We are right in the middle of our prime boating and fishing season, and I am getting calls and e-mails daily from concerned boaters who are not willing to just roll over and play dead. They want to go fishing and boating, but are concerned about protecting their boats and motors if they should encounter oil on the water.
Naturally, the first line of defense is to avoid the oil whenever possible. Louisiana Sportsman is doing a great job of updating its website to keep you informed of areas that are closed due to the oil spill. These closures are not only to stop you from fishing certain areas, but they also allow the clean-up crews to do their jobs more efficiently. You can also check with local marina and boat-launch operators to see if any of their areas are under attack from the oil.
If you do not already have them, consider adding a water-pressure gauge and an engine temperature gauge to your boat’s instrument panel. The greatest danger on the water would be to have your engine’s cooling system get clogged and the engine overheat. Monitoring water pressure and engine temperature would be an important safeguard for your engine.
We are seeing a wide array of reports about the consistency of the oil. They range from a light sheen on the surface to a thick gelatinous substance that is several inches deep. If you should encounter oil on the water, immediately leave the area. If the oil you experience is only a light sheen, then there is little chance that your engine will be damaged, but if you happen to run into an area where the oil is thick, your engine could be severely damaged.
The water intake ports for your cooling system are usually 2 or 3 inches below the water surface when you are on plane running. This thick gooey oil could block off the water intakes, and your engine would quickly overheat.
If you suspect that you have gotten into thick oil then immediately slow down and get your boat off plane. This will allow your engine to settle deeper in the water, and hopefully the water intake ports will be deep enough to keep them clean and free-flowing. Idle out of that area as quickly as possible.
Monitor your engine closely for signs of overheating. As soon as you are clear of the oil, tilt the engine up and inspect the water intakes. If you find any blockage, clean it off before proceeding.
Now more than ever, flushing your engine when you return home is extremely important. If oil has been sucked up by the water pump, it can leave a film on the inside of your engine-cooling chambers. This film would collect dirt and resulting restriction inside the engine block may render your cooling system inoperable. I do recommend that you use the earmuff style motor flusher. Turn your garden hose on full, crank your engine up and allow it to run for 10 to 15 minutes.
Once you have flushed your engine thoroughly, you will want to turn your attention to the boat. Oil stains on a fiberglass boat need to be cleaned as soon as possible after the boat is taken out of the water. If you allow the oil film to dry and bake in our summer heat, it may permanently destroy the looks of your once beautiful boat.
Oil stains are not easily washed off. You may have to employ several types of cleaners to get your hull clean. I have had great success with a couple of products. One is called MarPro Formula 9. It works well on the not-too-stubborn stains; just spray it on and wipe it off with a clean rag.
For the more stubborn stains I have used FSR (Fiberglass Stain Remover). This is a much stronger cleaner, and you should follow the safety directions carefully. One of the drawbacks to the use of harsh chemical cleaners is that they not only clean the dirt, or in this case the oil, from the surface but they also remove the protective wax coating as well. Once the boat is clean and dry, a good coat of wax will help protect your boat from future stains.
Outboard motor water pumps are powered by a rubber impeller. Petroleum products such as gasoline and oil can cause damage to the impeller and failure of the engine cooling system. I have always recommended that water pumps be changed every two years as part of your regular engine maintenance. If you suspect that your water pump has ingested oil on your latest boating trip, change the impeller now.
While the lower unit is removed and the water pump disassembled, inspect the water-intake chamber and look up into the water tube for signs of excessive oil contamination. If oil contamination is present, further cleaning of the cooling system will be warranted.
For several years, I have had the privilege of working the Rummel Alumni Fishing Rodeo. We held our 15th annual rodeo last month. Participation was not as great as past years, but nonetheless those fishermen who did participate had a great time. Everyone paid close attention to the posted no-fishing areas and no one reported encountering oil on the water.
There were first-, second- and third-place prizes awarded in five fish categories: redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead, drum and flounder. The first-place drum topped the scales at over 33 pounds, while first-place redfish exceeded 10 pounds, and the top speckled trout was 7-plus pounds.
You too could be out on the water enjoying the bounty that our great state has to offer. A little caution and planning will help you steer clear of any contaminated areas. Be safe, and enjoy the outdoors.