How to Keep Your Boat Running Well
Run her to keep her running.
"I think it is gonna be about three grand," said my friend Vance. I just had the water pump replaced, but the fix required that I put the new one in anyway."
Having just spent about $2,200 on the Robalo 21' BayHunter I have fished for 17 years now was fresh in my head. Hell. I had written a physical check - something that my PayPal account has essentially eliminated of late -- and I think the ink was probably still wet. The money we were talking about had gone to our boats. Specifically our fishing boats.
A Sheaffer boat - locally built. If you fish West Central Florida you know this boat and if you know this boat you want this boat. Check them out at Sheaffer Marine.
Caring for Your Fishing Boat
Referred to by those of us blessed with a fishing boat as a hole in the water that requires a constant flow of cash, fishing boats are something you have to experience to understand. We know we have a lot of readers -- most of them, actually -- walk to fish and stand their ground while hunting and battling their target species. Another measurable percentage of our readership sit down and paddle or use small electrical engines to push them where they need to be. We know that not all of you can relate to spending a few thousand dollars once in a while to keep their boats running. We also know from painful experience that a little attention to care would have saved us a whole lot of those dollars.
That is not to say that the best care and attention to your boat and your engine and your electronics and your pumps and your deck and your stainless steel and your switches and your safety gear and everything else we can think of will result in never having problems. Whether you are fishing a 16' Jon boat or a 28' or 36' fishing machine on steroids, there are some basic things you can watch for that will catch problems early, make them cost less money, and will have you on the water more often. There will still be days with dead batteries. There will still be days when the engine cranks but will not fire. There are days they will stop running for no apparent reason when you are in bad weather in bad water and feel your left knee letting go. Believe us. Bad things will still happen. We are not talking about having common sense when it comes to safety and all that goes along with staying alive. We are talking about your boat running, leaking or not leaking, and generally costing you as little as possible to keep healthy.
Before we talk about smaller center console fishing boats, it is probably smart to talk about surveying a boat. Surveys are not cheap, and usually reserved for bigger boats, but if you are spending fifty, eighty, or three hundred thousand dollars for a fishing boat that has seen some time on the water already, hiring one of these certified specialists might very well be worth the money. Real surveyors can be found, and are normally members of either the National Association of Marine Surveyors ("NAMS") or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors ("SAMS"). They are essentially home inspectors for yachts and larger boats.
Run Her to Keep Her Running
This one is simple and this one is probably the most reliable way to make sure your boat is running and ready for that once-in-lifetime fishing adventure. It sounds so much like common sense that we hate to say we are guilty of getting busy and not running a boat for three months. Leave a boat sitting for a long time and all sorts of things happen to her. Most likely to cause a difficult startup as a result of not running a boat is settling of oil in places it would not normally settle into. Namely your spark plugs. Leave a boat sitting long enough and leave it with the engine tilted as high as it will tilt and the buildup of oil in the plugs is not only likely, you can just about count on it.
If you can, leave your boat with the entire trimmed down in running position. It is more likely to start easier if it sits vertically and not in high tilt position. If you are moving it or keeping it on a trailer for a few days that is one thing; if it sits for weeks and months at a time trim it down. And start it at least once a week if not more.
If starting problems were ranked the way sites are in the Internet, bad batteries would be on the top of the Google list of reasons your boat did not start. Batteries come in several types these days. Gel batteries are solid and do not require water be checked. But if you have a regular old-fashioned battery, you saved a lot of money but you have to always check the levels of water in the battery chamber. That water slowly disappears over time, and when it starts to get lower it starts to diminish the starting and running power of the system. If you can afford gel batteries, buy them.
Regular and gel batteries drain on their own. Gels take way longer to drain on their own, but all batteries drain even if you are not running your live well, the trolling motors, the stick anchors and the entire collection of Jimmy Buffet music. It is a good idea to have more than one battery on your boat too. We have two running the live wells, one running the trolling motor, and two starters. Overkill? Maybe. But she starts when we turn the key, the baits live, and we can move as quietly as somebody with paddles on a kayak.
Check your batteries. As important as checking them though is to keep them disconnected from every single thing in the boat when you are not starting it, standing on it, and until you take her out for the day or week or month. The best way to do this is to keep switches on the system that let you turn them all off. They will still drain, but man, will they drain faster if you leave them connected. If something is slightly off kilter, it can drain a battery in a few hours and surely overnight. But even the best equipment drains the battery more than it would be drained if it stayed disconnected from all devices when she is off the water.
Want to imagine, for a moment, something you should avoid at all costs? You are offshore and you blow a hose that carries water into the engine. Granted, we have friends and we have boat insurance for when those friends are too far away to ruin their day to save us from sure death or at least horrific hours of boredom. But blowing any of the hoses you see connected to your engine will ruin your day if not your friends' days. They blow. They are under pressure and they are man made. All those things mean that there will come the day when one of them lets go and sprays really hot water, equally hot but nastier oil, explosive gas, or something else toxic all over the boat. You can bet on it.
The answer? Check your hoses! Check them once a month. In fact, it does not hurt to take a look at them anytime you start the boat. An outboard is a little bit of a pain to open and expose the hoses, but pulling the cowel up once a month will save you that blown hose. They start to look like they are gonna' blow long before the toxic fluid temporarily blinds you, and they are so much easier to replace before they blow then when they are hotter than hell and you are offshore sixty miles, it is worth checking them on a regular basis.
Practice Common Sense.
When is the last time you checked the oil in your boat? A lot of engines have separate oil tanks and do not automatically mix the gas and oil as they run. If you have a separate oil tank on your fishing machine, keep it full. Not half full and not close to empty but ok for one more run; keep it full and use good oil.
Rusty stuff needs to be looked at. A lot of times a small dot of rust on a deck indicates a loose booth in the deck structure. Watch for stuff like this too. A small dab of silicon putty can save you hundreds or thousands in structural repair down the road.
Watch your wiring. Corrosion around saltwater is something that can and always will happen. We have seen boats worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that had the best wiring in the world start to corrode if not watched. A little cleaning and a little oil on your fingertips can remove a tiny hint of corrosion on a wire that could eventually make your electronics stop working.
Lastly, watch any ports, holes, or access wiring that goes through your hull. Silicon putty eventually tightened and those ports can begin to leak. Watch for suspicious coloring or shaping around your ports. Stay happy fishing on your reliable boat. Keep your eyes open, smell the air, and may your lines stay tight.