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A couple hours dedicated to insure both boat and trailer are ready for the water is a wise investment in time, one likely to pay dividends in hassle-free boating and fishing throughout the season. Here are important steps to getting your boat prepped and ready for the summer.

Boat Start-Up Check List

Clean the battery terminals and coat with white lithium grease.

1. Boat Electrical System  

A boat is highly dependent on its electrical system. Any pre-season preparation should make certain the boat batteries powering this system are in top notch shape, which includes clean terminals and connections.  

Working with marine batteries carries the risk of exposure to acid. Protect yourself by wearing safety glasses and rubber gloves. Also, if you use an onboard battery charger make sure it is unplugged before proceeding.  

Disconnect the negative (--) terminal first, then the positive side (+).  In marine applications, it's common to have multiple leads on each battery post. After they've been removed from the post, I like to keep track of them by stringing them together with a wire tie, using a black tie for connectors from the negative post, and a white one for ones removed from the positive side.   Use a small wire brush to clean the battery posts and the connectors. Contact cleaner spray, or a solution of water and baking soda, helps the process. Coat the posts with white lithium grease to prevent corrosion.  

2. The Boat Motor

It's not a bad idea to fire up the motor before making the first trip of the year. "Earmuffs" — muff-shaped flush adapters — allow you to supply water to the engine's cooling system through a garden hose. If you properly winterized the engine last season before storage, it might produce some excess smoke during the initial ignition period as it burns off the extra lubrication.  

The outboard's lower unit lubricant should be replaced annually, so do it now. It's a simple process well described in your owner's manual.   Move on to check the function of the boat's navigation lights. If there's a problem, it might be with the bulb. In the case of "stowable" lights corrosion on terminals can cause a failure. Or the lighting system's might have blown a fuse, or tripped the circuit breaker. Fuse holders and circuit breakers are usually located in or near the switch panel.  

3. Boat Safety Equipment

Areas where wiring enters or exits the boat trailer frame can cause insulation wear.

Inventory the boat's safety equipment, making sure that it's there and in working order. This includes life vest, cushions, fire extinguisher and sound device. You should also carry a functional flashlight, and a boat anchor and rope. If big waters like the Great Lakes are part of your beat, be sure you have the added safety equipment necessary on such U.S. Coast Guard regulated waters, including up-to-date signal flares.  

This is also a good time to check your boat registration, making sure your tags are current and that your registration card is in your wallet.  

Boat Trailer Inspection Check List 

Boat trailers provide a safe cradle for your prized fishing boat, as well as the means to transport it safely to and from your favorite fishin' hole. Show it some love and it will take care of you. Ignore it and the opposite is true, only more so.  

1. Boat Lighting System  

Considered by many the problem child of a boat trailer is the lighting system. Start the year off right by coupling the trailer to the tow vehicle and then checking the performance of the lights before you make your first trip. Test running lights, brake lights and turn signals. Problems can be caused by faulty bulbs. Find out what bulb your trailer takes and buy extras — you'll use them eventually. Some models require a sealed bulb not readily available at the neighborhood auto parts store. In the case of a bad clearance light it's often necessary to replace the whole unit (lens and bulb).  

Light problems can also be caused by poor connections, most commonly in the bulb socket and also the plug that connects to the tow vehicle. When replacing bulbs be sure to clean the socket; do the same with the plug connections.

Worn bearings will quickly ruin the axle spindle, as seen by comparing this new spindle (left) with the one destroyed when the bearings failed (right).

Worn wire insulation also causes lighting problems and usually includes blown fuses in the tow vehicle. It's most common to find worn insulation where it makes contact with the trailer frame, most often when a protective grommet has been dislodged. Also, crimp-on butt connectors — often used to splice in the wiring harness and to connect the power wires with the leads feeding the taillights — have a habit of failing. Expect to spend some time with a multi-tester to find the source of such troubles.  

2. Checking Your Boat Trailer Wheels  

Other trailer headaches include worn wheel bearings and bad trailer tires. Check for bad wheel bearings by jacking each tire up off the ground, and then checking for any excess side-to-side play. If it's present, you'll likely need to take the trailer to the shop to have a qualified technician replace the bearings.  

Give the hub bearings a good shot of fresh grease to start the season. Lubrication systems that employ the "EZ Lube" system, where product is fed into the internal portion of the hub, properly apply grease to both the front and rear bearings. "Bearing Buddy" style devices, which replace the dust cap, only apply lubricant to the front bearing. It's a fair level of protection, but understand that the hub should be removed periodically to service the rear bearing.   Premature tire wear is typically caused by under-inflation, so check the pressure now so you don't have to replace them soon. Most tire manufacturers recommend pumping trailer tires up to 50 psi.  

3. Other Key Boat Trailer Components

Do a thorough visual inspection of the remaining key trailer components. Examine the winch strap for wear. Do the same with the transom tie-downs. Make sure the side bunks are tight. It's tough to properly inspect the main support bunks with the boat sitting on the trailer, so make a note to give them a quick check the next time you're fishing, before you load the boat.  

Finally, as with the boat, verify that your trailer registration is up to date and head out to the water.


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As the days grow shorter and winter's chill begins to take hold, the sad task of preparing the boat for its yearly hibernation has once again arrived. Winterizing your pride and joy is a necessary step to protect your investment while in deep freeze; it's also a good way to ensure that your boat is running in tip-top shape once the season resumes. Although the task does take some know-how and effort, the end result — a boat that starts come spring — is most certainly worth it.

1. Starting the Process of Winterizing Your Boat, Trailer & Motor

Add fuel-stabilizer to your gas tanks to preserve it throughout the winter months.

It is recommended that you consult your owner's manual for both boat and motor before beginning any winterization measures. Each may have some specific recommendations. If you don't feel confident with do-it-yourself tasks, please leave the process to a professional marine mechanic.

Winterizing your boat follows a few simple rules that, for the most part, aren't too difficult. Take your time, double check your work and keep a checklist handy to mark off each job as it is completed.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, give your boat, trailer and engine a good and thorough cleaning. This will remove the entire season's dirt, and will leave the boat sparkling clean when the cover is removed come spring. (Please see my feature guide, "Cleaning Your Boat from Top to Bottom," for helpful tips and tricks.)

First, remove the drain plug, and then raise the bow of the boat higher than the stern. Doing so will allow any water to trickle out, alleviating concerns about freezing liquid, which can crack the hull of your boat when the temperature plummets.

Remove all items from your boat, including seats, electronics, life vests and fishing equipment. Electronics, such as fish finders and trolling motors, should be stored inside. Emptying the boat will prevent items from getting wet and ruined, while also reducing the chances of animals building nests. I like to toss a handful of mothballs under the cover and into compartments to further deter pesky rodents.

With your equipment out of the boat, an inventory can be completed over the winter months to identify those items needing to be replaced or fixed. Check for holes and worn or broken parts.

Remove the batteries from the boat. Clean the terminals with a wire brush and a baking soda and water mixture, and then apply some petroleum jelly or grease to the terminals once they're dry. Check water levels and fill up if necessary. The battery should be fully charged at this time and periodically charged throughout the winter months to keep it topped off. (Tip: Check it at the first of every month, and mark it on a calendar so you will remember.)

2. Winterizing the Outboard Boat Motor

Winterizing an outboard boat engine involves a few steps, but once learned, they aren't all that complicated. The first step is to fill up all gas tanks, which will eliminate moisture build-up over the winter months. Check hoses, bulbs and connectors and replace if leaks or deterioration is present.

Change the fuel filter and water separator; add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tank to ensure that the gas will be fresh come spring.

Attach a motor flusher to your garden hose and slide it over the water intake vents on the lower unit of the motor. While the water is running, start engine and allow it to idle for 15 minutes. This will ensure that adequate fuel stabilizer will get through the entire system. With the engine running, spray a fogging agent through the carburetors until smoke is visible from the exhaust and the motor kills. This oil will cover everything inside the motor, which decreases the chances of moisture occurring.

Four stroke engines should have the spark plugs removed and the fogging agent applied to the cylinder walls, spark plugs and pistons.

The flywheel (see owner's manual) should be spun a few times by hand in order to distribute the oil evenly.

Check spark plugs for wear and tear. I prefer to keep the old plugs in during the winter and replace with new ones come spring. Make sure to gap them correctly when installing.

Coat the entire engine body with a silicone anti-corrosion spray. This will prevent moisture from adhering to parts and doing harm.

Drain the lower unit of oil, keeping a close eye out for a cloudy or milky appearance. If that is present, chances are you have a problem with your seals, it's best to consult a marine mechanic with this problem. If the oil seems fine, pump fresh oil in the lower screw hole until it seeps out of the upper screw hole. Replace top screw first, then the lower.

Coat the entire boat engine body with a silicone anti-corrosion spray to prevent moisture from adhering to parts and doing harm.

Remove the propeller and inspect for fishing line or weeds that may have become entangled along the shaft. If damage is evident on seals, they will need to be replaced. While the prop is off, give it the once over for cracks, bends or breaks. If wear is bad, replacing the unit or get it rebuilt. Coat the shaft with lube and replace prop.

3. Clean the Boat Bilges and Livewells

Bilges and livewells should both be thoroughly washed out and dried. If water does remain, it can freeze and lead to damage. A small amount of antifreeze can be added to both of these areas as a preventative measure, but antifreeze must be thoroughly washed out of the livewells before using them again.

4. Inspect Your Boat's Hull

Now is the time to inspect the bottom and sides of your boat hull. Be on the lookout for cracks, damaged or missing rivets and weak joints. Minor damage can be a do-it-yourself project, but major damage will need the attention of a professional.

5. Prep Your Boat Trailer for Winter

The trailer is an important part of the winterizing process. I like to check all lights for water, drying them out completely. Pull the bulbs and give the sockets a small spray of a moisture repellent. Check the condition of the seals and replace light covers.

Inspect the wiring harness, trailer bunks and winch. Put a dollop of petroleum jelly on the connectors and cap them for the winter.

Jack up each wheel and give the tires a spin. If any sort of grating noise is heard, or if the tire is not running freely, chances are you have a bearing problem. This will need to be looked at more closely. If things seem good, pull the wheel assembly and clean and re-pack with fresh grease. Once the wheels have been put back on, top off the grease through the bearing protectors.

Check the the tires for wear and proper inflation.

It is best to remove the wheels and store the tires inside, as this will protect them from the elements, as well as the "flat spots" that can occur when a trailer sits over time. Make sure you block the trailer first before beginning this step.

Jack the trailer up by raising the axels while keeping the springs in the load position — this is the correct way to go about storing your boat.

6. Cover Your Boat 

The boat should be well covered once all of the above steps have been completed. Start with the actual boat cover, then a series of poly sheets can be placed over top. Tie these down snugly, with rope and bungee cords, in order to get a tight and secure fit. Wind and the elements can get under a cover that leaves the smallest of drafts, so don't be afraid to take this step to the extreme.

As you can see, winterizing your boat isn't a tough job. I've covered the basics above, and this list should have you well on your way to giving your boat the proper rest it needs. And don't worry — spring is just around the corner!


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 An organized boat is more comfortable and safer than one cluttered with items on the floor and thrown into storage spaces. In this buyer's guide, I'll discuss some of the basic boat accessories that will keep your vessel organized.

Cases, Boxes and Bags for Your Boat

Keeping your gear stored in containers is a big part of staying organized while on the water, as well as when loading and unloading your boat. Three storage options are cases, boxes and bags. 

AccessoriesBoatOrganized Pelican1300Case
Boat storage boxes come in a variety of sizes and shapes to fit your individual needs.

Cases: A waterproof case can be used to safely transport expensive and fragile items, especially in wet conditions. Available in hard or soft plastic models, waterproof cases come in a range of sizes from ones small enough for a cell phone to extra-large cases with foam padding for bulky items. A step down from a waterproof case is a dry storage box. These boxes will keep items dry in the rain, but may not keep the water out in heavy rains or if submerged. For expensive items, such as electronics, consider a waterproof case, while for other less costly items a storage box will often suffice. 

Storage Boxes: Storage boxes are also useful to help organize a boat and can be classified as either portable or permanently installed models, like a hatch liner. Look for storage boxes with a watertight, O-ring seal to keep moisture out. Portable models can be used for carrying first-aid supplies or Coast Guard-required safety equipment. Portables can be better suited for smaller boats without lockable storage spaces, so you can remove them and their valuable contents when the boat is unsupervised. 

Smaller, portable boxes include plastic, or polypropylene, see-through storage boxes that come in a variety of sizes. Known for storing fishing tackle, these boxes can house anything from small hardware components to basic kitchen items. 

For larger boats, permanent storage can be a simple upgrade to your boat by installing a hatch liner and cover. If you're an angler, you may also want to consider installing a hatch liner specifically designed to hold tackle trays to tuck away tackle boxes

Boat Bags: An alternative to a case or box, a boat bag is specifically designed for on the water use. Like a duffle bag, they may contain removable shoulder straps and side carrying straps, side pockets, mesh pockets, and some come with roller wheels. Additionally, the bag's material is often waterproof, usually made of a PVC-coated material. Most boat bags also feature a heavy-duty reinforced bottom that is also waterproof, letting you store them on the floor of a wet boat. Note that few boat bags are submersible, but most are designed to stay dry in light to modest rains. If you need a submersible, waterproof container, a case is often your best choice.

Marine Electronics

Electronics are a standard in most boats today. They assist in navigation and communication, with fish finders, GPS units and VHF radios being the most popular types. Yet, with these gadgets comes a need to store them and keep their wiring tidy. 

AccessoriesBoatOrganized RAM111UMountUniversal
A swivel or swing-arm mount allows you to adjust and rotate a fish finder for various angles.

Mounting Options: Permanent electronics come with mounting hardware and accessories for mounting handheld GPS and radios are available. Handheld mounts keep the units secure during travel as well as house or hold the wiring connections. To increase the viewing range of a fish finder or a GPS, a swivel or swing-arm mount allows you to adjust and rotate the unit for various angles.The other option is to wire a second fish finder at the bow of your boat and there are a plethora of accessories to help with this task including cables, transducers, mounts, and switches. 

Wiring: With a variety of electronics on board, controlling the clutter of the wiring is not as difficult as it seems. Using a mount for each unit will help keep wires tucked away. Wires can be kept compact using plastic tie-downs, and wiring at the battery-end can be housed in a battery box. Battery boxes secure batteries in place using a mounting hardware and a strap. For those without boxes, a battery tray will serve a similar function when teamed with a tie-down kit. A battery terminal with connections for separate leads is useful to secure several wires to the battery. Another item to help with clutter is an onboard battery charger. If it is permanently installed in your boat, you will not need to carry batteries or chargers to and from your boat. Chargers also help keep the boat's wiring system tidy and tucked away. With an onboard charger, all you need is an extension cord.

Boat Seats

Boaters spend a lot of time seated while on the water. Outfitting your rig with a supportive seat can increase comfort and reduce backache. When purchasing boat seats, look for quality construction with heavy foam padding for support as well as UV- and mildew-resistant, marine-grade vinyl covering. Folding seats let you minimize their size when unused and a snap strap will ensure they stay folded down during travel. Swivels mounts let you to turn the seats instead of your neck, reducing strain. 

For anglers, pro seats, let you lean while fishing and feature a smaller seat to minimize the space they take up on casting decks. For the hunter, many seats come in camouflage color patterns, keeping your boat disguised but still comfortable. To help organize frequently used items within reach, consider a small accessory holder that can be mounted to a seat's side or its support post.

Fishing Rod Storage

For anglers, a fishing rod holder will significantly help keep your boat clutter free during travel and fishing. A variety of systems are available. Units come in tubes or grooved racks for individual rod and reel storage. Tube units are designed to store rods vertically and may contain other storage holes for additional items, such as fillet knifes or pliers. Grooved racks tend to be for horizontal or overhead rod storage and some feature bungee cords to keep items secure during travel. 

Another system that is effective in smaller fishing boats is a Velcro strap system that mounts to the side or deck of a boat. The bottom of the strap is secured to the boat and rods are then wrapped and secured in the loose ends, creating a snug and customized hold. Individual Velcro wraps can also be used to secure a series of rods together to transport out of the boat.

Boating Safety Accessories

AccessoriesBoatOrganized AttwoodVerticalMountRodHolder
A fishing rod holder will significantly help keep your boat clutter free during travel and fishing.

Part of the peace-of-mind from boating is being prepared to deal with an emergency should one arise (whether a large threat or minor risk). Here are some safety items to carry to ensure you're prepared and organized. A first aid kit should accompany you whenever you take to the water. As a precaution, store kits in a waterproof bag or a case. Supplement your kit with water, sunscreen and an emergency blanket

A ladder that can be mounted on the boat's side is another useful tool. In an event requiring a water rescue, a ladder allows someone to easily climb into a boat. They are extremely helpful in cold weather or rough water conditions. You should also carry the required US Coast Guard safety equipment, which may include a signaling device (horn or whistle), visual distress signals (such as flares), a fire extinguisher, a throw rope and life vests. If you own a boat that does not have navigation lights, consider installing a set or purchasing a pair of portable ones. Lights are required by the Coast Guard from sunset to sunrise and in reduced visibility situations.

General Hardware and Boating Gear

Keeping your boat organized can be aided by several simple accessories, which I've grouped in this category. A tool kit can go a long way to keep your boat organized, housing all the tools, materials and hardware in one storage box. Another great add-on is a paddle keeper. This device is designed to vertically or horizontally hold your paddle, keeping it stored out of the way, but accessible when needed. 

Small organizers, in either screw or suction cup mounts, can be great for storing small, but frequently needed items in one place. Units are available to hold lures, drinks, hand-held radios or GPS units, binoculars, garbage bags, and general boxes for other personal items. Bungee cords are also useful to keep items strapped down in windy conditions or during travel. Look for plastic hook models if you are concerned with scratching your boat.

The above items are just a sampling of the many accessories you can purchase to upgrade the organization, comfort and safety of your boat. Many are inexpensive add-ons and it's a satisfying feeling (whether on land or water) when you need a specific item and you know exactly where to find it.


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CleaningBoat 1
A power washer should be the first step in removing surface dirt and grime.

A fishing boat covets a great deal of pride and joy for its owner. Not only does it hold the greatest investment in this sport we enjoy, but it also becomes our "floating office" each time we step in and push away from the dock.  

Caring for and cleaning your boat not only adds value to your purchase by protection and restoration, but can also stop the spread of invasive species, which can be serious business. But, if you're like me — a clean boat just gives you that happy feeling when out casting a line.  

Periodic cleanings from top to bottom will help keep your craft in tip-top shape — here is some advice to keep the job fun and simple.  

Clean the Carpet of Your Boat

The carpet of your boat is prone to the most abuse possible. Not only do we drag our dirty feet on it, but also drip fish slime, spill salted plastics and scent, and of course, the odd beverage or two.  

Use a power washer or garden hose to spray down the entire carpeted surface, working from the bow to the stern. This will lift up the dirt and grime from the fibers. If stubborn stains persist, a Star Brite Deck Brush worked over the area can remedy the problem.

If you own a wet/dry vac, suctioning the dirt and water up can be done right away. If a conventional vacuum is to be used, allow the carpet to dry thoroughly before going to work on it.  

Clean Those Smelly Livewells  

Your livewells can be a breeding ground for bad smells and even worse stains. Routinely cleaning these holding tanks will make for a better experience for the fish, as well as the owner.  

It is imperative when cleaning out livewells that a non-toxic product is used. Strong detergents, bleach or other chemicals can have a detrimental effect on the fish you place in here, which can come full circle if you intend to eat your quarry. Before starting the process, remove the filter screens, both from the livewell and the intake. A blast of clean water will usually free these from any clogs or deposits.

CleaningBoat 2
Baking soda and hot water work wonders for cleaning out smelly and grimy livewells.

For the livewell interior, baking soda and water can work wonders for alleviating smells and cleaning those scum lines. I like to pour a few tablespoons in with hot water, while using a coarse scrubbing pad to work the bottom, sides and top. Flush out with clean water numerous times, ensuring that all residues and cleaning solution has passed through the system, before hitting the lake.  

Don't Forget to Clean the Boat Bilges

The bilge area can certainly take the title for concealing some of the grimiest dirt, sludge and oil residue. A commercial bilge cleaner will allow you to get the bottom of the boat clean, without having to get your hands dirty. These specific cleaners will break down oil, gas, grease and sludge, while cleaning and deodorizing the area. They will not affect metals, plastics or paint, so are very safe to use.  

The dirty water or residue can then be pumped out through your bilge, or sucked up with the use of a wet vac.  

Boat Consoles  

When dealing with plastic and glass in and around the boat console area, an all-purpose spray cleaner, or "Windex" will do the trick. I like to use a partially wet, soft sponge for the initial rub down, and then finish the job with a dry cloth.  

For graphs or electronic gauges, a water-vinegar solution used in conjunction with a soft cloth will keep them fresh and clean. Wiping in a circular motion on electronic screens can leave grit marks or fine scratches, so pay close attention to work the cloth in one side-to-side direction only.  

Vinyl Boat Seats Need Cleaning Too

Vinyl seats can break down from exposure to the sun's UV rays, leading to cracking and discoloration. Vinyl cleaners with added protectents will deep clean seat material, while also providing a "sunscreen" residue to help in further protection. Star Brite Vinyl Shampoo is an excellent choice for restoring your vinyl to its original condition.  

Mildew stains can appear when material is not allowed to dry thoroughly or breathe. Dish soap, hot water and a hand-held deck brush can clear up this problem but for better results, Star Brite Mildew Stain Remover gets the nod.

Once dry, a mildew preventative spray should be applied to lessen the chances of reoccurrence.  

The Boat Hull  

The hull of your boat takes on a lot of abuse, mostly from the sun and water. Stains and discolorations are a fact of life for anglers, but can be remedied with a few simple steps. Not only will your boat look like a million bucks after a good wash, it will also improve its handling performance and fuel efficiency. (Bonus points to consider with today's high cost of gasoline.)  

Regardless of the type of coating your boat has, a thorough cleaning is the first step. Working a power washer over the entire hull, paying close attention to every nook and cranny, will clean away surface dirt while preparing the hull. While the boat is still wet, a commercial boat cleaner should be applied with a sponge or soft scrub brush. There are a myriad of products on the market for this purpose, but any that are specifically designed for boats and of a good quality should do. For fiberglass boat owners, Bass Pro Shops Fiberglass Color Restorer with PTEF can restore a pristine shine to color faded hulls.

A spray-on tire foam will restore your rubber to that shiny new look.

Gelcoats are applied to fiberglass boats to act as a protectent. UV rays from the sun can break down this layer, leading to oxidization. In order to prevent this, a wax or polish with a UV sunscreen should be applied after each cleaning. Choose a product that doesn't contain harsh chemical or abrasive agents. Follow the manufacturer's instructions when using a wax for the best possible finish. A proven product is Bass Pro Shops One-Step Fiberglass Wax and Cleaner.

If your boat is of the painted aluminum kind, it can also benefit from the cleansing and waxing process.  

Bass Pro Shops Heavy Duty Boat Soap is designed to clean the entire boat and will not remove wax or polish.

Outboard Boat Engines  

Your engine can get grimy from oil residue and watermarks. Spray down the outside of the motor with the power washer or hose, then give it a good cleaning with a dish soap and brush. For tough spots, a commercial degreaser will get the job done. Spray on and use a soft bristled brush or coarse sponge. Thoroughly rinse the unit after using any detergents, and wipe dry with a soft towel.  

Boat Trailer  

Your boat trailer can get grimy from bugs, tar and dusty roads. Giving it a good cleaning when washing the boat will keep it looking sharp and brand new.

Spray down all exterior surfaces with a high-pressured spray, paying special attention to wheel wells and bunks. A mild detergent, such as dish soap, can then be applied with a sponge or scrubbing pad such as Star Brite Scrub Pad Kit with Handle. A rinse and you're good to go.  

The trailer tires and wheels should also be given attention. Scrub with a small brush or pad to clean away grease and dirt from the rims and sidewalls. Finish off the job by spraying a commercial tire shining foam to give the rubber that new and shiny look.  

Cleaning your boat should be a regular maintenance practice for any angler. By following these simple steps, your boat will still shine like the first day you laid eyes upon it...even if it is a few good years older.


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Boat Trailer Preventive Maintenance

Wednesday, June 12 2013 4:00 pm - for Boat Maintenance
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BoatTrailer 1
Damaged tire and rim with grease splattered when bearing protectors hit the road.

Ever had your boat trailer break down on the highway? Such an event can get ugly really quick — even make the local papers. I've been reassessing my own trailer maintenance program after a friend recently had one of his trailer tires fly loose at highway speed.  

Trailer maintenance isn't so exciting, so let's get to the exciting part first. His tire and rim came loose on a quiet, straight, divided highway with only occasional passing big trucks. The tire took some crazy bounces, sometimes 12 feet in the air, before catching up with my friend's decelerating truck and boat. After all, the boat trailer was leaning far over and riding on a little steel wheel hub. Instead of crashing through their truck's back window, a fortunate low bounce took the tire under the trailer. The steel hub ran over its own tire and rim, damaging the steel rim in five places. Then the tire ejected sideways — not in a lethal manner across the highway, but off into dark woods.      

As it turned out, his four new 2-inch lug nuts, recently painted to avoid corrosion, had somehow vanished — most likely with a little help from some joker at an isolated country boat ramp, where the locals seem to have issues with out-of-towners fishing their spots. A cursory check at the boat ramp would have prevented the entire episode: loose lug nuts could have been tightened. Those missing could have been borrowed from the other tire, or from a box of spare trailer parts.

A bigger, top-heavy boat might have flipped while leaning that far over, especially on a curve in the road. But their johnboat was small and light on a straight highway. The two anglers were actually able to lift boat and trailer a foot high and barely slide a handy milk crate under the trailer, allowing room for a car jack to operate properly. The tire was changed, but the buddy bearing had impacted the highway and vanished, splattering grease against the boat. Without a spare cap and no duct tape, they wrapped a Ziploc sandwich bag over the open, still-greasy bearings, and eased into the next town without loosing more grease. An auto parts store was open late that carried bearing protectors and spare lug nuts.

This was a wake-up call that boat owners should carry spare equipment with them. Even a well-maintained trailer can come apart if someone vandalizes it. My friend hadn't lost a lug nut in 30 years of boating, with nothing but good luck pulling boats up and down the highway. However, former luck won't stop a fiasco tomorrow. All you can do is employ regular trailer maintenance, cursory checks of the trailer before getting on the road, both at home and boat ramps, and carry a box of spare trailer parts.

On the Road Again  

BoatTrailer 2
Wheel hub that carries the bearings. Road surface still ground into the hub after tired and rim departed at highway speed.

You can bet that pro tournament anglers carry plenty of spare parts for their boat trailers. These guys log more highway time in a season than some fishermen ever see.  

Florida pro angler Ron Klys competes in bass tournaments around the Southeast, pulling his rig up and down many an Interstate and country back road. 

"I even carry a complete extra wheel hub, with greased bearings inside," says Klys. "Also a quality spare tire, 4-way jack, duct tape, extra bearing protectors, grease gun and extra grease, and a hammer to tap or pry. Also a few road flares and a flashlight, since we pull up and down many a dark road. (It should be noted that flares would have slowed passing traffic during my friend's recent mishap. Instead, cars were zipping by only five feet away without even changing lanes, while he changed the tire).  

"Always carry extra fuses and light bulbs for the truck and trailer," continues Klys. "If the truck lights don't work, the trailer's won't either. If you run a tandem trailer axle, bring heavy duty tie straps to tie the second axle up, if all else fails. Give the wheel bearings a quick shot of grease before making a trip. When filling the truck with gas, I walk around and look for obvious dangers, and feel the trailer hubs for signs of heat. If anything is going to happen, those bearings will heat up first."  

More Trailer Tips  

Keep in mind that many trailer boat rigs weigh tons. If the trailer sags far over, it may take a scissor jack to get underneath.        

After a day of fishing, make sure those lug nuts look tight. When you return to the ramp, count your lug nuts and give the tire a push with your foot, watching for a loose tire. Check your trailer ball and hitch for looseness, as well as the safety chains.         

As a hot tip, when parking, make sure your tow vehicle and trailer don't cross the line, giving local law enforcement a chance to tow your vehicle. There are horror stories coming out of Texas these days, of tow vehicles and their trailers removed from Galveston Bay ramps and also North Padre Island. Average cost to reclaim each rig is reportedly $2,500. Even in this era of local communities bending rules to the breaking point to raise cash, having a fisherman pay thousands for a towed vehicle is a serious shakedown. Out-of-state vehicles may be especially targeted. Some tournament anglers today would rather pay the occasional fine for a "lost license plate" than have their vehicle targeted for towing -- or vandalized, for that matter.

Preventive Boat Maintenance Starts at Home   

BoatTrailer 3
Keep a spare hub kit tucked away in your truck or boat for use in a pinch. 

There are many facets to boat trailer maintenance, many of them neglected in our efforts to reach the fish before the Saturday crowd arrives. Neglect and a wrong turn of events could be dangerous — even deadly.

Here's a very basic checklist before getting on the road:  

  • Cross your trailer's safety chains when connecting to the vehicle.

  • Is your trailer tongue jack all the way up, or folded and locked? You don't want to hit a neighborhood safety bump with the wheel down -- trust me on this.

  • Is every lug nut tight? They should be torqued to about 85 pound.

  • Have a secure tie-down strap for the back of the boat, or a pair of transom straps for a bigger boat?

  • Boat trailer tires carry higher pressure than cars; inflate to 50 PSI and watch for signs of wear.

  • Test your trailer brakes (if you have them) by bumping the brakes near your house, not on the intrastate.

  • Are those trailer lights working, even the turn signals?

  • Make sure your trailer ball fits the trailer, seats snugly without debris inside the hitch, and the fastener pin to the truck hitch is secure.  

The short checklist above can save a world of pain on the highway. Proper trailer maintenance is a lengthier subject, of course.

If you constantly fish saltwater, corrosion is a constant enemy of your trailer. Spraying down with a hose is common sense. I prefer a solid dunking, however. Returning from the coast, I've found a handy lake ramp offering sweet water that buries my salty trailer. (I also run the motor for three minutes while doing so).

Trailers are notorious for carrying non-galvanized parts — such as U-bolts, nuts, the winch gear and leaf springs. They should all be sprayed with a rust inhibitor. If you get the chance, it won't hurt to double-paint some or all of those trailer parts — they last years longer.

Your trailer runs on tiny ball bearings, and they do require grease. Consider using sturdy marine grease that won't break down when exposed to salt water. Prevent any water intrusion by using bearing protectors that can stay sealed for up to six months, with new grease added by grease gun through a small center nipple. Go easy when adding new grease; too much will pop out the back seal behind the tire, allowing water intrusion — and spraying grease on the tire at highway speeds. That small outer nipple should be covered by a bearing protector cover.    

In Florida where the sun is bad, spray the outer sides of your tires with Armor All. A tire dealer explained to me that he sees far more tires ruined by dry rot on the sidewalls than worn out tread. The sun dries and cracks those outer tire walls. When sitting up for a long period, the ground itself will rot your trailer tires, so consider elevating your trailer by putting them up on blocks. (This might even prevent trailer theft.)   

If you have a self-braking trailer, watch your brake fluid level in the reservoir. Use a quality Dot-3 brake fluid. Brake lines on a boat trailer are thin, hypodermic steel that carries the fluid. They can easily rust, causing a leak that will drain the reservoir and cause brake failure. When replacing brake lines for our 25-foot trailer, I painted the new lines with three coats of paint before they went on the trailer, starting with a good primer. Guess what? No more rust for a few years, even in salt water.   

There are weight considerations for towing a trailer. What is the weight rating for your trailer? Should you exceed it? For instance, why fill up your boat tanks with fuel and/or the water reservoir and live wells when you still have highway driving ahead? Before leaving, be sure to pull the drain plugs or hit the bilge pump for unwanted water. Just 70 early gallons of fuel is like having several football players riding in your boat, mashing down on your trailer on the highway. That serves no purpose whatsoever. Just be sure you have a quality gas station in mind near your destination. Arriving on the water, with the nearest gas station 50 miles behind you, is no joke.  


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A boat cover with a built-in ultra-violet (UV) inhibitor will prolong the life of your cover by preventing the sun from breaking down the materials.

Owning a boat is a major investment. A boat is also your best friend when you're on the water. And, as with all cherished items, you want to protect and prolong your boats value, maintaining its condition for the pride and happiness it provides. 

But many boaters fail to realize the benefit of a boat cover. Instead, these individuals are content with soggy crafts and washed-out carpets, as well as dirt, grime and dust.

Boat covers are an inexpensive necessity for those that spend time on the water. From deterring theft to keeping your craft clean, these polyester or poly-cotton blend covers are truly the real deal. Follow along and find out which boat cover type is right for you.

Boat Covers Have Many Uses

Boat covers have many uses, some obvious and some not. Keeping a boat clean and dirt-free is first on the list. By repelling water and moisture, your interior will remain dry and free of mold. (How many of us want to get comfy on a soggy seat or a slippery deck?)

A cover will also keep out all airborne dust, dirt and grime. Common contaminants include dust from the road, falling leaves from a tree, and the droppings of birds. 

The ultra-violet rays from the sun can also be harmful to your pride and joy. Sunshine can zap the color from carpets, turning once vibrant hues to pale and lifeless fabric. The sun also has an uncanny way of breaking down rubber components, causing cracks and weaknesses on many of a boat's parts -- not a positive thing for gas lines or hoses! 

A snug-fitting cover can also keep animals out of your boat, especially nesting mammals and rodents that like the comfort of your storage compartments or the space beneath your deck. For animals that love to chew on wires (think squirrel) a cover can save valuable time and money.

Humans are also prone to pry their sticky fingers into an unoccupied boat, and a boat cover can act as a great deterrent to theft. Remember, it isn't too hard to carry away a gas tank, battery or paddles from a boat left sitting on the drive or away at camp, but a secure cover might just be enough to make them pass by your boat.

Most boat covers can be tied down for trailering, allowing your boat to arrive at the launch in pristine condition. No wet interiors, dusty carpets or sun damage while pulling your craft down the road, completely covered and snug as a bug.

Custom or Universal Boat Cover?

Covers can be purchased in one of two ways. You can buy a custom-fit cover, designed and tailor-made for the exact make, model and year of your boat. Or you can go with a universal style boat cover, a generic model that will fit the measurements you take of your watercraft. Both have merits, and for some owners, there is only one choice. Here is the skinny on the two.

Custom Covers

As I mentioned, custom covers are manufactured to the exact standards of a particular model of boat. For instance, if you own a 1996 Tracker Pro 17 SC, then item # 38-528-304-01 is for you.

A custom cover takes into consideration the console style, length, width, beam and various other measurements of your boat to give you an outer shell that will truly fit like a glove. No other cover will provide as much protection or as tight a seal as a custom cover -- there is no two ways about it.

The advantages to a custom cover are straightforward -- tight fit with no looseness or flapping, built-in areas to house consoles and other raised parts and reinforced areas at critical stretch points. The cost of a custom cover will be more than a universal cover, but if you want the best for your boat, custom is your best choice.

Universal Covers

A universal cover takes into consideration the centerline length and beam width of your boat. (To provide a better fit, some manufacturers also take hull style into consideration.)  

If your boat measures 15' in length, and has a 70-inch beam width, item # 38-532-902-01 is one option to look at. But, notice the parameters involved in the description. This cover will fit boats between 14 and 16-feet, with a beam up to 75-inches.

boatcoverguide 4

Universal covers are especially useful for those that desire inexpensive protection. They are significantly cheaper than a custom cover, and they do accomplish the job they are designed for. For some boat owners a universal is the only option, as a custom cover is not available to fit the particular brand and size of boat they own. In this instance, search out the highest quality cover with the closest specifications that you desire. This will bring about the best results.

Measuring Your Boat for a Cover

Measure your boat's centerline length in a flat, straight line from the bow tip to the farthest point aft. (Do not measure up and over windshields, etc.) Add length for options you want to cover, such as bow pulpits, trolling motors and swim platforms. Measure beam width (widest area of boat) in a straight, flat line from side to side. (Note: the windshield area is the widest point on some boats, while the transom is the widest on other boats.) Beam width and centerline length are all you'll need to purchase most universal fit covers. You'll also need to know you're boat's hull style (V-hull fishing boat, pro bass boat, center console, johnboat, etc.) when purchasing Semi Custom Covers -- a cover somewhere in-between custom fit and universal fit.

Boat Cover Features to Consider

This list represents some common traits that are desirable in a boat cover. The more features you can check off while evaluating a prospective boat cover, the better off you will be.

  • UV and Mildew Resistant — A cover with a built-in ultra-violet (UV) inhibitor will help protect your cover by not allowing the sun to break down the material. It will also keep the fabric colorful and looking new. By being mildew resistant, any moisture that remains on the cover will not initiate the process of mold production.

  • Reinforced Seams and Corners — These are important as seams and corners take a lot of abuse, through stretching and pulling. Having multiple layers of fabric in these critical areas will ensure that your cover will not rip or pull apart throughout it's life.

  • Water Resistant and Repellent — A boat cover is virtually useless if it does not resist and repel water. Although it may seem like common sense to believe all covers are made this way, you may be surprised to find that they realistically aren't. Stay away from these bad apples.

  • Elastic Bow Strap — This nifty invention will enable the bow portion of the cover to fit snug and secure. Holding the bow portion tight will ensure that the rest of the cover falls neatly into place.

  • Trailerable — If you want a cover that can be used while trailering your boat, make sure that it is of the trailerable variety. A trailerable cover will come with special straps to ensure the cover stays secure and in place, and not at the side of the road.

  • Tie-Down Straps — Most covers will have elasticized webbing, with a series of straps to hold the cover on. When choosing your cover, ensure that the straps are strong and capable of doing the job. Flimsy straps, belts or hooks will only lead to breakage.

  • Light Weight — Taking a cover on and off a boat can be a bit of task, especially if your chosen cover weighs a ton. Most manufacturers make lightweight covers that are easy on the back and can be folded down nicely for storage.

  • Outboard Motor Hood — Some models of boat covers have built-in motor hoods for outboards. This is a neat concept, as it protects your motor from sun and water damage, and will keep the unit looking brand new. Although these motor hoods can be purchased separately, it is a convenience to have it built directly into the main cover.

  • Warranty — Most reputable manufacturers will offer a warranty on their products. If a company doesn't, it may indicate a less than stellar product.

  • Material — The three main fabrics used in boat covers are polyester, poly-cotton blend and polyester-canvas. three work well, last long and will do the job nicely. 100% polyester is at the top of the class, as it offers the most advantages in terms of no stretch, no shrinkage and water resistance. If deciding on a poly-cotton blend, try to get the highest percentage of polyester in the mixture of the two materials. Cotton or cotton-canvas blends are not as trustworthy, and can stretch or breakdown, so many see this material as a poor choice in comparison to poly.

  • Colors — Boat covers can come in every color under the sun. Mainly a personal choice for this category, as most hues are all on a level playing field. (Black may be one to pass over, as the heat build-up under the cover may do possible damage to electronic components.) 

Cleaning Your Boat Cover

When not using your cover, a stoarge bag is a great buy. It will keep your cover neat and folded and in a secure space away from the elements.

A little care can go a long way in making your cover last a lifetime. It is a good idea to periodically wash down the fabric with a mild soap and water solution in order to keep your cover looking vibrant and dirt free. I have found this best accomplished by laying the cover out on the lawn or drive, and using a regular mop and bucket for the application of suds. A garden hose or power wash can then be used to rinse it all off. Boat covers will get dirty over time, and simple maintenance like this can go a long way.

When not using your cover, a storage bag is a great buy. It will keep you cover neat and folded and in a secure space away from the elements. (Much better than a balled-up heap sitting in the back of the garage or shed!) This is an inexpensive purchase that can definitely prolong the life of your cover.

Although we put a lot of time into the selection process of a boat, choosing a boat cover is usually an afterthought, or is given no thought at all. A boat cover is an important piece of protection that will keep your boat looking fresh and brand new. And that's what we all want for our "best friends" that live out on the water.


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Owning a high-performance fishing boat is mostly a dream for the majority of anglers. In reality, basic aluminum boats are the most common craft you will see at the dock or puttering around the lake. Come join me for "Boat Building 101," and learn some easy ways to soup up that Plain Jane of a vessel you own.

Hey, also check out the boat video below about upgrading an aluminum fishing boat.

Smallboat 1
Turning your "Plain Jane" aluminum boat into a performance fishing rig can be as simple as adding a few basic accessories.

Creating a Casting Platform for Fishing

If my memory serves me well, my 14-foot Springbok aluminum boat will be celebrating its 14th birthday this year. To look at it, however, you would swear it wasn't a year old. Much of this is in part to how well I have taken care of and cleaned it, but it is also to the fact that I have re-vamped a large portion of the body to stay with the times.

One of the best additions you can make to your aluminum boat is to construct a casting deck. This is the front floor portion of the boat that is raised in order to give the angler a better view of the casting area and to help with movement while up fishing. Although my boat did come with a small casting deck standard, I took it upon myself to construct a larger version that was significantly raised.

The logistics of building a deck are quite simple for most that are familiar with basic carpentry. First a template is drawn of the inside bow area. It can be a bit tricky when dealing with the sloping angles; however, I found that using a cardboard template and actually fitting it into your working area will simplify the task. You will then want to construct sturdy wooden supports for the plywood deck to sit on. None of the supports need to be attached or adhered to the body of the boat. Only the plywood deck itself will be anchored to the base with the use of screws. Before attaching the actual deck, however, you will want to cover the wood with a high-quality boat carpet. This covering will ensure a non-slip surface and will soften any loud sounds or banging you will make — a definite plus when dealing with skittish fish.

Trolling Motors

SmallBoat trollingmotorI can still remember the first two seasons I relied on oars to help me get around my fishing spots. The pain and anguish it caused will be forever etched in my mind, although this soon passed with my discovery of the electric trolling motor.

Trolling motors are a wonderful tool for the angler looking to get more from their boat and from the time spent on the lake. These motors are relatively weedless, are quiet and can get you where you want to go with ease. A foot-controlled bow mount electric motor is the definite way to go, and now that you have a front deck, it will be the perfect addition.

The one thing to keep in mind before selecting a bow mount motor is to make sure that you have a "bow mount." This is the platform that the motor will sit on, and is quite easy to make once you see what I mean. The peddle for your new motor will sit on your freshly made deck and, voila, you're off to the races. A trolling motor of this type will allow hands-free steering, which is a big plus when fishing certain areas.

One thing to keep in mind when selecting a motor is power. Whether to choose a 12-volt or 24-volt is a personal preference, but it would be wise to select the most powerful design that will both fit your budget and your boat. Increased power will enable you to fish longer with more thrust -- a combination that will seem priceless.

Adding a Livewell to Your Boat

Smallboat LivewellkitIf you are into catch and release fishing, or would like to keep your catch fresh for the dinner table, a livewell on board is the route to take. Although most basic aluminum boats are not outfitted with a factory well, it can be quite easy to install one yourself.

Livewell kits can be purchased from most marina or tackle shops, or you can construct your own with a little ingenuity. Any type of large container with a snug lid will do, as long as it is roomy enough for the fish you are after and the aerator that is necessary. Many people opt for large coolers, as these are the right dimensions for the job in hand. Once you decide on a container, attach the system to the inside of your boat to stop it from bouncing while your boat is moving. Next step is to hook up the aerator and attach it to a battery for its necessary power.

Install a Bilge Pump

How many times have you wandered down to the dock to find your boat filled to the brim with water? Next time, instead of using elbow grease and a pail to find your boat again, how about installing a bilge pump to make the job easier.

Smallboat bilgepumpA bilge pump is a luxury item on my aluminum that I would be lost without. It is such a simple action to flick a switch and know that any water that comes on board, either through a downpour, a leak or ferocious waves can be expelled quickly and easily.

Pumps can be purchased for less than $50, and the installation is a breeze. Simply adhere the unit to the stern floor of the boat and hook it up to your onboard battery. This handy little gizmo will take care of the rest.

Aluminum boats are the standard when it comes to fishing, although they can be taken to the next level. Experiment with rigging your craft this coming season, and turn your "plain jane" into the envy of the lake. And who knows, you just might win the lottery instead and get that bass boat you've always dreamed of.

 Justin Talks About Upgrading an Aluminum Fishing Boat



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Quick Fix for Leaky Boats

Friday, May 10 2013 12:00 pm - for Boat Maintenance
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QuickFixForLeakyBoats blogA common problem affecting aluminum boats are leaks. Collisions with underwater obstructions, beaching boats, and years of pounding waves are the likely causes of loose or missing rivets, widening of seams, and hairline cracks and tears.

Generally regarded as simply a nuisance, the hard facts are that a leaky boat left unfixed can quickly become a sinking ship. Although major damage should be left to the professionals, those minor in stature can easily be fixed with a bit of DIY.

Locating the Leaks in Your Boat

Ascertaining where water seeps in can be a tough chore. Problematic areas are often not noticed with a visual inspection, meaning a water test is your best bet.

Keep your boat level and hooked up to your tow vehicle for this step. With a garden hose, fill the boat with an inch or two of water, paying careful attention to the aluminum underside for any drips or leaks. Once found, use a waterproof marker to highlight areas that need attention. If none noticed, continue with the filling process.

Prepping the Boat

Once leaks are located and marked, pull the drain plug and raise the bow. To ensure best results, leave the boat in this position for two days in order to completely dry.

Use a stiff wire brush to lightly rough up the surface of areas that need repairing. This step will allow the bonding agents to better adhere to the aluminum, especially if the original area is shiny and smooth.  

Tools for Fixing Leaky Boats

Two products that work well for leaky boats are Epoxy Putty Sticks and Marine Adhesive Sealant. The latter is best used for filling in joint seams that have lifted or when sealing transducer holes. Epoxy is an excellent product for rivets, small cracks, or holes.

Following the product directions is crucial for best results. Epoxy requires hand kneading for one minute in order for the two compounds to mix. It then must be forced and flattened on to the aluminum within two minutes. The work time allowed is quite short, so knowing where you are applying it and how should be figured out in advance. Once cured, a permanent steel hard shell is left.

When repairing rivets, cover the entire area including a half-inch overlap. The same goes for cracks or holes. When filling seams with sealant, ensure a generous amount is squeezed into the opening, and after, run a finger or cloth along the edge to clean up excess and finish off.

Allow sufficient time for either compound to cure before getting wet.

Safety Concerns

Safety glasses should always be worn when working underneath a boat. You don't want any of these compounds in your eyes. Wearing latex gloves to knead and apply each product is also recommended. The Epoxy in particular takes a vigorous scrubbing to clean off bare hands.

A leaky boat can become a thing of the past with just a few simple steps. Follow them this season and save yourself from going down with the ship.


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BatteryCharger 5-5-5
On-board boat chargers are technologically advanced, providing multi-stage switching to manage and maintain a boat's batteries during the charging process.

One of the most crucial concerns of boat battery performance is the method and extent to which the batteries are charged after being depleted to acceptable levels. An overcharged battery will shed material from its plates and boil away its electrolyte, dooming it to a short, ineffective life. The plates of an undercharged battery will get clogged with lead sulfite, requiring you to carry that battery to the recycling center early as well. Using the right battery charger can help you avoid these problems. 

Wet-cell, gel and AGM batteries respond to charging in different ways and are very particular in the way their electrons are reenergized. Batteries must be recharged just so. If you fail to do it correctly, you'll be forced to purchase a new battery. For this reason, an important first step in buying a charger is to read all pertinent information provided by the manufacturer to determine that the one you purchase will be compatible with the type or types of battery you'll be charging.  

You also should determine what size charger is right for your boat. Begin by considering the number of batteries on your boat. Chargers are offered in one-, two-, three- and four-bank (battery) configurations.  

Charging time also should be considered. If you have 12 hours or more between trips, you may be happy with a lower-amp charger. If faster charging is needed, a more powerful unit (10 amps and above) may be best.  

Additionally, you should consider the number of engines on your boat. If you have one engine, you'll only need a charger with a single cranking-battery output. Twin-engine applications, however, call for a charger with dual cranking-battery outputs.  

Portable vs On-Board Boat Chargers  

If you own a smaller boat and can easily remove the battery from your craft to charge it, a portable charger may be a good choice. Portables also are great when you need to charge batteries on several boats.  

These units vary widely. Some are hardly bigger than a computer mouse. Others are the size of a small suitcase. The old-fashioned "trickle chargers" most of us are familiar with fall into this category. But state-of-the-art models like the Minn Kota Model MK110P with short circuit/reverse polarity protection and LED displays also are available.  

BatteryCharger SpeedCharg
Portable boat amp chargers are great for those who need to charge batteries on several boats.

Portable chargers are connected to batteries using alligator clips or a harness attached to the battery posts. The best models are encapsulated with seal-tight materials that protect the unit from shock, vibration and moisture. Good chargers also have automated charge sensors that detect the battery's voltage level to assure an optimum charge.

The primary disadvantage of portable chargers is the fact they can be inconvenient to hook up and switch from battery to battery in the confines of a boat's battery compartment. And because they are portable, they are subject to being stolen if you must use them in a motel parking lot, boat stall or other public place.  

Owners of bass boats and larger crafts are probably better served by purchasing an on-board battery charger like Bass Pro Shops XPS Intelligent Technology Series On-Board Battery Chargers or one from the Dual Pro, Minn Kota or ProMariner lines. On-boards tend to be more expensive than portables, but they easily pay for themselves in convenience. When you return home from a boating trip, you simply plug the charger into a 120-volt outlet and let the charger maintain your batteries without the hassle of personal monitoring. An onboard charger is always hooked up and is only a plug-in away from charging your batteries. Because it's permanently installed, it's more difficult for thieves to make off with. And most importantly, on-board chargers are more technologically advanced units, providing multi-stage switching to manage and maintain a boat's batteries during the charging process.  

Linear vs Multistage Chargers  

On-board chargers can be loosely lumped into two categories: linear chargers and multistage electronic chargers.  

While linear chargers remain widely available, they are falling into disfavor with many boaters because, by nature, they tend to negatively affect battery life and performance. This is because the unit shuts off when the battery is fully charged and doesn't begin charging again until the battery drops below 90 percent capacity. "Cycling" batteries this way as opposed to "maintaining" the charge tends to reduce battery life. Additionally, linear models often are set at voltages too high for maintaining batteries. This results in overcharging, which can boil the electrolytes dry in wet-cell and AGM batteries and harm gel batteries as well.  

A linear charger's strengths are in its simplicity and heat-reducing, vented design. While slightly bulkier, linear chargers do not let out the heat of multistage chargers. Linear chargers typically are water-resistant, not waterproof, however, and should be installed in a watertight area of a boat.  

Chargers with multistage electronic technology, often called "smart chargers," charge batteries in different phases. By controlling the charging output in various steps, this technology significantly reduces charge time. And when batteries are fully charged, the unit automatically drops to a maintenance mode that holds the batteries at a 95 to 100 percent charge. This eliminates the cycling and potential overcharging often associated with linear chargers.  

Multistage electronic chargers can efficiently service both cranking batteries and deep-cycle batteries. Most are fully waterproof as well, making them great choices for installation in bilges and non-watertight compartments when other space is at a premium.  

Regardless of the type you choose, once installed, the charger is ready to be plugged in and do its job. Read over the instructions included with your charger to familiarize yourself with proper installation and use. Then enjoy your time on the water as much as possible. With a portable or on-board charger, your time in the boat will be spent having fun, confidently knowing your batteries are charged and ready to get you going and keep you going.


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Dewinterizing03Waking your boat from a long hibernation is a chore we all eagerly await. There's no better feeling come spring than hearing the engine purr smoothly for the first time, ready to breathe life into another full season of fishing and just being on the water.

Getting into the habit of dewinterizing your boat, engine and trailer before hitting the lake ensures that everything will be in tip-top shape, leading to a stress-free maiden voyage and far less headaches when riding the wet stuff. Follow this simple guide to find out the necessary steps to success. Be sure to check out the video checklist for boat trailer maintenance below.

Prepping Your Boat for Warm Weather

The first step to take after removing the cover, tarp or shrink-wrap is to give the boat a thorough cleaning. This includes wiping down the interior of the boat, vacuuming the carpet and power washing the exterior. If you wax your hull, now would be the best time to do it.

While working on the outside of the boat, do a visual check for any gouges or cracks in the hull. Also look for missing or loose rivets. If any damage is found, outside help may be required to fix it.

Check the bilge area for any dirt or debris that may have collected over the winter. While there, install the drain plug. I'll repeat once again - install the drain plug. A very important step before making that first launch!

Any items that were removed for winter storage should now be placed back in the boat. This includes such things as boat seats, life vests, first-aid kits, fire extinguishers and flares. This is a good time to inspect all of your safety equipment and replace or repair if necessary. (Remember to check expiration dates on flares, inspect ropes on anchors and certify extinguishers if needed.)

Check battery fluid levels and top off if necessary using distilled water. Also check terminals for corrosion, and clean and lubricate with grease. Although your battery should have been regularly charged over the winter, ensure that it is at full strength before placing it back in the boat.

Connect all electronics (fish finders, GPS, bilge, live wells, radio, VHF, lights, etc.) and ensure that they are all working properly. If applicable, make sure the horn is sounding loud and clear.

Also check hatch hinges for smoothness; apply oil if needed.

If you own a trolling motor, now is the time to reinstall, or if it's already on the boat, check to make sure it is working properly. Test the entire range of the foot pedal (if applicable), as well as speed and directional controls. Also make sure that the prop is in good shape and is snuggly fit on the base of motor.

Boat Engine

Now's the time to put back any boating items you removed for the winter.

Install fresh spark plugs in the engine, ensuring that the "gap" is at the correct spacing (see your owner's manual for information). Also place a spare set in an emergency kit and keep on board.

If your lower gear case oil was not changed during the winterization step, now is the time to do it. Check other fluid levels, if applicable, and fill or change if necessary. Lubricate all moving connections, including the steering, throttle and shifting. Also grease splines on the propeller shaft with the recommended marine grease. While doing this, look for damage on the propeller itself. If cracks, breaks or dents are found, a new unit may need purchasing, or getting it rebuilt might be an option. When replacing the propeller, torque the nut to the manufacturer's recommendation. (This can be found in your owner's manual.) Now is also a good time to buy a spare prop if you don't already keep one on board.

Reconnect fuel lines, paying careful attention to tighten hose clamps or replace if needed. If lines are showing wear and tear, or feel brittle to the touch, then they should be replaced. Also check the starter cord for any frays, knots or pronounced wear.

If possible, test your engine out at home by using a garden hose and engine muffs. This will allow you to establish that everything is working up to snuff, and any adjustments and repairs can be easily made while standing on dry ground.

It is recommended that the water impeller be changed every two years, or whenever the discharge stream is not being displaced strongly or in a straight line. Keep this in mind when you start the boat.

Your engine may smoke considerably when running for the first time, but don't be alarmed. This is common and a result of the fogging agent and fuel stabilizer being run through the system. While the engine is idling, it is a good idea to check for any water leaks from the cooling system, as well as making sure that all of your instrument gauges are working properly.

When you launch the boat for its maiden voyage, there are a few areas to keep an eye on. Your first concern should be to make that there are no leaks evident, paying careful attention to the bilge area. You will also want to check that the water intake mechanism is working for any live wells on board. Lastly, make sure that the engine shifts smoothly and effortlessly from forward, neutral and reverse.

Boat Trailer Spring Maintenance

Although often overlooked during the spring maintenance ritual, giving the boat chariot a once over is a necessary requirement. Let's face it -- we've all seen too many broken down trailers at the side of the road to not take this step serious.

Boat trailer maintenance video checklist.

Use a power washer to rinse off any dirt or residue that has accumlated over the winter.

The first step is to give the entire trailer a visual check. Look for bends or cracked welds on the frame itself. Also check springs and suspensions for wear and tear or faults. These could turn into a serious problem, so make sure repairs are done if any deficiencies are found.

Go over the rollers or bunks, replacing any parts aren't working properly. (Obviously, you will need to have the boat in the water to make these repairs.)

Check that all lights and turn signals work adequately. (Remember the brake signal and four-way blinker.) Replace any burnt bulbs and fix any weak connections if found. Also check the wiring and connectors on the tow vehicle.

Wheel bearings should be repacked in the spring with fresh grease, paying careful attention to torque lug nuts to appropriate levels when putting the wheels back on. Check the overall condition of your tires, which includes cracking (usually on the sidewalls), tread depth and air pressure.

The winch strap should be in good shape, and showing no signs of fraying or unevenness. Replace if necessary. Tie-down straps should also be inspected for damage or wear and tear.

The winch operation itself should be smooth and free flowing. If not, a squirt of oil should remedy the situation.

Check that the trailer coupler and latch assembly is working smoothly. Any looseness can be a sign of a problem beginning. The trailer hitch on your tow vehicle should also be given the once over.

Getting the boat ready come spring is paramount to smart boating and hassle-free times. Not only will your boat perform better, but the likelihood of a problem occurring is greatly diminished. Enjoy waking up your boat this year, and here's to a safe and prolonged season on the water.


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