Freshwater or saltwater, personal or charter fishing, you need a good livewell system on your boat to keep your bait fish alive and happy. Some boats keep just one live well, while others maybe have several to keep more fresh bait onboard for large parties or extended expeditions, and to keep live catches fresh until they get back to shore. No matter how many livewells you have or where you do most of your bait fishing, you need a good livewell pump to keep fresh water flowing in so the fish can get fresh oxygen.
Larger fishing boats have one or several livewells complete with pumps, but when that factory pump goes bad (and it will), you need to replace it with the same model or upgrade to prevent future failures. How do you know which one is best? We’ve reviewed the best livewell pumps available for their features, functionality, and value versus cost so you don’t have to. We’ve also put together a buyer’s guide to help you choose what’s best for your needs and your boat. Check out what we have for you:
The Best Livewell Pumps
Rule Marine Tournament Series Livewell Pump
Johnson Pumps 48903 Aerator/Livewell Pump
Attwood Tsunami Aerator Pump
SHURFLO B00A8OVDJ0 PIRANHA™ Livewell Pump
SEAFLO 90 Degree Threaded Livewell Pump
Review of the Best Livewell Pumps
1. Rule Marine Tournament Series Livewell Pump
These are among the most popular livewell pump models, and for good reason. Designed for both salt and freshwater livewell, the Rule Marine Tournament Series makes keeping your catches and your bait well supplied with fresh, oxygenated water for hours at a time. This particular model has a flow rate of up to 500 gallons per hour, and can be installed quickly in any livewell under 40 gallon capacity.
Not only does it include all necessary fixtures and attachments, but all threads and fittings are standardized for installation of important livewell accessories. Most boat owners will also install livewell water temperature monitors, flow and aeration alarms, and various other equipment that helps ensure their live bait and catches stay alive as they comb the waves in search of their next trophy.
Best of all though, Rule manufactures the motors for their pumps using an interchangeable cartridge system. When your motor goes bad or stops working, you can easily disconnect it from power, pop the dead motor out, and pop a fresh motor in its place. Keep a spare or two on board for your expeditions, and this pump should see you through many years of fresh and salt fishing adventures with nary a hiccup in operation.
2. Johnson Pumps 48903 Livewell Pump
For big boats with large or multiple livewells, Johnson makes the reliable Model 48903. With twin exhaust ports and a single intake for the livewell and raw water washdown pump, this pump can circulate an astonishing 1250 GPH despite its factory rating of only 1000 GPH. Naturally, it comes standard with a high pressure inlet seal for managing the heavier throughput that the 48903 delivers, and all fixtures and threads are standardized for easy integration with all the systems and accessories necessary to maintaining a livewell in good working order.
As with many popular livewell pumps, the Johnson 48903 also uses a cartridge motor system for easy exchange on the fly should your motor burnout while you are on the water. Unclip the 12V power, unscrew the top, pull the old motor, drop the new one in place, then close it and plug it all up. So long as you keep a spare or two on board, you can have your livewell back up and running in minutes without having to worry about losing your bait while out fishing. This is a solid performer popular among professionals and private fisherman alike.
3. Attwood Tsunami Aerator Pump
If space is at a premium in and around your livewell, you definitely need to check out the Attwoods Tsunami Aerator Pump. Thanks to significant hydrodynamic knowhow, brilliant design and a little engineering magic, the Tsunami has an impressive output despite its small footprint. This pocket dynamo boasts a flow rate of 800 GHP, yet fits easily in even small fishing boats.
Connect the power, fit the tubing or pipes as needed, and this tempest in a teapot is ready to start keeping your livewell catches and baitfish well oxygenated and feeling frisky. A unique feature of these pumps is the fact that their motors are not only cartridge based, but can be exchanged with other Attwood Tsunami pumps like bilge pumps as well.
What’s that mean for you? Use all Atwood pumps on your boat, and you only need to keep one type of spare cartridge motor, reducing how many spare parts you need to keep on board. Cartridge systems also make emergency replacement while on the water simple since you are just swapping out the bad motor for a fresh one. Any fisherman planning on keeping a livewell functioning at peak efficiency on a small boat should definitely look into an Attwood Tsunami before anything else.
4. SHURFLO B00A8OVDJ0 PIRANHA™ Livewell 800 Pump
When it comes to your livewell pumps, automation is your friend. The Shurflo PIRANHA 800 is a smarter livewell pump with a several built-in fail-safes that many other pumps don’t have
First, the PIRANHA has a built-in anti-airlock feature which automatically expels trapped air in the system when you are sailing in rough conditions, or when the boat is anchored and the wind kicks up. Additionally, this model has an integrated washdown pump connection, which means fewer modifications to your existing livewell system should you upgrade to a PIRANHA. To top it all off, SHURFLO pumps use cartridge exchange motor systems, so keeping a spare on board makes it easy to correct for a blown motor due to clogging or wearing out while you are out on the water.
The PIRANHA is built from the ground up to keep your livewell running, save your live bait and catches, and make it easier to keep everything running at peak efficiency every time you venture out onto the water. Owners who want easier installation and lower livewell maintenance costs definitely need to consider upgrading to or installing a SHURFLO PIRANHA in their boat.
5. SEAFLO 90 Degree Threaded Livewell Pump
Fitting a livewell pump is not the easiest task no matter what type of boat you have. For smaller livewells where space is at a premium, SEAFLO offers this 90 degree threaded livewell pump that can be submerged inside the livewell itself, making it easier to conceal and occupy less space on deck.
Naturally, this type of livewell pump is primarily intended for smaller tanks, as it is only rated for 350 GPH. Despite this slight limitation, the SEAFLO 350GPH does provide a water-cooled solution and has an efficient amperage draw, meaning you can keep your livewell running longer with less maintenance or need for replacement.
Best of all, all seals on the motor are moisture tight, and it has an integrated anti-airlock feature not found even on more costly and powerful livewell pumps. All in all, this is a good choice for anyone looking to save space and keep their livewell water fresh for their bait and catch of the day.
Choosing the Best Livewell Pump
Here are some tips on picking the best livewell pump for your boat:
Get a Centrifugal Pump
These are standard on new saltwater fishing boats, and for good reason: they control the intake flow so that fresh outside water is introduced naturally and gently to the livewell compared. Displacement and diaphragm pumps jet or pulse the water into the livewell, which can unsettle both your latest catch and bait fish, and the added stress to their environment can lead to unintentionally killing your bait or latest trophy before you get out to your fishing spot or back to the dock.
Match Your Pump’s Flow Rate Correctly
The general principle for calculating a desirable flow rate is you need to replace the water in the livewell at least every 10 minutes, which calculated out is six times and hour minimum. Let’s say you have a 100-gallon livewell on your fishing boat. With a livewell that big, you need a minimum flow rate of 600 GPH to keep your bait fish alive.
Of course, you’ve also got to factor in the 30% pressure drop that comes with raising the water up 40 inches into the livewell. Some quick calculator work later, and you figure a 600 GPH pump has an actual output of about 420 GPH. To paraphrase a famous captain, “We’re gonna need a bigger pump.” To be on the safe side, let’s guesstimate that a flow rate of 1,100 GPH is going to a good fit for your 100 gallon livewell. You can always use a valve to control the flow rate and avoid agitating your bait unnecessarily.
Get a Pump With an Intake Strainer
Sadly this is not always standard, and if your pump doesn’t include a brass intake strainer, you need to install one yourself. Pumps with integrated brass strainers may cost more, but they are well worth what you will save in blown motors and backed up livewell circulation systems.
ALWAYS Use a Seacock for Safety
Regardless of what type of pump you buy, if you are running a livewell pump below the waterline (like you should), you need a seacock in place. Seacocks are heavy duty ball valves that let you near-instantly shut off the exterior intake valve. Not having a seacock installed on your livewell system is practically begging for a catastrophe at some point in the future. All it takes is one containment failure in the livewell, and you are sunk. Literally.
Our reviews of these five livewell pumps and their capabilities has led us to one conclusion: the best value by far is the SHURFLO B00A8OVDJ0 PIRANHA. Regardless of what flow rate you purchase or what size livewell you have, the PIRANHA has the failsafe features and easy-to-connect fittings and threads to make installation and operation every fishing boat captain’s dream.
These pumps run cooler, flow more efficiently, and prevent blockages and airlock more effectively than any other livewell pump we reviewed. Whether you are replacing your worn out livewell pump or upgrading what you have no, definitely consider buying a SHURFLO PIRANHA for your freshwater or saltwater fishing boat. You’ll save a lot of money on live bait and repairs, and you’ll thank yourself for the less hassles in the long run.