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Build an easy portable livewell

Updated on June 28, 2008

Please check out my AA power-pack to assist in this endeavor. If you don't decide to use it there are other ways to power this.


What's the purpose of a portable live-well? If you're a fisherman, you probably already know. Basically, you want to be able to transport live bait from spot to spot, but you don't want to clutter up a bunch of deck space doing so. If you are a biologist, than you just want to keep critters kicking as long as possible.

I needed a portable live-well for my kayak. It had to serve two purposes; one was for live bait while fishing for pelagic fish, two, to keep saltwater bass alive for tournaments.

For bait I've used it for jack smelt, mackerels and anchovies. It has also kept three good sized spotted bass alive for tourneys. But the thing is, I'm limited by what I can fit on my kayak. The applications for this can be much bigger. So, lets get on with the building.

Here's what you need.

  1. A container. How big it is depends on what you are going to use it for. I use a 32 qt. cooler because it fits on my kayak. But a powerboat has a lot more room.
  2. Power. Check out my page on rechargeable AA battery packs. I use 6 AA batteries. Or, do your own thing.
  3. A bilge pump. I've got some recommended at the bottom.
  4. Hose. ¾" marine hose is best, but ¾" sprinkler pipe works for smaller applications. You'll need enough to put the pump in that water and to let the drain go back into the water.
  5. 90 degree aerator nozzle ¾". (my selection is on the bottom)
  6. 90 degree PVC elbow (for drainage). I find sprinkler fittings to work great for this.
  7. 8" zip ties. These are to hold your live-well to the deck and prevent it from sliding around
  8. Some bungee cords.
  9. Drill and a 7/8" hole saw.
  10. Marine or Plumbing Goop (glue).
  11. Zip ties.
  12. (Optional) Dremel tool and cutting wheels. If you don't have one, get one. I don't know what I like better, my Dremel or my safety-wire pliers.


  1. Drill a hole with the hole saw one side of the container where you want the water to come in.
  2. Drill a drain hole ½" below and opposite the first hole.
  3. Glue your aerator into the first hole
  4. Glue PVC elbow for drainage into the second hole
  5. Let glue set.
  6. Attach your bilge pump to the hose at the length you need it. Wind the wires up and zip tie. Leave enough wire to connect to power supply.
  7. When the glue is set, attach your drain hose. Mine goes right into the scuppers of my kayak. Plus I have an extra drain (elbow with no hose) for large swells.
  8. Attach the hose with the pump to the aerator.
  9. Modify as needed for your specific vessel. I put some zip-tie loops on mine for more securing options.


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    • profile image

      Mark Wiley 7 years ago

      I set up 2 battery packs (1 for spare) using 7 AA batteries,and it runs a 600 gph just fine. The diagram and instructions worked smoothly. Walmart has a complete hose, pvc wall unit, and clamps for 9.99 which worked just perfect with the bilge pump. I substituted a 6" pvc with holes drilled through as my aerator. Otherwise, the whole unit cost about 80.00, with a rolling Igloo upgrade. Looking forward to crappie season next month.

    • xcubist profile image

      xcubist 8 years ago

      I've got a very similar setup that I use to take on the piers instead of having to reach over and pull the bait bucket up out of the water. I actually found an old wheelchair in a garage sale and mounted the ice chest on it (mines a little bigger than the one shown here) so now I don't even have to carry it, just wheel it around.