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Skimmer neck cleaner

        Review: The Swabbie Skimmer Neck Cleaner

                           From Avast Marine Works

I recently ordered a new piece of equipment - an automatic skimmer neck cleaner from Avast Marine Works. We all know how much grunge collects on the inside of the neck on a well functioning skimmer - and how much work it is to keep it clean. I have gotten in to a routine of cleaning my skimmer's neck with a soft toilet brush every three days, or so. This cleans the neck of gunk and "oil" without making it "squeaky clean". The result of not over cleaning the neck is that no break-in period is required after cleaning. This is a definite plus point, as skimmer efficiency can be negatively effected for days after a thorough cleaning.

I have been following the development of various automated neck cleaners for a number of years. Basically, there have been two directions these developments have taken: No. 1. a continuous laminar flow of water is produced that "washes down" the inside of the riser tube - IMHO, these designs have proven very difficult to set up correctly (perfectly level, etc.) and just weren't that good at keeping the tube clean, No. 2. a low RPM motor drives a brush or squeegee, at intervals, along the inside of the riser tube, cleaning away gunk as it goes. Of the two main design directions, this seemed to be the most promising.

I have been keeping a close watch on the various efforts to perfect such a device as, due to the way they function, they fall into the category of producing a clean, but (and this is important) not too clean, result. Up until now I found that they were always either not very good at cleaning or so expensive as to be unaffordable.

Recently, I became aware of Avast Marine Works' (AMW) new skimmer cleaner. The device uses a windshield wiper like squeegee to automatically remove the buildup from a skimmer neck! The "Swabbie", as AMW has named their product, consists of a round top that replaces the skimmer's normal skimmate cup cover, a high torque low RPM motor, a drive rod (to which the squeegee is attached), and the squeegee, itself.

My "Swabbie", arrived quickly, and was well packaged. The entire thing was first covered in many layers of stretch wrap, and then placed inside a sturdy cardboard box. No chance of anything being damaged:

Swabbie packed

The Swabbie looks to be very well made - and engineered. The top, which is machined from 3/8" solid PVC stock, serves as the mount for the squeegee's drive motor and, as befits skimmers the size of mine,  is foreseen with twelve approx. 3/8" holes for air escape.

Swabbie top

The motor is centered on the top and enclosed - almost hermetically sealed - in PVC. It raises the total height of the skimmer by approx. 2 inches. There are three screw clamps located around the edge of the top, they serve to center it exactly over the middle of the neck of the skimmer - this is vital to the correct functioning of the Swabbie. There is a deep groove machined on the bottom of the cover (it can be seen in the pic, below). The groove is dimensioned to provide a seat for the upper edge of the skimmate cup, with a little room for adjustment. This extra room provides the means of assuring that the Swabbie can always be adjusted dead center over the skimmer's neck:

Swabbie clamp

The drive rod, which holds the squeegee, protrudes from the bottom of the cover and is affixed to the motor's drive shaft using a stainless steel set screw. There are a number of threaded holes spaced evenly along the shaft - these provide the means of attaching the squeegee to the rod with a nylon screw:

Swabbie bottom

As already mentioned, it is important that the rod is centered exactly in the middle of the skimmer's neck so that equal pressure is brought to bear on the entire circumference of the neck. This assures effective cleaning and, as mentioned earlier is achieved using the three screw clamps.

The squeegee, itself, looks to be made of a good grade of orange neoprene:

Swabbie squeegee

The attaching of the squeegee to the drive rod is the only assembly required, and took all of 30 seconds:

Swabbie bottom

I proceeded to initially adjust the size of the squeegee's "circle of neck contact" by measuring the inside diameter of the skimmer's neck. I then set the squeegee's position on the drive rod so that the total circumference of the squeegee, as it turns, would be approx. 1/8" larger than the inside diameter of the neck. This proved to be a little too loose, so I moved the squeegee out a little by loosening the nylon screw and adjusting the squeegee's holder accordingly. This position seemed perfect. The squeegee moved around the inside of the neck smoothly and after a couple adjustments of the positioning clamps, contacted the neck all around it's swing.

I set up the Swabbie as a controlled device on my Neptune Apex. I programmed the controller so that the Swabbie comes on for 1 minute every 4 hours. Seems to be just right, judging from the clean neck I'm now seeing.

I haven't had the Swabbie installed long enough to fully evaluate whether or not it functions as advertised, but initial results are encouraging. It'll be another week or so before I can give an unqualified evaluation. Until then, I can show you one of the plus points about the Swabbie:

Swabbie US flag

Customer service at Avast Marine Works seems to be first class. They have standard model Swabbies, as well as the possibility of ordering a custom unit. I run Reeflo Orca 250 Pro skimmers so my Swabbie would have quite a job cut out for it. I spent some time communicating with Justin Casp, of Avast, and he  was very helpful with answering all my questions and making sure I received a Swabbie that fit my large  skimmers perfectly. It was very clear that he was genuinely interested in assuring that I was satisfied with my experience with his company.

So stand by, I'll be reporting back with a final evaluation, as soon as I get a little more experience with this interesting and very promising device...

UPDATE (07/17/2010): Well, I've had my Swabbie running for almost two weeks now. It runs for exactly six minutes a day (that's one minute at a time, six times a day) and during that time, I have had zero problems with the unit. Most important, the inside of the skimmer neck has remained nice and clean.

Local reefers that know about my trial of the Swabbie have ask if it makes my skimmer more efficient. The answer is yes and no. No, because when I have cleaned my skimmers, they are very efficient and the Swabbie cannot make them more so. Yes, and this is the important part, because it keeps the skimmer clean 24 hours a day - and that means the skimmer is always running at top efficiency, which is not the case if I have to keep them clean manually.

To sum up, the Swabbie has proven to be a definite work saver for me. During the short time it has been running, I normally would have had to clean the skimmer's neck three or four times to keep it at top output. The Swabbie has successfully eliminated that need. As mentioned, I run two identical skimmers, so I'll be ordering a second unit.

While the Swabbie is keeping your skimmer clean, it is accumulating gunk. I would suggest that the unit be cleaned once every three or four weeks.  A thorough cleaning consists of removing the squeegee and washing it under running water - I also use a soft bristled toilet brush - works very well. I wipe down the bottom (inside) of the unit with a wet sponge. The whole process takes less than 5 minutes and has zero impact on the skimmers efficiency.

UPDATE (10/26/2010): The second Swabbie has been ordered, received, and installed. Both Swabbies are working fine. Here's a short video of the both of them in action:

Disclaimer: I do not have, nor have I ever had, a personal or financial interest in Avast Marine Works.



Tizzo says...
Holy C'moly!! I read about this device on your page a while ago and I can't quit thinking about it!! Your write up makes me want one!!
All in due time! Controller first, then all the toys right!
Awesome details and description!
GlassReef: Well, it's a great help in keeping my skimmers performing at their max potential. Definitely somthing I can recommend.
7th October 2010 7:33pm

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