Make Your Own Look Bucket
When we first went to the Bahamas, many years ago, friends told us to be sure to get a “look bucket.” We weren’t even sure what this was, but we got one and it, as well as its many replacements, has been invaluable as a tool, a food finder and a source of entertainment. It’s basically a bucket with a see-through bottom. You put the bucket in the water and look through it. Unless the water is really muddy you can see below the surface. In clear waters you can see far down, even to the bottom. In a way, it’s like snorkeling without getting wet.
There are fancier names for this ‘tingum,” but “look bucket” says it all, and it’s been saying it for a long time. Along with the fancy names, some manufacturers have come up with some fancy versions, but these, in my opinion, seldom work any better than the original, which was a wooden bucket with a glass bottom.
In the Bahamas we use them for scoping out the ledges and reef below while looking for grouper and lobster. We use them for exploring with our dinghy for good places to snorkel. We use them to enjoy the scenery underwater when we don’t want to get wet. We use them for checking to see how well our anchor is buried. We use them to check out the bottom before we anchor to see if it’s cluttered with junk that might snag the anchor or chain. We use them to see what’s nibbling at the hook on those lazy tropical days when we’re fishing from our dinghy. We use them to show to the Coasties when they come alongside and ask to see our “dewatering device” in our tender. It’s a bucket, and you can use it to bail. But their use isn’t just limited to the Caribbean or Bahamas. You can use them anywhere the water’s relatively clear, such as the Great Lakes, the Pacific Coast, New England, the Keys, and anywhere the waters aren’t too muddy. In some areas, such as the Chesapeake, the water will become much clearer in cool times of the year, opening up a “look bucket season.” Even in relatively muddy waters, you may be able to see fish passing below. This can be fascinating for younger members of the crew.
Some of the expensive fancy ones have a narrow opening at the top, and some have a narrow window at the bottom. “Progress,” I guess. But the bucket concept works best when you (and others with you) can easily look down to the bottom, even while you’re slowly motoring along in the dink. (Be extra careful if you are moving. Practice appropriate safety procedures when using a look bucket. See a few examples in the tips below.) With a traditional look bucket, you can slowly (very slowly) putt along, holding the tiller with one hand, and the look bucket over the side with the other. I wouldn’t want a look bucket that I’d have to hold next to my face. Even if you’re sitting still in the dinghy, the waves seldom are.
You can make a great look bucket easily and inexpensively. For years ours was made of vertical wooden slats and metal bands, with the glass bottom inserted into a groove about a half inch up from the bottom. These were great, but with some drawbacks. You’d have to keep them wet, because the wooden slats would shrink and fall out of the bands. Also, we’d frequently break the glass when we dropped it in the dinghy or fell off a wave. Your look bucket can be much better and much cheaper.
Start with a regular plastic bucket, at least a 3 gallon size. Go for quality, because you will want it to be as rigid as possible, and a good bucket doesn’t cost much more than a cheap one. Rigidity is important to avoid flexing which can dislodge the clear bottom. Remember, you’ll be pressing the bucket into the water, perhaps as your dinghy is slowly moving. A good handle on the bucket will add to the convenience. Many buckets are made just for use in fresh water. A stainless or, at least, a plated handle will last longer. If you don’t have a good handle, just melt some holes in the bucket near the top with a hot soldering iron and use rope. (Holes made by heating will be less likely to tear than those made by simple punching.) Five gallon paint buckets, which are stiffened by encircling ridges, work quite well. They also have a rib around the bottom. The bottom panel extends inward from its junction with the sides at right angles rather than being rounded. This allows you to seat the base better. A white bucket will show up better than a blue one, after it blows overboard in that surprise squall. Also buy a sheet of Plexiglas large enough to cover the bottom. You can get this in most hardware stores. It’s difficult to cut Plexiglas without making a mess of the product. Get them to cut it for you with a diameter slightly less than that of the bottom of the bucket. It should not be less than one eighth to one quarter of an inch thick, because you don’t want it to flex much.
Next, carefully cut out the bottom of the bucket. Most people use a utility knife or a sharp hot knife. You’ll want a clean cut with an even circumference. Make a round cardboard template to guide you. Leave a margin of bottom extending inward around an inch from the sides, larger for larger buckets. This will seat the Plexiglas and add rigidity. If your cut has left uneven edges, sand them so that the plate will have a flat base.
There are two schools of thought for mounting the Plexiglas—inside and outside. If it’s inside, you’ll probably scratch it less. If it’s outside, water pressure will be less likely to loosen the seal when you use it. If you’ve found a bucket with a good rim around the bottom, (as with most paint buckets) outside is clearly the choice because the rim will help to protect it from scratches. With sand paper, rough up the surface of the Plexiglas that is to mate with the bottom rim of the bucket, and rough up that rim also. This allows better adherence. Wipe the two mating surfaces with a cleaning agent (be careful with any of these) to remove any grease or oil. Some just glue the Plexiglas to the remaining bottom rim with 3M 5200, making sure to leave no voids that will leak. (Some prefer marine grade silicone sealant.) It’s best to also drill holes (smooth the edges of the holes) in the Plexiglas and bottom rim for at least 8 small stainless bolts. Through bolt the Plexiglas, preferably with the nut inside the bucket. Use washers on each end. Put a dab of 5200 under the outer bolt head to be sure you don’t have water leaking in through its hole.
That’s it. You’ve got a great look bucket, it’s better than many which you can buy, it cost almost nothing, and now all you have to do is remember to put it onboard and start enjoying the show below.
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