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Boat Rigging Tips

By: Mark Romanack


Fishing is supposed to be a relaxing and fun experience. Making sure your boat is rigged right the first time will insure that days on the water are full of smiles and high fives!


For a lot of anglers late winter and spring are the times they tackle the task of rigging a new boat or perhaps just adding some new accessories to a tried and true boat. At Fishing 411 TV it seems the “rigging” process never ends as boats come and go quickly around this place.

As technology trudges forward, boat rigging becomes more and more complex. For those anglers who are pretty handy with power tools, rigging your own boat is something that provides not only a sense of satisfaction, but should problems arise it will make trouble shooting much easier. Those anglers who are not comfortable in the rigging process are wise to have a qualified boat dealer do the work.


BATTERIES AND CHARGERS

Boats new and old require functioning batteries and solid state charging systems to maintain both the deep cycle and cranking batteries. If the boat features an electric motor, it will also require a suitable deep cycle battery or batteries depending on if the motor is a 12, 24 or 36 volt system. Quality lead acid batteries in the 31 group size are the best overall option for most fishing boats. Using smaller deep cycle batteries can only lead to disappointment and a lack of power when you need it most.

While gel and even lithium batteries have their advantages, the cost is usually too great to justify for most anglers. Also, if lithium batteries are used, special charging systems must be employed that further drive up the cost of using this battery technology.

Keeping those deep cycle batteries charged is a job for a solid state battery charger. A number of manufacturers produce 2, 3, 4 and even 5 bank charging units that can be used to maintain multiple batteries. In many cases anglers are forced to use two different battery chargers such as a 2 bank and a 3 bank to charge all the batteries on board.

In this case the power lead for both of these charging units can be wired together so that one plug will power up both charging systems and systematically charge all five batteries.

Modern fishing boats will also require a cranking battery for starting the outboards and a house battery for powering accessories such as sonar, chart plotters, VHF radios etc. Again choosing the biggest batteries available will help insure that the boat has all the power needed to function properly.

All batteries in a fishing boat must be wired to a “cut off” switch that makes it possible to kill all the power to the boat. This switch is critically important as it allows the boat owner to turn off power when charging batteries and avoid the static draw that pulls amps even when accessories like sonar units are not turned on. This cut off switch is also a nice feature for families who have children who like to play in the boat. When the power is cut, kids can play in the boat without being able to power up graphs, radios and other accessories.


Even a basic utility boat like this Starcraft Freedom 180 can be a daunting task to rig for those who don’t do this kind of work often. Those who are handy with tools and technology can rig their own boats effectively, but if you don’t fit into this category it’s better to hire out the task.


POWER LEADS

When wiring power to accessories, certain items like sonar/chart plotters need to be wired with a dedicated power lead. Double insulated 14/2 gauge wire is ideal for this purpose. Wiring each graph on the boat with it’s own power lead insures that the unit will receive the necessary power to operate properly.

Other accessories such as a VHF radio, USB charging port, LED lights, etc., can be wired to an electric buss that is in turn wired directly to the house battery with a single power lead. The wire used in this lead should be heavier gauge because multiple accessories will be drawing power from this lead.


NETWORKING

Modern fishing boats are networked so that sonar and chart plotter units are tied together using a technology known as NEMA 2000. If your boat is a few years old, chances are it doesn’t have a NEMA backbone installed in the boat. This feature can be added, but it will require considerable effort to route this cable throughout the boat.

Some boats feature a NEMA backbone wired directly from the factory and others do not. For the average angler, adding a NEMA 2000 networking system is a chore best handled by a certified dealer. Because all sonar units are not capable of being networked, attacking this process requires a skilled hand who is familiar with all the various brands of sonar/chart plotters on the market.


BRUSHLESS ELECTRIC MOTORS

If you’re in the market for a new electric motor, shopping for a brushless motor model is strongly recommended. Brushless electric motors provide more pounds of thrust and use less electric energy in the process. Brushless motors are the wave of the future and eventually all electric motors will be made with this technology.

When selecting an electric motor, pay particular attention to the shaft length. Boats are commonly rigged with electric motors that feature barely adequate shaft length. This happens to keep costs down, but is a major disservice to the owner of the boat.

Fiberglass bass and modified V hull aluminum boats will require a 50 inch electric motor shaft. Fiberglass multi-species boats are better equipped with a 60 inch electric motor shaft. The larger and deeper aluminum V hulls are best equipped with a 72 inch electric motor shaft.


SONAR/CHARTPLOTTERS

As sonar/chartplotter technology evolves, it becomes more and more difficult to stay on top of the latest and greatest. Just some of the advantages of modern sonar/chartplotters include larger display screens, units that can be networked and “active imaging” technology.

The life blood of any sonar unit is the transducer and how that transducer is mounted. It’s critically important to place transducers on the hull in such a way that smooth water passes over the transducer. Avoid mounting a transducer near, motor props, rivets, lifting stakes or keel guards that all create water turbulence which in turn destroys a transducer ability to deliver clear signals.

When mounted properly, a transducer should deliver not only a solid bottom reading at high speed, you should be able to actually mark fish while cruising at speed. To accomplish these important goals requires having the transducer mounted precisely.

Because it will likely be necessary to move a transducer two or three times to get the positioning perfect, we recommend mounting a nylon transducer mounting board to the boat first and then mounting the transducer to this nylon block. This way when holes are drilled to mount the transducer, those holes are not being drilled in the boat hull.


Every accessory on a fishing boat must be wired with a dedicated power lead to insure the unit operates properly. Those electrical connections must also be waterproof to prevent corrosion from causing problems down the road.


LABELING EVERYTHING

Because a modern fishing boat is going to have a multitude of accessories, it’s critically important that all those power cables are labeled properly. Use only a label maker that produces waterproof labels and indicate the accessory involved at both the battery and unit ends of the power cable. This way if something is not working, it becomes easy to trouble shoot the problem and solve issues.


WATERPROOF CONNECTIONS

Everything in a fishing boat is going to be exposed to moisture. Every electrical connection should be conducted using waterproof shrink tubing style connectors designed for marine use. Once these connectors are crimped down, hitting them with a heat gun will shrink the plastic down tightly against the wiring creating a weather-proof connection.

A heat gun is the best way to achieve this goal. Using an open flame on butt connectors will run the risk of overheating and ruining these critical connections.

The connectors used on NEMA 2000 systems are also subject to failure and carrying a spare or two is never a bad idea.


SUMMING IT UP

Rigging the modern fishing boat isn’t something the average guy can tackle without considerable experience. Unless you have the necessary experience rigging boats and incorporating technology, it’s wise to hire out this service. On the other hand, for those who are handy at these tasks, there is a great sense of satisfaction that comes from rigging your own boat.

If God forbid you run into trouble on the water, there is no substitution for knowing how things work and how to fix them when necessary. We carry a tool kit on board with the essentials for fixing things on the fly. Stripping and crimping pliers, extra butt connectors, spare NEMA 2000 connectors, electrical tape, spare fuses and a voltage tester are the basics we carry every day on the water. Because we never know when things will fail, we come prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Thankfully, rigging things right the first time goes a long ways towards eliminating problems on the water.


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