With soap, only the fish and crabs see it, not the USCG (or marina owner).
Using microbes, the oil is made harmless to the environment.
07-22-2004, 02:05 PM
I'm having a tough time finding the "bugs." I think you all decided it was called EATOILS™ MBC™ MARINE & BILGE CLEANER.
I'd like to try it out because there are a few areas in the bilge I just can't reach and there's a bunch of sludge deep under the engine. Any ideas on a distributer in the Seattle area? Or any good web venders? Thanks for the help.
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