Ever wondered about the origin of the phrase pump the bilge? Do you know what a bilge pump actually is? And why is pumping the bilge important in the modern business environment?
Well, to understand what a bilge pump is, we should first define bilge.
The term bilge dates back to 1523 and refers to the lowest compartment in a ship where the two sides meet at the bottom. The word bilge is these days generally used to refer to the water that collects in this bottommost compartment. This water collects in the bilge as it drains off the sides of the deck of the ship, or if there are rough seas and/or rain. To only way to get rid of the water, is to pump it out. Hence the origin of the bilge pump.
Bilge water is often dirty and dingy since it is not limited to water, but rather, any sort of fluid(s) that happen to collect at the bottom of the ship. The Bilge water can be extracted by bucket or other hand pumps, but nowadays many boats and ships are equipped with automated, electrical bilge pumps.
The earliest known bilge pump is the Archimedes Screw, a pump purportedly designed by Archimedes in the 3rd century B.C. for the Syracusia, a luxury boat commissioned by King Hieron II. The Syracusia is said to have been the largest boat of classical antiquity that could carry 600 souls. As such a large ship would undoubtedly take on water, Archimedes developed his Screw to pump the bilge water. His machine was a device with a revolving screw-shaped blade inside a cylinder that was turned by hand to remove the water.
The fundamentals of Archimedes' design are still used today, though generally not on boats, but in sewage treatment plants and mining industries for transferring liquids and granulated soils from low-lying areas to higher positions.
However, many boat owners have a somewhat casual attitude to bilge pumps and don’t have them installed, or don't have enough of them installed, because they don’t see the need. This is a mistake that can have dire consequences. Small sail boats are often the worst culprits when it comes to not having a bilge pump installed, as many owners don't see it as an important part of boat safety. Part of being a responsible boater is to know what kind of equipment you should have on board. Even smaller boats should always have at least two bilge pumps (at least one for backup).
It's a sad fact that in today's business environment, many leaders and managers also neglect to invest in a bilge pump and avoid pumping the bilge.
The downbeat economy, challenging revenue targets and the need for transformational change in many businesses all require leaders and managers to focus on forward-looking initiatives and new product development.
But remember that sailing a ship isn't always about raising the boom, setting the right bearing and manning the tiller. It's also about swabbing the decks, mending the sails and pumping the bilge. Neglect at your peril the basics such as customer service, employee health and safety, and internal regulation.
It's in these times of choppy waters and high seas that we should make sure we have got our bilge pump safety net.