How to make a “well bucket” in case electricity goes down and you’re on well water

I have a 500 foot deep well. The pump is normally powered by solar, and if needed, a generator. But in case those power methods fail or SHTF and we run out of fuel, how would I get water?

I made this manual “well bucket” backup out of scrap pieces of PVC pipe, wood, cordage, a pulley and crank, some nuts and bolts, and a foot valve. It’s all available from a local hardware store or Amazon. I only needed simple hand tools and a power drill. Depending on how you put it together, it might be $25-$100.

It’s essentially like any bucket you’d drop into well for water, but this one is designed for modern, narrow, and deep wells. (This picture shows everything except for the foot valve on the bottom of the bucket/pipe:)


Although you can piece this together with random stuff, here’s a kit of essentially what I used and prices:

Step 1: Build a tripod or similar foundation that can hold a pulley directly over the wellhead. There’s no magic to the design, it just needs to be strong enough to handle 50-100 pounds of hanging force. In my case, the tripod is about 9 feet high and I can fold in the legs to make it easier to store.

But that might be overkill for your needs. If you’re really tight on storage space, you technically could skip the tripod and pulley/crank parts altogether and just have the PVC bucket and line.

Step 2: Attach a simple pulley wheel so it hangs down in the center.


Step 3: You can attach a hand crank to make drawing the bucket up easier. Or you can decide to skip this and just use your hands to pull the rope up. Keep in mind, though, that you might be pulling 20+ pounds up over hundreds of feet. It’s also possible to use an ATV, vehicle, or animal to pull the load up.


If you don’t attach the loose / non-bucket end of your line to a crank, as added safety against the whole thing dropping into your well, you can tie a big knot, attach some random nuts and washers, or some other idea to the end of the line. Whatever works so that if, while raising water by hand you accidentally let go, the whole thing won’t go down and you can’t reach the line anymore.

Step 4: Build the PVC bucket body. You need to know what the diameter of your well pipe is so that you can buy/use a PVC pipe that will fit inside but isn’t too narrow to require lots of round trips. It’s okay to leave a little bit of wiggle room between the PVC bucket and the well wall.

In my case, I used a 4 inch wide pipe that’s 4 feet long. If I did my math right, that pipe/bucket will carry about 2.5 gallons of water.


Step 5: Create the attachment point between the top of the bucket and your pulley line. The simplest way is to drill two holes directly across from each other, 1-2 inches below the top of the pipe, and then just thread your line through.

You can see how I used metal hardware in the picture above to create more of a pivot point that will let the bucket move and spare abrasion on the line. You could do something in between where you run one bolt through the two drilled holes, put a nut on one end to keep the bolt in place, and tie the line to the cross bolt.

Step 6: Making the bottom of the bucket. You have multiple options here, but in any case, you’ll need to put a PVC end cap on the bottom of the main bucket pipe to create the “floor” of the bucket. The end cap will be in the hardware store next to the PVC pipes, as will the glue you might need to secure it to the main body (remember, this bottom cap will hold all of the water weight). Just ask for help.

The simplest version is just a plain ‘ol bucket – the PVC pipe is the body, the bottom end cap is the floor, and there’s no top cap. So you dip the bucket fully underwater until it fills from the top, then pull it up.

There’s a potential problem with filling the bucket from the top, though. Your well might not have enough water in it for the whole bucket to submerge to the point water fills from the top. Or the bucket might be too light to naturally sink below the water line. If that happens, add some weight to the bottom of the bucket to help it sink.

I took an extra step to avoid those problems and have the water fill the bucket from the bottom, using a special (but only ~$20) device called a foot valve. The foot valve lets water come in from the bottom, but not back out as you pull up the bucket.


The white is the bottom PVC end cap. I drilled a hole in the center of that cap to match the foot valve and threaded it together. How you attach the foot valve (such as using washers/gaskets and a threaded nut) will depend on the foot valve, but again, your hardware store can help.

Another option is to buy or build a “check valve.” Some of the links below show this.

Practice: You’ll need to know how to remove the daily-life cap from your wellhead, or whatever else you’ll need to do in case power goes out and you need to swap in this manual method. Don’t wait until you actually need water to try this out!

Additional resources:


  • Comments (9)

    • 9

      Love to see these kinds of projects shared!

    • 7

      Have you actually tried what you built? Thanks for this.

      • 10

        Fair question, and in the spirit of “a good prepper practices,” yes I have! I removed the parts that normally do the pumping, put this over the well, went all the way down and brought up water.

    • 6

      I too have built and tried it out. I found my well to be deep enough it was hard to pull the motor and cable up out of the well. So I pulled the cable up high enough to run it through a pulley and then pulled everything up using the atv. Much easier than pulling by hand.

      As with all preps or plans, you don’t really know if they work until you try them out. For example. I had a generator, 500 gallon gas tank with an electric pump handle and nozzle, and a transfer switch in my home. The power went out so I thought a great time to test my system. Well, I didn’t have any gas in the generator or a separate can so guess what, I couldn’t start the generator to run the electric in the house or pump gas. I had no siphon hose or anyway to get even a couple ounces of gas out of the big tank. I was shut down before I even got started. Yes my neighbor laughed when I went over to borrow a few ounces of gas to start the gen.

      Lesson learned, test your plans.

      • 8

        Ha! Perfect illustration of what can go wrong when even 1 thing is overlooked 🙂

    • 6

      I have a question.  When I bought my property it had the well but had to have it pulled to see why it wasn’t running.  Not sure why but someone had cut 50′ off electric wire to pump and dropped pump back in… only thing showing broken was pipe from top  that hooks to pipe running to house.  Well, while fixing that – we found that the water level started at 13′ or thereabouts.  I don’t remember how far down the pump was.. but there was water at that level of 13′.  The water is good.  Clean and clear.  So I’m thinking I could syphon water out of my well.  ??????????  Why would a well be like that?  I’ve had numerous wells – and never one with water at that depth…  again.. the pump was a lot further down.  I’ve left water running after watering animals.. not on purpose – all day, and my well never pumped dry either.

      • 5

        replying to my own comment.  When I saw this bucket I was really excited.  My grandma had a metal bucket for her well.. that you pulled handle and the water would come out bottom into a bucket.  That’s what got me to thinking about the water being up high in pipe.  And made me consider syphoning from it.  I do know I am going to make one though.. so no mater where I may be.. I have access to water from a well!  Thanks much!  My granddaughter has a well.. and I know she and her husband will like this.

      • 5

        I’m no expert, but from what I understand the pump needs to be considerably deeper than the static water level you mention.  A lot has to do with the flow rate of the water underground.  In some areas, water in the borehole is not replaced very quickly, so you need a deeper well.  Another factor is that the static water level can sometimes change greatly, depending on the climate, how many wells are pulling from it and the time of year.  In my area, the soil underground is sandy, and the underground water flows rather quickly.  Our aquifer is called the Memphis Sands.

        Another consideration is that deeper water is likely more pure than water near the surface.  The closer to the surface, the more issues you have with chemicals (herbicides/pesticides) percolating into the upper water level.  When they were digging our well, they hit water real quick but the men kept going deeper, looking for a certain type of sand.  Once they got into that sand, that is where they wanted the pump.  Water flowing slowly thru all that sand purifies it and the clay above helps seal out impurities.

        Maybe this image helps explain why your pump is deeper than your static water level.  Also notice the different layers of soil & sands.  That is exactly how our soil is around here.  


        This is an image of our aquifer.  I live well outside Memphis on one of those recharge areas.  That explains the sandy soil around our farm & the high water table.  In our area, there are lots of natural springs, some with huge amounts of water flowing out year round.  Memphis has pulled down our water level some, so there are not as many springs nowadays.  Old timers tell me there was a good spring on the edge of our property years ago.  They built a church on my land back then because of the spring.  The church & spring are long gone.


    • 2

      Olly, R. Wilson,

      What was the easiest way to determine the water level in your well, i.e. how far down you had to lower your pipe to ensure it was submerged but not lowering further then necessary?  Did you experience slack in the line possibly?

      I have 3 wells on my property, 1 has wiring/piping for the geo and house water, 1 has wiring for monitoring the status of the aquifer but the 3rd is an old well head for an old camp that use to be on the property and is no longer in use. It is shallow compared to the others but has no pump/piping or wiring to worry about and is an open pipe.

      I was intending on making a tripod like this this summer for this well head. I would love to be able to get to being able to put a solar powered pump in as well but don’t know much about how to set that up so that will be further down the road.

      This is for our worst case on our property as the pump for our in use daily well is on our generator which we can run for about 7-days before we run out of propane. Then it is tripod bucket time.

      • 2

        Fortunate you have the extra well for backup, and the well for aquifer monitoring! 

        Folks I know who’ve built manual buckets have left enough line to reach the bottom of the well, even if the current water level is higher. When you’re dropping the bucket, it’s easy to just give it a few cranks back in the ‘up’ direction to feel if you’ve hit water level and thus water has filled the bucket and made it noticeably heavier. 

        That way there’s also the benefit of being adaptable as the water table goes down over time!