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Live wells — do it right
  |  First Published: May 2015



A livewell is a great addition to any boat. It can be utilised in both a tournament environment and also keep live baits in excellent condition during extended sessions on the water. Knowing that when you place a fish or livie in your well it will remain in a healthy condition by flicking a switch is a great load off your mind and a major plus to any boat.

Not all boats come with livewells unfortunately, and although some boat builders do offer them as an additional add-on, they don’t always do what they need to for them to be effective and their attempts can be very basic.

The other option that some boat builders also offer is to install the compartment for the livewell without the plumbing. This usually means a box that drains into the bilge of the boat. Fitting an aftermarket livewell can be a large headache that is something not many of us think about until it is too late and the boat is already built, to such a degree that fitting 1 may not even be possible. Here are some of the pitfalls that you may come across and the right process when retrofitting a livewell to your boat.

Access to inside the hull

To fit the livewell and do it right, you will need access to the inside of the hull. Many of the boats built today require a fair bit of floatation under the deck. This will have to be removed to run the hose for the drains and the pumps. Once they are fitted, it needs to be replaced. To get to the flotation you will need to be able to lift up the deck(s). This can be accomplished on most small to mid-sized tinnies with varying degrees of difficulty if the floatation is polystyrene blocks. If it is a glass boat with injection moulded foam you are well out of luck.

The moral of this story is that if you intend buying a new boat and want a livewell, it is imperative that all the plumbing and componentry be fitted before the boat is completed and leaves the factory floor. Or alternatively, they make allowances for it as advised by someone that actually knows what they are talking about. Flow-Rite (Australia) deals with scenarios like this on a regular basis and consistently come across these exact problems. Every time they have to advise people on how to fit an after-market livewell, the same difficulties arise. No access, pumps cannot be fitted due to cross members or struts in the boat, no place to fit drains and so on. The unfortunate part is that on numerous occasions the livewell simply cannot be fitted due to the construction and layout of the boat.

Laying plumbing and fitting pumps

So you have gained access below decks and removed the floatation. You now need to lay the drain hose and livewell fill hose. Cross members in the boat could make this a bit tricky unless the boat builder has allowed for this during the build. The drain hose will run from the base of the livewell to a skin fitting mounted in the transom. The fill hose will run into the top of the well from a pump, also mounted through the transom. A good idea is to mark the hoses as you place them in position to ensure you connect the right hoses to the right pumps. This sounds obvious, but believe me, it’s easy to mix them up when connecting everything together.

A definite must is to use good quality hose and fittings, as you don’t want to have to replace a leaky hose at a later stage. I used the Flow-Rite gear for my system, as it was originally designed for this purpose, and there is no need to try and reinvent the wheel. Use the products that are purpose-built and you won’t have any problems with the system after it is built.

Their Qwik-Lok system makes hose clamps an unnecessary evil and are easy to lock in place by simply pushing the pipe into the connector once the fittings have been mounted to the hoses. The Qwik-Lok fittings also rotate, so they can still be moved while routing the hoses and aren’t rigid.

One thing to remember when mounting pumps is to place them in an accessible spot, as they are an electrical appliance and have a limited lifespan, no matter how good the ones are that you purchase. Use the best make of pump possible so that they will give you trouble-free service.

Check and recheck

Run all the hoses to length, place the pumps where you want them, and ensure everything will work where it is before cutting holes for hoses or mounting anything. Try to avoid problems like elevated hoses or sharp bends, as these could lead to air locks, which could jeopardise the effectiveness of the well and ultimately the wellbeing of the inhabitants. Also take a good look at the drain and try to position it that will make it the most effective, and leave as little or no water in the well at the end of the day. This may mean putting a bit of water in the well and letting it drain out as a test.

Once you are happy with everything, start to mount the components. Choose the correct size hole saw as 1 that is too small (measure 3 times, cut once) will mean a lot of filing to get it right, and 1 that is too big will mean a very bad seal.

Once you have drilled all the holes and the system lines up and looks good, start to hard mount everything. It does sound like a lot of mucking about, but by doing it this way you get it right first time and will be happy with the finished job, instead of having to make alterations half way through.

Elastomeric Marine Sealant (not silicone) all these parts in place and snug up the skin fittings. Some of the Flow-Rite components and skin fittings are labelled with their specific functions and can make the job look a bit more professional. Once the transom is tight and secured of any chance leaks, move forward to the live well. Check the hoses as you go and ensure that there are no sharp bits of alloy or fibreglass that the hose can rub against. If there is any doubt, file the protrusions back or place a rubbing strip of a hardwearing substance to prevent damage.

Once you are happy, glue in the components of the well. I opted for a 2-pump system. One fills the well independently from my boat’s transom, and the other pump recirculates the water through a high-energy venturi nozzle that oxygenates the water.

I have also wired in a Flow-Rite ProTimer. I don’t need to switch it on and off to keep my fish alive, I simply select auto timer and the pump will do it intermittently. This ensures that my fish are given a constant supply of well oxygenated water. I believe this to be an integral part of my system, as it is very easy to forget to keep switching the recirculating pump on and off. I much prefer to put the fish in the well and forget about them.

Another necessary addition to the live well is an overflow. This will need to be mounted approximately 3/4 the way from the top of the well. This will stop the water overflowing into the boat, and on subsequent times if you need to top the water up during the day’s fishing.

This overflow can be plumbed to run straight out through the side of the boat. If you don’t want to drill any extra holes, then it can be tied into the drain hose and thus run out the transom. This is a neater fitout, but is not always an option on smaller boats or those with limited underfloor space.

Once the installation is completed, before re-installing the floatation and sealing up the deck, test the system for leaks. Fill up the well and run all the pumps. Test the timer and scrutinise each fitting. Once you are happy and confident that all is good, then replace the floatation, making sure to get it all back in. Replace the decking and you are ready to go. Your livewell is now complete and you can be confident in the health of your fish from here on in.

Since fitting a livewell to my 4.2m Tabs Bullshark, I have had live mullet and herring in it for targeting mangrove jack. I have had flathead and tailor in it that were kept alive and fresh for dinner. I have had bream in it from the rivers, and bass and redclaw from the dams. It has been a major plus to my boat and was the only thing that it was lacking until now. I look forward to years of problem free boating with it.

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