A Water Pump Primer
From Pacific Fishing, March 2001 By Terry Johnson, University of Alaska Sea Grant, Marine Advisory Program4014 Lake Street, Suite 201B, Homer, AK 99603, (907) 235-5643, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The need to move fluids from one place toanother is universal on boats.
Water pumpsclear bilges and flush heads and holdingtanks, supply house water to sinks and show-ers, circulate engine coolant, and providepressurized water for washdown and refrig-eration. Other pumps transfer fuel, drain oil,compress refrigerants, and pressurize hydrau-lic systems. This report addresses waterpumps only. A separate issue of Boat- keeperdiscusses bilge pumps specifically.Water pumps fall into three generaltypes:
center-suction centrifugal pumps, vari-able-volume flexible-impeller and vanepumps, and positive displacement pumps,
including power and manual diaphragmpumps and piston, gear, rotary, and lobepumps. Vane, gear, and rotary pumps nor-mally are used for moving oils and fuels,and lobe pumps are used to move cosmet-ics and solids.
How They Work
All pumps use atmospheric pressure to pushthe fluid into the pump housing to fill thevacuum created when fluid or air alreadyin the housing is expelled by the action of the pump. If the pump is capable of start-ing up dry and sucking fluid up an inlet lineit is considered self-priming. If its inlet hasto be immersed or if the fluid has to bepoured into it prior to starting, it is non-self-priming.Centrifugal water pumps use an electricmotor to drive a hard plastic or metal rotor.The blades are set in a pattern such thatwhen the rotor turns water is sucked into thecenter of the chamber and spun outward tothe periphery of the housing and throughthe housing outlet. Center-suction centrifu-gal pumps (like the common electric bilgepump) are non-self-priming and must be sub-merged to work. Some types of centrifugalsare self-priming; they have a suction inletabove the centerline of the pump housing.Centrifugal pumps are somewhat inef-ficient but are versatile and relativelysimple, cheap, and easy to maintain and re-pair. They are moderately resistant to clog-ging and damage from debris in the water.The rotor does not contact the housing sothere is no friction or damage from runningdry, although the lip seal that prevents wa-ter from entering the motor may soon over-heat and cause the motor to burn up if it isnot lubricated and cooled by water. Theyare subject to drastic reduction in flow rateas a result of head pressure, which is dis-cussed further in the report on bilge pumps.Most engine coolant circulating pumps arecentrifugal, an application where neitherdebris nor head pressure is a problem.The variable-volume flexible impellerpump has an impeller with neoprene or ni-trile blades revolving inside a housing thatis circular except for a ramped cam in theliner adjacent to the outlet port. As the im-peller spins, each blade leaves the cam,unfolds to full length at the inlet port, andentraps a small quantity of water. As it ap-proaches the side of the housing with theoutlet port it is folded back by the cam andcompresses the trapped water, forcing it outthrough the port. Commonly called a“Jabsco,” these pumps are also made byJohnson, Sherwood, and other companies.Flexible impeller pumps are self-prim-ing but should not be run dry more than afew seconds or the impeller blades may burnand break. They serve as engine coolingseawater pumps, but a sea strainer is nec-essary to protect the impellers from beingdamaged by debris. Head macerator pumpscombine a flexible impeller (suction side)with a centrifugal impeller (discharge side)and set of cutting blades to lift water intothe toilet bowl, chop waste, and discharge itto the holding tank with a single motor drive.The flexible impeller pump differs fromthe vane pump, which has spring-loadedrigid vanes that slide in and out throughgrooves in the rotor hub. The rotor is offsetin the housing, and the vanes retract ratherthan bend as they contact the near side of the liner. Vane pumps tend to be more du-rable and more expensive than flexible im-peller pumps, and are generally used topump oils or other fluids that would be dam-aging to flexible impellers.Positive-displacement pumps work onthe principle of changing the interior vol-ume of the pump chamber, increasing it tosuck fluid in, then decreasing it to force thefluid out the other side. Although differentmechanisms are employed in differentpumps, nearly all are self-priming and useatmospheric pressure to charge the chamber.As the name implies, diaphragm pumpsuse one or more flexible rubber-like dia-phragms attached to a lever or cam arrange-ment which, when activated, sucks waterthrough the inlet and pushes it through theoutlet. A set of flapper valves keeps the fluid