Solar-powered dinghy bilge pumps, the Sea Joule

A solar-powered bilge pump is often a beloved accessory for a small boat that stays in the water a lot and doesn’t have its own electrical system. But when they fail, the disappointment and repair hassle can add up to more pain than the manual pumping you hoped to avoid. Which is why the exceptionally rugged-looking pump above got my attention.

In fact, it turns out that the Sea Joule Solar Bilge Pump has been on the market for a decade — judging from the flurry of 2010 press — and that’s even better, I think. If the engineering and components didn’t at first hold up to the abuse some of us dinghy owners dole out, I bet they do now. Plus I’ve uncovered evidence of a perfectionist behind the product.

For instance, note that the black waterproof test/manual switch on the right side of the Sea Joule above is not shown at the company’s website. Pump developer Tom Nugent explained to me: “It was a customer’s request which I found very useful on the pump. I have not updated the website yet with this new added feature, so it is a welcome surprise to the purchaser with no added cost.” Nice!

Sea Joule video explaining optional timer adjustment
Sea Joule video explaining optional timer adjustment

And if you watch this Sea Joule YouTube video, you can see how well their devices are put together and also Tom’s careful explanation about how to adjust the optional time delay for more perfect pumping. I’m not sure I’d pay the extra $50 for the feature, but I appreciate the effort.

I also spotted a Sun Pump solar powered bilge pump installed on a local small boat, and while it has pump, battery, and panel specs similar to the Sea Joule, I’m less impressed with the design. But note that I haven’t used either model at all, let alone over a long test period, and also that it’s certainly possible to put together a rig like this yourself, as I did a few years ago.

Gadget's solar bilge pump is built into aft seat and keel
Gadget’s solar bilge pump is built into aft seat and keel

So this entry is also an opportunity to update readers on the slick solar bilge pump I built into Gadget in 2016. It still usually works like a charm, but there have been issues. The Whale Supersub 1100 installed in the keel under the aft seat burned out the first season — probably because I kept the dinghy in so long that rainwater froze in the bilge — but Whale kindly replaced it under warranty. Then in early 2018, I replaced the old 3ah motorcycle battery I’d used with the rather amazing Chrome Pro Series iGel, which is still kicking despite the fact that it got completely flattened when the ancient solar panel regulator failed.

So all the components of Gadget’s solar bilge pump system have been replaced over the years — and hence my appreciation for the built-to-last Sea Joule — but I think of it as a great DIY success nonetheless. I relish the moment after a big rainstorm when I walk past all the de-watering activity along the dinghy dock and step onto dry floorboards. Unanticipated bonus feature: My weight usually lowers the stern enough that the pump kicks on again briefly and I know that it’s still working right.

Gadget in Camden Harbor 6/26/2020
Gadget in Camden Harbor 6/26/2020

At any rate, Gadget’s solar pump system is fully operational and much appreciated today, and an unanticipated feature of using Junior sort of like a superyacht tender to work on the big Gizmo is that sometimes I get to enjoy stylish family members rowing by. And, yes, Camden Harbor is looking good with plenty of room for visitors. Come on up.

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

6 Responses

  1. JP says:

    Consistently well done, Troops

  2. Wendy murphy says:

    I have a Carolina Skiff 14 0n a haul-off in a saltwatecove. The skiff is sometimes untended for a week or more during which time rain may accumulate. Do any of the pumps mentioned work reliably in a salt water environment?

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Hi Wendy, all the solar pump systems discussed and pictured here are being used in saltwater. I eventually had to replace the ChromePro iGel battery in my tender Gadget — again likely due to abusive circumstances — but otherwise that pump has been working great.

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        PS Whereas a 14-foot Carolina Skiff can collect a lot of rainwater and your boat may be somewhere with lots of rain combined with long periods of little sun — like Maine 2023! — the Sea Joule or Sun Pump may not be powerful enough, especially the small 2-2.5 Watt panels they use to be self-contained. Also, maybe you already have a 12v battery aboard to start an outboard?

        At any rate, I suggest rigging your own system using something like the Whale 1,050 gallon per hour pump I’m using, at least a 7 amp hour battery (if you don’t have a starter battery), and a 10W or better solar panel. I particularly like the DuraVolt (which looks a LOT like my Ganz panel) because it’s really rugged and does not need a separate charge controller:

  3. Shane says:

    Hello Ben and Wendy, thank you for your discussion. Very helpful! I have owned a SunPump for 3 years now and it has worked great. I did reach out to SeaJoule, but he told me he won’t ship out of the US. My season runs from April to late September, and mine is used in fresh water, so I can’t comment on the salt environment, but it has been tremendous allowing me to keep my ‘tinnie’ in all season. It has been very reliable. Interestingly, I received an email from Richard at SunPump last week announcing a new design, which looks pretty cool with a 12V emergency power outlet. Cheers.

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