We came home from dinner one day and Maddie told me: "It's time to clean the bilge".
We don't have any issues with bay water leaking into the bilge, but we do have issues with rain water! It gets in through different places and works its way into the bilge where it begins to "grow". What starts off as innocent rain water mixes with Morty's fur and general dust that accumulates in the bilge. After a few months or so, it begins to develop an odor which Maddie's sensitive nose can detect. When the Admiral gives the order, I do as commanded!
Cleaning the bilge isn't as difficult as it may seem. Yes it's deep and I can hardly reach the bottom of it; but since I keep it pretty clean, it's never that daunting of a task.
A variety of bilge cleaners exist, some use caustic and harsh chemicals, others hardly do anything at all. I strongly caution you away from using the harsh and caustic chemicals, because these cleaners will be dumped into the water shortly. I use Simple Greene because it works really well and is biodegradable.
If your bilge has never been cleaned, you will have to get in there and scrub the crud off the walls and floor of the bilge. If you have a deep bilge (common in full keep boats), you will need a scraper mounted on a long stick. My bilge is around 4 feet deep and is a nightmare to reach the bottom (hence my knowledge of the scraper stick).
If your bilge is very dirty, I highly recommend cleaning it. This is not because of smells, or aesthetics, or bragging rights, but because of safety. If you have a lot of crud and gunk in your bilge and you spring a leak, all of that stuff can clog the strum box and stop your bilge pump from pumping. If left unchecked, your boat could sink!
After the initial cleansing of the bilge, subsequent cleanings are pretty easy to carry out. I simply pour some simple green into the bilge and drop a hose down into the bilge. I let the hose run for a while to suds the bilge up a bit and bring the water level higher than the strum box.
With the hose still running, I go outside to the bilge pump lever and begin pumping.
I pump the lever until I stop seeing suds bubbles form on the surface of the water around the boat. Simple green will have some bubbles, but they pop rather quickly and disappear. When I can't see bubbles anymore, I go inside to see how the bilge looks.
If the water in the bilge is completely clear, I pull the hose up and shut it off. Then I return to the pump lever and finish pumping out the bilge. As the strum box reaches the bilge waters surface, it will begin to gurgle. This is a good time to stop pumping as no more water can be drawn out of the bilge.
I then take a shop vac with a long hose and suck out the rest of the bilge water. While you have the shop vac in the bilge, it's a good idea to vacuum the strum box intake, incase any debris is laying on it. Now that the bilge is completely clean and dry, the smell that was just beginning has now vanished.