Winter Boat Maintenance
Ready or not, the spring fishing season will soon be upon us. If you’re fishing boat isn’t water ready, now’s the time to spend a few minutes insuring that the fast approaching fishing season will run as smooth as a set of well lubricated wheel bearing.
A little boat maintenance in the off season will insure that come spring your boat is running at peak performance.
Speaking of wheel bearings, this is the ideal place to start with essential spring boat preparation. Every year the bearings on your boat trailer should be examined, repacked with fresh grease and reassembled. Just giving the Bearing Buddy a couple squirts of grease isn’t going to displace water or grit that has undoubtedly found a way into the bearing housing.
Remove the tire, pull off the grease cap, and remove the entire wheel housing. Pull out both the inner and outer set of bearings and make sure they are not pitted or worn. If repacked once a year, wheel bearings will last for many years without fail.
Clean both sets of bearings with some gasoline then repack them with a quality marine grade grease. It’s a good ideal to replace the grease seal once a year as well. When all this is complete reassemble the bearing and wheel assembly being sure to only pack the bearing, not the bearing housing with grease. If too much grease is packed into the bearing housing, centrifugal force will force the grease out through the seals, soiling your wheels, tires and the bottom of your boat with a coating of fresh grease.
Repacking trailer bearings is a messy job, but it shouldn’t take longer than 30-40 minutes to do both sides. Ignore this essential task associated with boat ownership and you’re asking for a significant repair bill. You’re also looking at paying a tow bill to get your trailer off the road and into a repair shop.
OIL AND LOWER UNIT FLUID CHANGES
The crankcase oil in four stroke outboards should be changed at least once a year. The same goes for the thick lubricant found in the lower unit. If changing these essential lubricants isn’t your cup of tea, find an authorized service center to do the work for you.
Better yet, find a fishing buddy who knows how to change these fluids, ask for help and learn for yourself how to do the job next year.
Changing out these fluids and installing a new oil filter is not a difficult job. You can do it.
Anything wired to your cranking batteries has a static amp draw even when the unit is turned off. This is why over time your batteries slowly go dead. The best way to eliminate this problem is to disconnect wiring leads from the cranking battery at the end of the fishing season. Be sure to mark these leads so they can be easily re-connected in the spring and to make trouble shooting easier should something not work like it is supposed to.
Boat batteries are the life blood of your fishing boat. If you charged your batteries before storing the boat last fall, chances are they will only need to be placed on the charger for a few hours before hitting the water. Charge all the batteries in your boat, then wait a few days. Take an amperage tester and check each battery to be sure it’s putting out a full 12-13 volts. If a battery is showing less than a full charge after being charged, chances are it has a dead cell and will not take a full charge. Replace this battery now before it can ruin a fishing trip. Depending on how much you use your boat, most marine batteries typically last two or three years.
When replacing deep cycle batteries that run the electric motor, consider upgrading to a higher amp hour battery, say from 24 group to 27 group or from 27 group to 31 group. You’ll never regret having the extra power of bigger and higher quality batteries.
The cranking battery found in most boats could stand to be a little larger as well. Standard equipment for most boat manufacturers are 500-600 cold cranking amp batteries. Considering that this battery must not only start the main engine, but also run electronics, bilge pumps, recirculation pumps, live well pumps, a VHF radio, kicker motor lifts, etc., etc., it makes sense to use a 1000 cold cranking amp starting battery. If you have a 500 amp battery that’s in good shape, wire a second 500 amp battery in parallel (positive to positive, negative to negative) to double the amp hours and insure you’ll never have a dead battery.
Because accessory items like digital gauges, sonar, GPS and marine radios have a small static amp pull even when turned off, your cranking batteries will slowly go dead over time. For long term storage it’s best to disconnect the power leads to your batteries. Be sure to mark these leads so it will be easy to hook them up again in the spring and more importantly, trouble shoot if something isn’t working.
Carrying a set of jumper cables in your boat is always a good idea. Should your cranking battery fail, you can always jump the engine using one of the deep cycle batteries. Better yet, carry one of the portable rechargeable battery packs in your boat for such emergencies. Chances are you’ll use it on your own boat, tow vehicle or someone else's boat several times a year. This simple accessory is a great investment.
Before an epic day of fishing can commence, a little boat maintenance is going to be required. Those who ignore the dirty jobs associated with boat ownership won’t be as happy as these guys when it’s time to go fishing this spring.
Any time you mix electricity and water you’re going to have frequent maintenance issues. Trailer lights are notorious for not working more than a season before they short out or otherwise quit working. Keeping your trailer lights working is a must and a job best handled by your local marine dealer. Often problems are simple, but figuring them out can be frustrating if you don’t have the right equipment and understanding of electricity.
Another important wiring check is to make sure the electric motor plug is clean and functioning perfectly. Wire brushing the male end of the plug to remove corrosion only takes a few seconds. The female end of the plug can be cleaned with a squirt or two of WD-40. Work the two ends of the plug together a few times to insure you’ve got a good contact and clean terminals. Wipe the plug clean and you should have no problems the rest of the season.
Checking the wiring on sonar, VHF radios and GPS units is also a good idea. These plugs are small and they get corroded quickly. A tooth brush or small wire brush and a little WD-40 will clean the terminals on power cords and transducer cords quickly and easily. It’s also a good idea to check the wire connections where the power cord and main wiring harness connect. Cutting, stripping and rewiring these connections once a year is the best way to insure you’ll have power to these important accessories when they are needed. Check the inline fuses and make sure you have plenty of replacements on board.
Bilge and livewell pumps have a nasty habit of dying when they are not used for awhile. Because these pumps are constantly exposed to water the connectors are fast to corrode and problems quickly develop. Most of the time if a pump doesn’t work the problem is with the wiring connections that attach the pump to the power source in the boat. Check these connections and replace or clean them if necessary. The next most likely reason a pump won’t work is because it is clogged with debris. This happens commonly with bilge pumps that suck up all sorts of junk from the bottom of the boat. Most bilge pumps are two part designs. Pop the pump apart and clean out the inside area around the impeller.
If these measures don’t solve the problem, the pump will likely need to be removed and tested on a direct line to a battery to insure it’s the pump not the wiring harness that’s to blame. If the pump still doesn’t work when wired direct to a battery you know is good, it’s time to replace it.
IS THE PLUG IN?
The last bit of essential maintenance is to insure your drain plug is in good shape. Who among us hasn’t forgotten to put the plug in at one time or another? To make sure you won’t lose the plug, attach it to the hull using a short length of key chain. Carry a spare plug in the glove box just in case and when you still forget to put in the plug, plead the 5th!!