aerator pump vs bilge pump

Aerator Pump Vs Bilge Pump: 8 Differences [Must Know]

Last Updated on May 24, 2023

Aerator pumps and bilge pumps are two of the most commonly used pumps for home plumbing systems. While both pumps are designed to move water, their purposes and technical specifications differ significantly.

Typical small aerator pumps have a power rating of 12 volts DC and 3-5 amps, while some bigger ones may have 110 or 120 volts. In comparison, a bilge pump may have a power rating of 12 or 24 volts DC and 10-20 amps. The size of the pump will depend on the size of the area that needs to be aerated or pumped out.

If you’re looking for a pump that oxygenates water in a fish tank, live well, swimming pool or pond, an aerator pump is your best option. As a counterpoint, if you’re dealing with a flooded basement or crawl space, a bilge pump is what you need to remove the excess water.

Throughout this article, we’ll examine the differences between aerator pumps and bilge pumps, their functions, and which is right for you.

The Differences Between Aerator Pump and Bilge Pump

The Differences Between Aerator Pump and Bilge Pump

Selecting the right pump is essential when managing water in various settings. While both are designed to move water, they serve different purposes. Here are some critical differences between them.

Using Purpose

Aerator pumps are primarily used to oxygenate water in a variety of settings. They are commonly found in fish tanks, live wells, ponds, and outdoor plumbing such as swimming pools or hot tubs. Oxygen is essential for aquatic life, and aerator pumps ensure a sufficient oxygen supply.

Meanwhile, bilge pumps are designed to remove water to prevent basements and crawl spaces from flooding. This means they are primarily used to protect property and prevent water damage.

Technical Specifications

Aerator pumps are typically smaller and less powerful than bilge pumps, with a power rating of around 12 volts DC and 3-5 amps. However, some larger pond aerator pumps may require 110 volts to 120 volts.

Conversely, bilge pumps typically run at 12 volts or 24 volts and 10-20 amps. This higher power is necessary to move water quickly and efficiently to prevent flooding in homes and other residential spaces.


In addition to their power ratings, aerator and bilge pumps differ in construction. Aerator pumps are typically made from lightweight materials such as plastic and have fewer moving parts. This makes them more affordable and easier to maintain.

Alternatively, bilge pumps are typically made from more durable materials such as stainless steel, and they have more moving parts to ensure efficient water movement.

Wiring and Switching

A bilge pump is an essential safety feature found on most boats to remove accumulated water from the bilge. The pump is typically wired with a float bilge pump switch, which activates it automatically when the water level reaches a certain point.

In contrast, an aerator pump is used to aerate water on boats to keep fish alive. They are typically switched on and off manually using a switch or a timer. This difference in switching mechanisms can be attributed to the nature of these pumps’ tasks. 

Water Flow Rate

An aerator pump is designed to provide a continuous but gentle flow of aerated water to the live wells or fish tanks. Its flow rate ranges from 500-1000 GPH, with larger pond aerator pumps having a greater flow rate.

In comparison, a bilge pump is designed to quickly remove water from the bilge. It has a much higher flow rate, ranging from 1000-3000 GPH. 

Inlet & Outlet Hose Size

Since aerator pumps only need to move a small amount of water to aerate the livewells or fish tanks, they typically use a smaller diameter hose.

In contrast, Bilge pumps require a larger diameter hose to accommodate the higher flow rate needed to remove water quickly. Water movement is much more critical for bilge pumps, so they have a bigger hose diameter.

Pump operation

Bilge pumps are designed to turn on automatically (with their float switch) when the water reaches a specific level in the home basement. In contrast, aerator pumps are typically controlled manually.  In many cases, aerator pumps have a switch that allows the operator to turn the livewell pump on and off as needed.

This feature is particularly useful in smaller settings like fish tanks or ponds, where the water level doesn’t fluctuate dramatically. By contrast, bilge pumps’ automatic operation makes them ideal for larger settings.


Pricing is a significant factor when choosing between aerator pumps and bilge pumps. Bilge pumps are typically more expensive than smaller fish tank aerator pumps due to their higher power rating and larger size.

However, bilge pumps are sometimes cheaper than larger aerator pumps for ponds or water features. Small aerator pumps are inexpensive, and smaller models can be purchased for under $50. However, the price point for larger pond aerator pumps can vary widely, depending on the size, power, and brand. 

Is an aerator pump the same as a bilge pump?

Is an aerator pump the same as a bilge pump

A livewell aerator pump and a bilge pump are not exactly the same but share some similarities. There are times when both pumps can be used for outdoor plumbing settings, although they are commonly used in boats and marine vessels to manage water.

However, the main difference between an aerator and a bilge pump is their specific functions and features. Aerator pumps add oxygen to the water needed to maintain fish and other marine creatures’ health and well-being.

They achieve this by creating a steady flow of water that circulates and oxygenates the water. Aerator pumps also come in various sizes and configurations to suit different applications, from small tanks to large ponds and lakes.

Can I use a bilge pump for a shower?

You can use a bilge pump for an outdoor shower, but choosing the right type of pump for your needs is essential. Bilge pumps are primarily used in boats and other marine applications but can also be used for other purposes, such as portable shower projects.

One of the advantages of using a bilge pump for a shower is that it is designed to handle vibrations, knicks, and intermittent use. This makes it an ideal choice for portable shower projects, especially if you need to use it in different locations or environments.

They are also designed to pump for long periods, which makes them suitable for continuous use. But remember that some bilge pumps may not be ideal for use with certain liquids, such as soapy water or other chemical solutions.

Also, some bilge pumps may not be powerful enough to provide the right water pressure for a shower, primarily if you use it in an area with low water pressure.

Do bilge pumps require overcurrent protection in the home basement?

The bilge pump’s electrical rating determines the current required for its operation. Overcurrent protection is necessary to protect the bilge pump and prevent electrical fires.

This protection required for the bilge pump should be sized as close as practicable to the electrical rating of the pump at its design voltage. Sizing the protection this way ensures that the current flowing through the circuit remains within safe limits.

Remember, the overcurrent protection should be selected based on the maximum current expected to flow through the circuit. If the overcurrent protection is undersized, it may not be able to trip or blow when the current exceeds the rated value.

Does an aerator pump run all the time in outdoor plumbing?

Aerators are devices used in plumbing to infuse air into the water supply. Modern aeration systems are designed to run continuously, ensuring the water supply is adequately aerated.

An interrupted operation of the aerator pump can lead to the formation of algae and bacteria, which could cause health hazards. The aerator pump’s continuous operation can also help prevent wear and tear caused by frequent start-ups.

However, older aeration systems may have a timer, which controls when the aerator pump runs. The timer usually allows the aerator pump to run for a specified period each day or week, depending on the system’s needs.

How long do aerator pumps last?

How long do aerator pumps last

Generally, aerator pumps can last two to five years before showing signs of wear and tear. But with proper maintenance, the lifespan of the aerator pump can be extended significantly. Regular cleaning of the aerator, replacing worn-out parts, and avoiding overloading the system can help prolong the life of the aerator pump.

The life expectancy of the aerator pump can also be affected by external factors, such as power surges, lightning strikes, and exposure to the elements. To ensure the longevity of the aerator pump, select high-quality equipment and operate it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Pump up Your Water Safety: Understand the Differences between Aerator and Bilge Pumps

While aerator and bilge pumps serve the purpose of pumping water, their differences set them apart. Depending on your specific needs, one type of pump may be better suited for you than the other.

An aerator pump will benefit swimming pools, hot tubs, or oxygenation if you own a fish tank or pond. Alternatively, if you own a basement or a crawl space vulnerable to flooding, a bilge pump would help remove water and prevent excess damage.

Don’t rush into investing in a water pump without considering each type’s unique purpose and intended application. Choosing the right one can make all the difference in creating an optimally healthy environment for yourself and any aquatic life.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top