By: Scott Way
There's a growing trend among manufacturers and retailers to issue a 'bilge sock' with the sale of a boat. It's a small accessory at a minimal cost, and it's a fine gesture from the retailer to help encourage safe boating. It's also an excellent safety feature that every boater should carry.
What is a bilge sock? Essentially, it's a long fabric tube filled with absorbent material. It's reminiscent of the large tubes you see on the surface of the water after an oil spill, albeit on a smaller scale. Bilge tubes can come in other shapes, such as pads or pillows, and can be placed in various locations throughout a boat but their function is the same. They are also sometimes referred to as 'oil booms' or 'bilge booms.' The sock is designed to placed in the bilge to soak up and gas or oil before it can be discharged outside the boat during bilge pumping. fueling, or during an accidental spill.
A common sight while boating is the multi-colored sheen left on the water's surface near the transom or engine. This is typically a small amount of excess fuel, fluid, or other contaminant that has escaped from the boat. While it is usually a small amount, the cumulative effect can be extremely damaging to the local ecosystem.
A large marina or major hub of boating activity can have hundreds of boats in use at one time, which means there's a nearly constant stream of contaminants leaking into the water system. Oil and fuel particles accumulate in sediment over time, which in turn starts to concentrate in the organisms that use those same waterways.
Bilge socks are typically made with several standard features. First and foremost they float, which makes obvious sense when they're designed to capture particles residing at the surface. The outer sleeve is typically made from a poly blend filler for abrasion resistance that is also hydrophobic - meaning it repels water. The sock isn't for soaking up water, it's for contaminants only. The interior fabric is typically designated as a 'super sorbent' which means it collects tiny particles, even at the molecular level, like hydrocarbons. Most bilge socks also carry metal or rope fasteners at both ends, which allow you to place them in a specific location inside the hull or secure them for optimal sorption. You can also attach the sock to a length of rope so you can deploy and retrieve inside hard to reach spaces.
Some other safety benefits include a reduced risk of fire. Without any flammables moving inside the bilge, if there is an electronic or mechanical malfunction that generates heat or sparks, there are no flammable particles available to ignite. Most socks are also impervious to mildew and mould and won't create odours inside the boat. They're also typically white in colour, which allows the owner to tell when the sock has become saturated and needs to be replaced -- ensuring you get maximum use each time.
More marinas as beginning to carry literature about bilge socks and environmental protection inside their stores. The trend of including a bilge sock with a purchase is a great way to keep our waterways safe without a massive investment. So, if you own a boat and want to protect our waterways, consider purchasing a bilge sock or check out your local marine supply store for more information.
(*special thanks to SWS Muskoka)