With so much water surrounding us in south Louisiana, a reliable boat is a critical piece of equipment for getting to the fishing grounds and back. Today’s modern fishing machines, though inherently engineered to be more reliable than ever, are still plagued by a variety of issues that send them for repairs. In order to avoid making your boat yet another hole in the water you throw money in, there are a number ways to minimize maintenance and operating costs.
1. Use It!
With so many activities vying for your time and attention, a little-used boat often gets neglected more than many would like. Unfortunately, the worst scenario for the well being of your boat and its systems is to sit up for extended periods. Unattended cranking batteries go dead without charge from the running motor or a charger. Similarly, trolling motor batteries lose their charge while sitting unattended as well. An on-board charger can go a long way for properly maintaining voltage in your cranking and trolling batteries. Today’s automatic units can be plugged in indefinitely without the need to monitor the charge, nor fear overcharging.
Fuel in the motor’s feed system deteriorates and will eventually end up as a gummy mess, ill-suited for proper flow when you’re ready for the next trip. When possible, running the fuel out of your engine is a great way prevent buildup within the engine’s components, though this is typically only practical on smaller engines where the fuel line can be unplugged. On larger engines, you’re reliant upon today’s array of fuel stabilizer products, which can extend the life of your fuel to be ready on the next trip. Brands like STA-BIL, STAR TRON, etc. offer fairly cheap insurance against fuel-related issues when used regularly.
2. Corrosion Prevention
Many of our favorite fish are chased in the salty waters along the Louisiana coast. Whether you’re after redfish in the marshes or dolphin on the rip, it’s critical to fight the effects of saltwater corrosion on your equipment. Just as my rods and reels get a good rinse with the hose back at the dock or home, my entire boat gets a similar freshwater rinse, giving much of the attention to all the metal components. The engine gets a good wash with soap and water to remove salt built up on the outer surfaces during the course of a trip, but that’s just the beginning.
Flushing the internal cooling system is critical to the longevity of the saltwater fishing outboard. Working in the marine industry has shown me the results of not taking the internal impacts of saltwater seriously with numerous cases of water passages crumbling in decay following years of saltwater remaining between fishing trips. It doesn’t happen overnight, but neglect over time will take its toll and you’ll eventually pay the resultant price.
Many of today’s models come with a dedicated flushing port for a garden hose built into the engine. Use of this port allows for thorough flushing of the engine without having to run it. I’ll often let the motor flush for a few minutes while I’m taking care of unloading other items after a fishing day as this function can be left unattended. For those motors without the port, running the motor with earmuff style flushers will be needed and should be attended in case they were to slip off. Religiously following a flushing regimen after every saltwater trip can save thousands of dollars spent later on corroded parts.
3. Preventative Maintenance Keeps You Fishing
Though flushing is key to a good preventative maintenance routine, marine engines require regular maintenance just like a car or truck. In today’s four stroke outboards, that includes routine oil and filter changes at the manufacturer’s prescribed running-time intervals. Otherwise, four stroke and two stroke outboards require similar maintenance attention such as changing the lower unit oil and spark plugs and greasing the prop shaft and other grease points on the engine.
When pulling the propeller, keep an eye out for fishing line or other materials wrapped on the shaft, which may compromise the nearby seal. Also, inspect the old lower unit oil for signs of water intrusion, which would appear as a milky substance in the oil and may be indicative of a seal failure in the gear housing.
A good once-over by a mechanic on an annual basis can go a long way in preventing costly repairs later on. That said, many routine maintenance items can be performed at home with only a few tools and at your own schedule, thus preventing time lost while the boat is in for service during peak season. Doing the maintenance yourself can similarly save you costly hourly shop rates which often range from $75 to $100 per hour.
Critical to getting your rig to the water and back, the trailer is as important as anything else in your fishing arsenal. Nothing can derail your plans for the early morning topwater bite quicker than a rusted trailer bunk support giving way or a worn tire blowing out on the highway. Though many issues can pop up unforeseen, a lot can be done to minimize the risk of leaving you on side of the road instead of heading to the fishing grounds.
As poor as our roads are here in Louisiana, your trailer tires have a tough job. These tires must be kept at proper pressure in order to assure even wear and prevent undue stress under load. Since trailers are often equipped with minimal suspension capability, the tires typically take the brunt of the forces generated as your heavy rig bounds down the road. It’s a good idea to make checking the pressures part of your pre-trip routine to assure proper inflation to whatever level is recommended on the tire wall.
Though often sealed, the wheels’ bearings are also critical to maintain. Keeping the bearings greased and sealed will minimize friction as they spin down the road and can help to prevent a failure that shuts down your trip. Bearing Buddies are ideal to make greasing the bearings a minimal chore.
Just as with the metallic surfaces of the boat, my trailer gets a thorough rinse after backing down at a coastal marina. If it’s going to sit up for a few weeks or months to the next trip I’d rather it does so without being covered in salt. Aside from corrosion and the wheel system, keep an eye out for simple but critical components like the winch strap and bunk boards, along with the wiring system for the lights. Fix small issues while at home before they become much more expensive and inconvenient. Keep all crucial parts like lugs, couplers and springs with a good spray lubricant to prevent rust, corrosion and frozen parts.
5. Fuel Issues – The Fight Against Ethanol
With many fueling stations serving up primarily blended gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol, fuel-related issues with both modern and older model fishing boats is as rampant as ever. Fortunately, there are still a good many stations in Louisiana offering conventional gasoline without ethanol, though the list is in decline. Nevertheless, today’s fuel stabilizers are formulated to combat the effects of ethanol on your fuel system and can prevent headaches and repairs with regular use.
For example, Marine Formula STA-BIL is among a host of products readily available and effective in keeping your boat out of the shop. I’ve been using this product for a few years now in three different boats without any issue. Regardless if filling up with ethanol-blended fuel or not, I still make this treatment part of my fueling stop and have had remarkable results in doing so.
Aside from treating the fuel, a good water-separating fuel filter is a great addition to your fuel system. Since ethanol tends to increase the amount of water that gasoline can absorb via condensation in your fuel tanks, catching the water before it gets to the engine is critical. Modern separators are rated to catch particles as small as 10 microns and serve as a key part of an ethanol defense regimen.
With the significant costs of purchasing a modern fishing rig, one must also consider the costs of keeping it in good operating condition. Regardless of the age of your boat, the time and nominal costs invested in preventative maintenance is well worth the effort when your rig brings you safely home after each day making memories on the water.