Bilge Cleaning Service

Engine Bilge Cleaning Service by the Floating Boatyard

The Floating Boatyard offer a complete engine bilge cleaning service, as it is one of those jobs that most boat owners dread. Cramped, damp and dirty, the engine bilge can be an awkward place to work in. This is why we offer a full bilge cleaning service, from getting rid of the contaminated water safely and legally, to prepping the area for painting. In this article, we give you an overview of why you should have a clean bilge and we let you know how we carry out our service at the Floating Boatyard.

For bookings call 07886 388 689 or use the contact form on this website.

Why You Need a Clean Bilge – Water and the Damage It Does

First things first: Why bother keeping the bilge clean and dry in the first place? Unless you have an old, wooden boat, ignore anyone who tells you that water in the bilge is completely normal. It is certainly common, but it’s not the ideal state of affairs. The whole idea of a boat is to keep the water outside. If the water is inside the boat, it will cause problems. Water stood on the inside of the engine bilge will degrade the bilge paint to the point where it no longer protects from rust. The water will then cause rust corrosion inside the bilge, leading to pitting and ultimately a hull failure.

We have seen examples where the water inside the bilge has rotted swim plates from the inside, where it has caused holes in the bottom of diesel tanks leading to big leaks and most seriously, where a seacock pipe had rusted completely through, leading to a 2-inch diameter hole suddenly appearing at the bottom of a hull.

Damage to seacock - Bilge Cleaning Service - Floating Boatyard, London Essex Hertfordshire

A snapped off seacock pipe. Apologies for the blurry image, we were too busy stopping the boat from sinking to get a better shot.

Water in the engine bilge can come from a number of sources. Some of these sources are more of a cause for concern than others. All water ingress into the bilge should be monitored and dealt with immediately. A common source of water in the engine bilge is simply rain water. Worn stern deck covers and blocked drainage channels can allow rain water to fall into the bilge. Regularly clean out your stern deck drainage and replace or repair any damaged covers.  Calorifiers and engine coolant systems are also a source of water in the bilge. Check the connections are tight and watch the pipes when the engine is running to spot any leaks. Losing engine coolant can cause your engine to overheat, which damages the engine. Finally, the stern gland is another source of water in the bilge. This should be regularly greased and tightened when needed.

Why You Need a Clean Bilge – Used Engine Oil, Diesel Spills and Other Nasties

Our bilge cleaning service does not just deal with water. In a neglected engine bilge, there will often be ancient engine oil and diesel. This collects into a greasy crust below the engine and around the rest of the bilge. When the bilge is in this state, it is almost impossible to spot if you have an engine oil leak, or if you are leaking diesel. This is important, because both of these things suggest engine faults. You risk serious damage to the engine by running it without oil. You will also have a very difficult time cruising if you are not getting enough fuel to your engine. Most mechanics will refuse to work in an engine bilge that is in very poor condition.

Why You Need a Clean Bilge – Environmental Risks

When water combines with old engine oil and diesel, it becomes contaminated and is then  classed as hazardous waste. Used engine oil is a particularly harmful substance. It is known to cause skin cancer after repeated exposure in humans. It can also contain heavy metals from its time in the engine. There is a significant risk of the oil and diesel contaminated water being accidentally discharged into the environment. This can happen if you have an automated bilge pump or if you need to operate the bilge pump manually in an emergency. Engine oil build up in the environment is causing long term damage to the plants and wildlife. There is also the risk of a large fine or in extreme cases a prison sentence if your boat is found to be the source of pollution.

Our Engine Bilge Cleaning Service

We offer a full engine bilge cleaning service. Depending on the condition of the engine bilge, this can take anywhere from half a day for a simple clean and de-grease, to a full day for a deep clean in preparation for bilge painting.

Bilge before cleaning - Bilge Cleaning Service - Floating Boatyard, London Essex Hertfordshire A particularly bad engine bilge before our bilge cleaning service.  Note how the bilge water is almost halfway up the engine

Bilge after cleaning - Bilge Cleaning Service - Floating Boatyard, London Essex Hertfordshire

The same bilge, after our bilge cleaning service. The bilge in this narrowboat was also in need of a full restoration.

Our Engine Bilge Cleaning Service – Removing the Waste

Firstly, we remove all oil contaminated water and thick build ups of used engine oil. We securely store all oil contaminated water and hazardous waste we handle in oil and fuel proof containers. We then have the waste collected immediately by a registered hazardous waste disposal company. Expect to pay £1.20 – £2 a litre for the safe disposal of your hazardous waste. Be very wary of companies who charge less than this, it is extremely likely that they will be fly tipping the hazardous waste. As the hazardous waste was produced in your engine bilge you will also be liable if it is fly tipped. You have a legal responsibility to check that whoever cleans your bilge will dispose of the waste correctly.

Licensing Requirements for Bilge Cleaning Services Providers

We are licensed by the Canal and River Trust to carry out bilge cleaning services on their waterways. CRT carry out strict licensing procedures for this kind of work. Operators who are licensed by the trust to carry out any work on the waterways need to have full public liability insurance and will be fully risk assessed. To protect ourselves and the environment, we use the correct safety clothing and equipment for our workers and we always have spill kits on hand. We store our waste correctly before collection.  Reputable and licensed hazardous waste services collect all of our hazardous waste. We can provide copies of our waste certificates to customers on request.

Our Engine Bilge Cleaning Service – Getting Things Clean

Once we’ve removed the contaminated water, we scrub the entire engine bilge from the gunwales down. We use commercial engine degreaser, this a strong detergent and should not get onto bare skin. We also use large quantities of elbow grease. No chemical cleaner in the world is substitute for getting up close and personal with the bilge. Our team refer to this stage as bilge yoga. We find ourselves in strange positions, often upside down, to get every last square inch sparkling clean.

Bilge yoga - Bilge Cleaning Service - Floating Boatyard, London Essex Hertfordshire

A spot of bilge yoga in progress, all part of our bilge cleaning service

Our Engine Bilge Cleaning Service – The Professional Touch

We work in engine bilges regularly, we know what to watch out for to avoid damaging your engine, wiring and fittings. It is too easy for an inexperienced person carrying out a bilge cleaning service to break fuel lines or soak electrical components in water. We also know what a bilge should look like and can give you advice on any problem areas we spot.

Cleaning and de-greasing generates a small amount of contaminated waste as we rinse the final traces of engine oil and diesel from your bilge.  After this step the bilge will be clean. We can either continue to prep and paint the bilge, or we can leave it in your hands. If the bilge has been dirty for a long time, we recommend removing the rust and repainting. Bilge paint is resistant to oil and diesel, but it will degrade over time. It is important that bilges are cleaned and painted regularly. Rust treatment should be carried out as soon as any corrosion appears.

Get in touch with us here if your bilge needs some TLC from a professional bilge cleaning service.