If you’re a die-hard hunter, the odds are pretty good you haven’t looked at your fishing boat very much since October. So with hunting seasons finally closing out, it’s time to pull the cover off the old girl and get her ready for the spring fishing bonanza.
But don’t just hook up and head to the landing. Instead, take a few minutes to ensure everything is in working order before you launch.
“Most people wind up just parking the boat (during hunting season) — don’t check batteries, don’t charge batteries, stuff like that,” said Ken Sherman, of Front to Back Boat Service in Baton Rouge. “So you pretty much need to go through a whole go-through, especially with this cold weather that we’ve had.”
Sherman said he starts by ensuring batteries will hold a charge.
But don’t stop there. The extremely cold temperatures that settled over Louisiana in December and January might have caused all kinds of problems.
“I just had a lower unit (that) had water in the lower unit, and it burped oil out the sippie hole, froze the lower unit up and (the owner) had seal problems,” Sherman explained. “We had to rebuild the lower unit.”
A clue that this has happened to your outboard can be seen in the garage.
“You’re going to walk in and see an oil spot right underneath it,” Sherman said. “If you’ve got an oil spot underneath it, you might as well call (a repair shop) and line it up to rebuild it.”
Water freezing inside bilge and livewell/aerator pumps also can cause damage, so be certain to check these important pieces of equipment.
Sherman also recommended pulling the engine’s cowling and looking over the outboard block to find any obvious problems.
But the best bet is to have the outboard serviced every year by a certified mechanic to change out the lower unit oil, rebuild the water pump and ensure there aren’t any mechanical issues that will leave you paddling to the landing.
“If you do (preventative maintenance) every year, you never have to worry about it,” Sherman said. “Get on a yearly basis where you do the service every year: You’ll be surprised that your problems disappear. Change the fuel filters once a year; do the water pump impeller once a year; change the oil once a year. It’s cheap insurance.
“Oil is cheap. Getting it put in is cheap. When you crack a housing, it gets expensive. When you’ve got to start rebuilding lower units, it starts getting expensive.”
He also pulls a bit of fuel out of the tanks to ensure no water has accumulated.
“Pull a fuel sample and let it sit to see if it separates,” Sherman said. “Smell the fuel. If you’ve got a full tank and you smell the fuel and it smells like old varnish, I’d pump it out and put fresh fuel in it.
“Old fuel in these new motors — they just do not like it.”
While Sherman now runs ethanol through his Mercury 250 ProXS, he said he always uses a quality fuel additive. His weapon of choice is Ultimax, which is made by Baton Rouge Industries.
“Some people call it a mechanic in a bottle,” Sherman said. “It’s along the lines of Stabile and Sea Foam, but a few years ago, they took it to (Texas) and it tested the best of the best.
“I run pumped fuel. I don’t run premium, 92 octane; I run pumped fuel, 87 octane. But I always use Ultimax.”
He said he just adds the recommended amount when he fills up to keep things running smoothly.
“If you’re running it as a constant thing and something happens and you get hurt at work or you put up the boat for three months for hunting season, (that outboard) will still run when you pull it out,” Sherman said.
Of course, just because the batteries, electronics and pumps on your boat check out doesn’t mean much if you end up stuck on the side of the road with a blown bearing.
So Sherman said it’s imperative to inspect the trailer.
“I would pull the wheel bearings off and check the grease because a lot of times the grease gets a water mixture in there and you don’t want to just slap grease on them without looking,” he said. “Sometimes you can pump a little grease in and you see grease pump out and you’re good, but if you see water come out of it, I’d definitely repack it.”
Water in the grease could have frozen during the winter, blowing the seals as it expanded. But even if that didn’t happen, water will reduce the effectiveness of the grease and result in damage.
But forget the old maxim of pumping grease into a bearing until it squirts out the back.
“You really don’t want to do it until it squirts out,” Sherman said. “What you want to do is pump it until you feel it get tight. You don’t just pump it in to blow it all out.”
The key is to ensure there’s enough grease in the bearing to keep the hub cool without blowing the seals.
Checking Bearing Buddies to ensure they look good is another check-list items.
“Getting (to the landing) is critical, because you don’t want to be sitting on the side of the highway,” Sherman said. “As cheap as this stuff is, it’s cheap insurance.”
Finally, Sherman said it’s important to look at that one thing we boaters detest: Trailer lights.
If you have old incandescent lights, it’s just a matter of time before you have bulbs go out — again.
So Sherman recommended moving to LED lights, which are waterproof and much more durable.
“If you tie-wrap all your wires up tight and keep all that clean, put LED lights on (the trailer),” Sherman said. “LED lights have gotten to be so much better. If someone has to change out any lights and they don’t put LED lights on it, I think they’re wasting their time.
“LEDs are going to be the longest lasting lights.”