Preventing rot in a wet bilge

by Burton Blais
(Kemptville, Ontario)

I recently purchased a Picaroon II sailboat (featured
elsewhere on this site)
, the hull of which is built of eastern white cedar strips, sheathed with epoxy/glass on the outside, with larch (tamarack) and fir ply frames & bulkheads, the whole being thoroughly coated with epoxy on the inside (i.e., in the bilge area).

The bilges in this boat are always wet because of the (necessary) constant drip of water through the packing gland (thru which the prop shaft passes the hull).

Now that I have brought her home to live in a freshwater realm, I am quite concerned about the possibility of rot developing in the bilges.

I am not highly confident that an epoxy coating alone will entirely prevent water eventually entering the wood in this area.

In the coming haulout and winter lay-up period, I am thinking about thoroughly cleaning and drying the bilges, saturating with a penetrating epoxy (for an extra measure of barrier protection), and then finally thoroughly treating with a mixture of turpentine/pine tar/linseed oil (which treatment I would perform annually at Spring fit-out).

Can anyone offer an opinion about the advisability of this course of action, or is there a better approach?

I know that the most commonly given advice is to prevent rot by keeping the wood clean & dry, but realistically, for a boat fitted with an inboard engine, that is simply not going to happen as far as the bilge is concerned....

Burton Blais

Comments for Preventing rot in a wet bilge

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Thoughts on epoxy
by: Anonymous

Hi all!

My unfortunate experience... I have just taken over a 40y.o which bilge was epoxied.
Unfortunately the previous owner, getting old, had seriously neglected maintenance over the past 10 years or so, which has resulted in rain water ingress.

As a result, I am now facing some serious issues of rot in the hull in some areas where some lesser quality wood was used, but also water that has seeped within the harder woods of the hull...

After this experience, i'd be very careful with using epoxy in the bilge.
The epoxy prevents water from coming in, but also from evaporating out!!
Over the years, a place where epoxy has peeled or got bumped, a scuff, a drill hole or anything will let the water in which will spread under without having any way out...

I'd rather go for an option that is microporous and allows the water to evaporate, and try to maintain the bilge dry.

There are packings like GTO that allow dry bilges, or better the dripless glands.

My 2 cents on the question, as I'm living a nightmare on the hard trying to replace all the rotten wood and dry the rest!

Mixed concepts
by: Træhoved

Anyone proclaiming Linseed oil and wooden tar isn't any better inform from experience sources. I suggest wooden Boatbuilders.

In Scandinavia we have some thousand years knowledge building wooden boat in all sizes.
Teak don't need any oil or whatever, it's already filled with such from the beginning. That's why it's among nr one in sustainability.

Even today Linseed oil and wooden tar is used today.
The idea using it along with epoxy is not quite logical while epoxy is watertight and the oil/tar is lets the wood "breath".
How should any fluid at all get in to the wood while covered with a watertight shield as epoxy?

You have to make a decision on how to maintain your boat and stick to it.
Those two materials are completely different in the way of handling water and wood

Bilges & mast stepping
by: Burton

Hi Don, sorry I did not respond earlier - haven't visited here in a while.

I sold my Picaroon last year to a gent from upstate NY, my wife & I finally caving in to the itch for a larger cruising boat (bought an Alberg 30) - though I still maintain a small fleet of open camp cruising boats, including a crab skiff I finished building last year.

I think your idea of fitting some sort of container to catch the drippings has a lot of merit, and if I still had the boat would pursue that approach by using fiberglass & epoxy to mould a trough leading the drippings from the packing gland to a receptacle fitted with an electric bilge pump (a small solar panel would keep the battery going perpetually while the boat is on her mooring).

That being said, the approach I used to step the mast on my Picaroon was to bring the boat alongside a dock with a good water depth (say, 6 or more feet), then with myself positioned on the foredeck hovering over the "hole" have a helper on the dock slip the foot of the mast into the water right down to the bottom, enabling me to then lift it upright so that it could be positioned over the hole and dropped in without damage to the deck or mast step collar.

Basically a matter of "brute" force - not too daunting a feat given the mast's lightweight birdsmouth construction - the trick is to keep the mast vertical throughout the operation so it does not become an awkward lever.

Of course, this wouldn't work for your big cruiser, but that's when you pay the crane man.

Raising the Mast
by: Mike

Hi Don,

Secure the shrouds before raising the mast and backstay too.


Bilge water
by: Don Boufford

Burton, just saw your post.

I am about to launch a Picaroon this summer, the engine is a new Tohatsu 9.8 Hp LS outboard so bilge water should not be an issue.

But since your inboard exhaust and cooling water are led thru an exhaust system your only bilge water is from the stuffing box.

Can you collect that water in some container that also holds a small bilge pump or have I entirely missed on your question?

I am not new to sailing - I have a C &C Landfall 40 and lived aboard in the Bahamas for 3 years but the Picaroon is very different animal.

She will be on a mooring next to the C & C but do you have any suggestions re: raising the mast so that it isn't flailing around sideways til it drops into the mast step?

Don's nifty wooden Picaroon >>>>

And more on her here >>>>

Dry Bilge
by: David Young

I sell for a company called Arid Bilge Systems. It is a Dry Bilge System.
Check our web page
If you would like more information please e-mail me at

Bilge rot prevention
by: Katte

i always put rock salt in my bilges and put it on deck so when it rains the water will flow wherever salty as fresh water is what lets rot occur.

Katte S/V Antigua 1947 Kettenburg PCC built in 1947 San Diego, Now in Berekeley

Add Salt
by: Anonymous

I have a friend with a Wooden Friendship 22 He has always had a chunk of LiveStock hard salt in his boat and has never had any leaks he just adds more when it gone.

Capt Ron

Wet bilge protection
by: Burton

So far there is no sign of rot or delamination.

I think I will try thoroughly cleaning, "saturating " the area with a product like Git Rot just to ensure there is a barrier over any unseen breeches, and then paint with bilge paint.

I will look into Syntef for the packing gland , though I've read one or two negative comments on the internet about this stuff hardening and causing a real mess.

I also have to figure out what type of packing gland I have - doesn't look anything like the conventional type with the big lock nut that girdles the box and shaft.

This one has a face plate with three smaller nuts to hold it against the box...

Thanks for all the advice.


by: Anonymous

What about wood hardener?

Git Rot, or Minwax type.

It petrifies soft wood and as far as I can tell in non marine uses does not need a super clean and dry environment to work.

Wet Bilges
by: Anonymous

Well I guess David has hit the nail on the head, prevention is better than cure.

However, I can appreciate you concern about her living in fresh water, there is always the possibility of water lying in the bilges.

The problem with recoating the bilge area is that there are likely to be traces of oil grease and general dirt down there.

So, before applying any epoxy, this area will have to be thoroughly cleaned, degreased and dried, not forgetting removing any traces of amine blush that might still be on the surface of the original epoxy.

The other thing is that the penetrating epoxy won?t penetrate through the original epoxy, however it will get into any cracks or splits, but then these are the areas where any dirt of oil will probably have become trapped.

And epoxy does need a warm dry atmosphere to cure properly.

Pine Tar is my favourite perfume, you can keep you Chanel etc give me a whiff of pine tar and I'm yours (a good sniff is also a great hangover cure).

But, like the epoxy it needs to be able to soak into the wood to be effective (and it only comes in one colour).

Providing that there are no areas where the epoxy has delaminated or been badly damaged I would just give her a good clean and paint the bilges.

But first the easy job, re-stuff your packing gland, as David suggests and make sure the greaser is pushing the grease through ok.

Sealing a Packing Gland (Stuffing Box)
by: David Johnson

My Wasque 26 has a stuffing box and it was leaking very badly when I purchased the boat.

I repaired the broken bolt that was the main problem and ordered new packing cord along with a product called Syntef Stuffing Box Lube.

It contains PTFE and when used with the stuffing cord pretty much eliminates water entering the boat via the shaft.

Don't put to much stock in the Pine Tar Linseed Oil, Turpentine formula.

I use it to coat the teak floors in my Wasque.

It given them a nice color but it does not offer much in the way of waterproofing.

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