A boat is to a fisherman what a horse is to a cowboy.
Take care of it, and it will take you anywhere you want to go. Neglect it, and you could be stranded miles away from nowhere at sundown with no help in sight.
No time is that fact more clear than at the beginning of the fishing season. How many times have you seen someone back a boat down the ramp on opening day only to have to crank and crank the outboard — and still not get it to start?
And how about the guy who doesn’t make it that far? He’s pulled to the side of the road because something went wrong on his trailer.
The time to do avoid problems is before you head to the water. Here’s some suggestions from Kevin McGuire, general service manager at Crystal-Pierz Marine in Brainerd, Minn.
The Shocking Truth
If you can’t get your motor to start the most likely source of the problem is your batteries. Charge them up, then take them to a dealer to have a load tester applied to them. A voltmeter isn’t enough, McGuire said. A battery may show a full charge and still lack the cranking power to start the outboard.
Did you test it and the motor still won’t start? There’s one more thing to try before you buy new ones. Many troubles most often can be traced to a simple loose connection. The battery poles must be clean and the cables must be secure. Boat owners sometimes hand-tighten the wing nuts and think that’s enough, but use a wrench.
If your boat still won’t start make sure the safety-cord switch next to the driver’s seat near the throttle is in the “on” position.
Check for other electrical problems. Mice can get into a stored boat over the winter and chew through wires. Also, make sure your gadgets and your trolling motor all have power.
No Fuel Like Old Fuel
Next, check the fuel. Remove the gas cap, smell the fuel and if you detect an odd odor, try to remember if you put stabilizer in the tank last fall. If not, keep in mind the new additives the Environmental Protection Agency requires to lower engine emissions also reduces the shelf life of gasoline. Stale gas will break down and gum up the works. It’s an even bigger problem with four-stroke carbureted outboards because of the small jets inside. If the gas is old, replace it with fresh gasoline.
McGuire goes so far as to suggest that weekend fishermen who use their boats once every week or less should take the extra precaution to add a product such as Mercury Engine Treatment and Stabilizer all season long. The manufacturer should give recommendations for both “in storage” or “in use” mixtures. Add the “in use” amount needed for the right concentration every time you fuel up.
Before you head to the water, start the motor at home. Make certain you use engine muffs with a garden hose connected to it to provide water to cool the motor. Run the outboard long enough to get rid of the fogging oil you used to protect the inner workings from rust over the winter. Change the plugs because the fogging oil can foul plugs. The motor can idle fine with the fouled plugs so unless you replace them, you may not even notice a problem until you’ve launched and try to rev up the motor and get going fast enough for the boat to plane.
Also, get out the owner’s manual and check routine maintenance schedules. One thing that is the most often overlooked is replacement of the water impeller. It’s a simple, low-cost preventive measure that can save you big dollars.
The impeller is key to the system that draws water into the motor to cool the engine. If it goes out, you’ll know it in about five minutes to eight minutes when your power head burns up. If it goes out at full power, you’ll know almost instantly when the motor seizes up. Most manufacturers suggest replacement after every 300 hours of use or after two years to three years of use.
Check the manufacturer’s recommendation on when the water pump should be replaced. Don’t think a little stream of water coming from the motor means the pump is OK. More than 90 percent of the water is expelled through the exhaust underwater when the motor is running. The stream of water only signals that water is moving through the outboard, not whether the water supply is adequate for the task of cooling the motor. A water pump costs about $150. The power head is priceless — $5,000 or more.
If you’ve lost your owner’s manual a dealer can read your outboard’s serial number and order another.
“I’m a firm believer in preventative maintenance,” McGuire said. “Get out the manual and ask yourself, ‘What’s in here I should be doing?'”
Another must is to check steering cables for tightness. Replace worn fasteners because the boat will go into a dangerous spin and toss you or your passengers overboard if they come undone.
Too often we think that the boat is all that needs care. But, what about the miles we put on the trailer last year? That didn’t come without wear and tear that needs attention.
Adding a little grease to the wheel bearings with Bearing Buddies is not enough. Kevin McGuire, general service manager at Crystal-Pierz Maine in Brainerd, Minn., recommends to have the bearings repacked before you store the trailer in the fall. If not, they may rust and pit over the winter. Have them checked and replaced, if needed.
Tires on the trailer also should be inspected for signs of wear and sun rot. Look for smooth or cracked treads or the like, and make sure the air pressure is right. Don’t overlook checking the spare tire.
“Those are simple things that will leave a guy stranded,” McGuire said.
Check your trailer lights, too.
Lastly, check safety equipment. Inspect the life jackets, and replace worn or mildewed ones that no one will wear. Also, check the horn, and your onboard running lights. And don’t forget to make sure you have your safety disconnect cord in place and use it.
The Fun Stuff
Remember those, “I wish I hads …” you uttered last season? Why not add them to your boat right now.
If you don’t have a GPS, maybe now is the time to get one. Bottom Line Electronics’ Tournament NCC 6300 reads your exact position, gets you to your precise destination and tracks your route and trolling passes. The split screen lets you watch your sonar to know what’s going on below.
Another great idea for both convenience and safety is to add an auxiliary motor lift from Panther Marine Products. Deploy or raise your kicker motor simply and electronically with the push of a button. The result is no more straining while leaning over the side of the boat in big waves. Add a Panther Electro-Steer to maneuver the kicker anywhere in the boat.
A Panther Jack Plate can help walleye fishermen, especially tournament fishermen, by giving quicker shots out of the hole, allowing safer shallow-water running over reefs and sand bars and better outboard positioning in rough water.
And finally, check over the rod holders for wear and cracks.
Spend some time and a little money doing a few simple things now so you can spend the rest of the fishing season focusing on what you’re supposed to — catching fish!