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OUTDOORS: Troubleshoot boats before fishing season heats up

A remote area on a large reservoir is no place for boat trouble. Preseason troubleshooting of boats and motors can keep an angler fishing and eliminate the need to double as a marine mechanic. (Special to The Herald)

A remote area on a large reservoir is no place for boat trouble. Preseason troubleshooting of boats and motors can keep an angler fishing and eliminate the need to double as a marine mechanic. (Special to The Herald)

These days it is evident that many, if not most, fishermen are also boat owners. Many of these mariner/anglers, obviously, opt for a boat powered by an outboard motor.

With boating and boat ownership comes boat maintenance, a responsibility quite a few of us neglect to one degree or another. Boat and motor neglect is most blatant over long periods of time when the equipment is not in use, particularly over winter when many boats are allowed to sit idle until spring.

The fact is, boat maintenance is a chore. However, if you think it is aggravating work when done regularly, think of the chore it becomes when numerous things are allowed to fall into a state of neglect at once. Here are a few compiled tips from boating experts that will make caring for your boat a bit easier, if not an a pleasure.

The scenario: Spring finally arrives. The bass are biting, the bream are bedding, and the warm sun beckons. After being cooped up all winter, you’re eager to go fishing or just cruise around in your boat.

When boating season finally returns, many are all too anxious to get their rig out of winter storage and onto the water. However, spending a little time in the driveway to make a few minor checks before leaving the house can save a world of trouble once you get to your favorite lake or stream.

Boat and motor experts see it all the time; boaters and fishermen get their boats onto the water and discover that they just plain “don’t work.” Often, they can’t even drive them back onto the trailers and are forced to deal with the problem then and there. With hindsight they discover it is much easier to troubleshoot one’s boat in the driveway than at the boat ramp.

Try these pre-season boat/motor checks for a more enjoyable and hassle-free boating season:

  1. Charge the battery and then check the securing straps or clamps. If your outboard has a manual start, check the starter cord for nicks and replace it if necessary.

  2. Check the fuel hose for cracks or other damage. Make sure the fittings are secure and clean the fuel filter.

  3. If you followed proper storage procedures at the end of last season, you topped off the fuel tank and used a good fuel conditioner preservative to keep the carburetor and fuel system clean while the boat was idle. If you didn’t, drain the fuel properly and re-fill the tank. Your local marine dealer can help with proper fuel drainage and disposal.

  4. Use a premium lubricant, whether or not your outboard is fuel injected. This is usually available in pints, quarts, or gallon jugs.

  5. Some engines have a water trap. Check the bottom of the oil reservoir for water. Make certain the reservoir is full. Drain and replace the oil if necessary.

  6. Check the shift and throttle for smooth, non-binding operation. The throttle should open and close easily.

  7. Make certain mounting bolts are secure and tight and replace any missing nuts. If you use the boat in salt water, check the zinc anodes and replace them if necessary. Do not paint the anodes, as this will defeat their purpose of protecting the engine from corrosion.

  8. Grease the engine fittings. A good all-purpose marine grease packaged in an easy-to-use tube will make an easy job of this.

  9. If you did not drain the lower unit at the end of last season, change the lower unit oil. This procedure is easier than changing a car’s oil. Before properly disposing of old oil, examine the lubricant. If it has a milky appearance, then water has gotten into the lower unit. Have your dealer install new seals.

  10. Check the propeller for nicks and dings. Make sure the retaining nut is secure and that you have extra cotter pins.

  11. Start the engine. The engine must be cooled with water while running. This can be accomplished by using a flushing attachment on a garden hose.

  12. Beware of gasoline that contains ethanol. It is not recommended for use in older outboard motors and can damage engine parts. Ethanol-laced gasoline works well enough in automobiles, which use up a thankful of fuel relatively quickly. However, since outboards tend to sit unused for extended periods of time, ethanol can separate from the gasoline and settle to the bottom of the fuel tank. If water is present, the ethanol will bind with the water and create a sludge-like deposit which can be drawn into the engine. This is apt to cause problems ranging from minor sputtering to the motor’s seizing up altogether. The only truly reliable way to avoid ethanol is to purchase certified ethanol-free gasoline at a marina. Marine-grade fuel is more expensive, but the extra cost may well be offset by the avoidance of costly engine repairs.

Normally, with the help of the family or a fishing buddy, your boat can be prepared for a season of fun in just one afternoon. That afternoon is well worth the effort when the alternative might be getting stranded on the water because of something you might have left to chance. Make a final check to make sure your safety gear is in good shape and properly located, then go out and have a good time.