Definition: Self–bailing boats, or self–bailing hulls, are designed to remove water from the boat deck or cockpit area using gravity not pumps of any kind. The water is discharged overboard through the side or transom, the “back wall” of the boat. Self–bailing, actually being somewhat of a misnomer, means that gravity and momentum are used to rid a boat of unwanted water. In short, the cockpit floor of the boat sits higher than the water level outside the boat.
Why are some boats self bailing and some not? Although this could easily turn into a long drawn out explanation, whether a boat is self bailing or not is often answered by the purpose of the vessel or in boats under about 21′, is freeboard or side height more important than self bailing ability? There is also some cost factor a manufacturer must consider when making the decision as well.
A common example would be in the affordable deck boat market under 23 feet. In this type of boat the side height or freeboard is important for moms to feel safe with their kids in the boat. To meet this need the manufacturers can not build the boat where the cockpit floor floats higher than the water level outside the boat and still have a higher freeboard. The boat pictured left is a Starcraft 1915 deck boat.
The solution to a small boat that can not self bail water from its deck is simply an automatic bilge pump and in some cases, add a full boat cover during in water storage to shed water naturally over the sides and without taxing the battery to run the bilge pump.
At the end of the day, the boater must decide which is the right type of boat to buy for his/her needs. A self bailing cockpit does offer an extra level of protection from rain caused water build up but when taking the proper precautions (automatic bilge pump and mooring cover) you can surely relax and not worry your boat will be just fine. That’s not to say it will be fine forever! Please check on your boat at least weekly to make sure the cover didn’t fail in some way or the auto pump can also fail. And remember most small boats are not waterproof like the interior of your car. They will get wet when it rains so if dry storage is required use plastic storage boxes with sealable lids. See you on the water!