Understanding the Differences Between Aerator and Reversible Pumps

what is the difference between aerator and reversible pumps

Understanding the Differences Between Reversible Pumps and Aerator Pumps for Boat Ballast Systems

When outfitting boats with ballast bag systems, particularly in wakeboarding or wake surfing boats, the choice of pump can significantly impact the efficiency and functionality of your system. Two common types of pumps used in these systems are aerator pumps and reversible pumps. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, making them suitable for different applications. Let's dive into the differences and explore how they function in ballast bag systems.

Aerator Pumps

Aerator pumps have a history rooted in fishing boats with live wells, which is where they first gained popularity. These pumps are designed to move water in one direction and are commonly used in setups where there is a dedicated pump for filling and another for draining the ballast bags.

Advantages of Aerator Pumps:

  • Dry Run Capability: Aerator pumps can be run dry without causing damage. This means if you accidentally leave the pump on after the water has drained, it won't harm the pump.
  • Above-Water Draining: These pumps are configured to drain water above the waterline of the boat. This provides a clear visual and audio cue when the ballast bags are empty, eliminating the need for gauges or timers.
  • Speed and Cost: Aerator pumps can operate at higher speeds compared to reversible pumps and are generally less expensive, typically ranging from $40 to $50.

Disadvantages of Aerator Pumps:

  • Non-Self Priming: Aerator pumps must be positioned close to the water source as they require a consistent supply of water to operate. They can't draw water if placed too far from the intake.
  • Passive Flow: When turned off, these pumps do not seal completely, allowing passive water flow which can be problematic.
  • Complex Plumbing: Using aerator pumps requires separate fill and drain pumps, leading to more holes in the boat and a more complex plumbing system.

Reversible Pumps

Reversible pumps, as the name suggests, can move water in both directions—forward for filling and reverse for draining. This dual functionality simplifies the ballast system by reducing the number of pumps needed.

Advantages of Reversible Pumps:

  • Self-Priming: These pumps can draw water even if placed at a distance from the water source, as long as the boat is in the water.
  • Single Pump System: Only one pump is needed for each ballast location, reducing the number of connections and holes required in the boat.
  • Flexible Placement: The ability to mount the pump anywhere in the boat and have flexible hose routing without affecting the flow rate is a significant advantage.

Disadvantages of Reversible Pumps:

  • Draining Below Waterline: These pumps drain water through the bottom of the boat, which means there is no visual or auditory confirmation of when the water has drained. You'll need to look to confirm that your bags are empty.
  • Higher Cost: Reversible pumps are more expensive, with prices ranging from $200 to $300.
  • Slower Speed Rating: While these pumps have a consistent flow rate, they may operate at a slower speed compared to aerator pumps.


Choosing between aerator pumps and reversible pumps for your boat's ballast system depends on your specific needs and preferences. Aerator pumps are cost-effective and efficient for simpler setups, particularly where visual cues for drainage are important. However, they require more complex plumbing and positioning near the water source. On the other hand, reversible pumps offer a streamlined solution with flexible placement and fewer connections, though at a higher cost.

Understanding these differences will help you make an informed decision, ensuring your ballast system operates smoothly and efficiently, enhancing your boating experience.

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