Battery troubles lead to other problems

To beat the heat and catch bigger trout, head to the lighted rigs in Ship Shoal, and hear the beautiful music of ripping drags.

Occasionally, I get to take boats out for a water test. Whenever I go to the boat launch, I like to sit back and take note of the boaters in the area.On a recent outing to the lake, I launched the boat I was going to test, and while I waited for my partner to park the truck and trailer, I was watching another boater who had launched just before I did. He jumped into his boat and attempted to start his outboard only to find out the battery was stone-cold dead.

He was determined to take out that boat so he jumped into his truck, pulled it forward, turned it around and eased it down to the water’s edge on the boat ramp. He produced a set of jumper cables that he hooked up to the truck, and tried to stretch them to the boat, but they were a little short.

Being the resourceful boater that he was, he still had his engine tilted up from being on the trailer, so he turned the boat around and backed it in toward the truck until the cables reached.

In order for the cables to reach he had the boat backed up until the bottom hit the boat ramp, and there was no water left to tilt the engine down.

His next step took pinpoint timing and agility. He simply cranked up the engine — even though it was completely out of the water — and with lighting speed, he jumped out of the boat and pulled it forward until the water was deep enough to tilt the engine down.

He jumped back into the boat, but before he could tilt the engine down it killed. He climbed back onto the dock and repeated the process all over again. This time the engine continued to run, and he was able to tilt it down. He loaded up his gear and passengers, and headed out onto the lake.

I know that this story sounds funny, but this boater made some very serious mistakes that could result in problems later on. First and foremost, you should never crank up your motor without water supplied to the water pump. The water pump is rubber, and the friction caused by running the engine with the pump dry will cause the impeller to be damaged.

This damage can be very deceptive in that the pump may continue to work for several trips before it completely fails and causes the engine to overheat. This engine was started up and run with the lower unit out of the water not once but twice in the process of jump-starting the battery.

Hopefully when the pump does fail, the engine overheat warning system is working, the operator is alerted and he shuts the engine off before any serious internal damage occurs to the pistons and/or block.

The second mistake was to leave the dock and head out onto the lake once the engine was started. The boat captain had no idea what caused his battery to be dead in the first place.

If he was lucky, it was just that something had been left turned on, and it drained the battery. If that was the case, the outboard motor’s alternator would recharge the battery and he would be OK.

If there had been some other underlying problem such as a short circuit in the wiring system of the boat, then taking the boat out on the lake could have exposed it to a possible fire from the short.

Another possible explanation for the dead battery is that the battery itself was bad. Bad batteries will not accept a charge, and no matter how long they ran the engine, the battery would still remain dead. If the engine killed or if the operator mistakenly turned it off, they would be stranded because the battery would not have enough energy to crank the engine.

Most new outboards can actually sense when a battery is low, and will increase the charge output in order to boost up the weak battery. If the battery is bad, the engine will try and try and try to recharge it. The alternator, regulator and/or the ignition systems can all be damaged as a result of being overworked trying to charge this battery. The resulting repair would be very costly.

I know it would be very disappointing, but if you should ever find yourself in a similar situation, I would suggest you put your boat back on the trailer and head back home. Once you get home, you can either charge the battery with a battery charger or take it somewhere to be charged.

After the battery has been charged it should be checked with a load tester to determine if it is strong enough to properly crank your engine. If it checks out, then go ahead and make plans for your next boating trip. If it does not check out, then a replacement battery should be installed in your boat.

Don’t forget, whenever you reconnect your battery cables be sure that you tighten the wing nuts with pliers or wrench. Finger tight is not good enough, and can lead to other problems.

Most batteries have a date code on them. Usually the code is a letter and a number on a small sticker. The letters correspond to the month, A = January, B = February, etc. The number corresponds to the last number of the year. A code tag that reads C7 would mean that battery was manufactured in March of 2007.

The next time you are working on your boat, you might want to check the date code on your battery. I have found that the average life span of a marine battery is three years. If your battery is over three years old, then consider changing it before it gives you trouble.

If you have any questions about your boat, motor or trailer, drop me an e-mail at