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Systems Check

Plan now for a worry-free summer boating season.

Batteries should be mounted out of the bilge and easily accessible for maintenance.

Captain Ron said, “If anything's going to happen, it's going to happen out there.” No truer words have ever been spoken. Proper maintenance of your boat's systems is critical if you want to have worry-free days on the water.

A marine environment, the beating your boat takes going down a bumpy road on the trailer and sometimes just age, all have an effect on your boat's systems. By systems I'm referring to batteries, electrical connections, switches, hose clamps, hoses and fuel filters.

To make caring for these vital components even more of a challenge, many boat manufacturers, in an attempt to rig their boats more cost effectively, put pumps, filters and other accessories in places that are difficult to access once the inner liner is installed. Dealing with a leaking seacock, inoperative pump or no power to a main distribution panel, once you've left the safety of the harbor, can be far beyond an inconvenience. The time put toward maintaining your boat between fishing trips pays off when you make that hot bite and avoid those towing bills and vacation cancellations. Unfortunately the old saying of “out of sight, out of mind” catches many a boater by surprise.



Wiring – Corroded terminal ends are the biggest culprit when it comes to wiring issues on a boat. All too often the technician rigging your boat uses too much force when squeezing the butt connector with the crimping pliers and breaks through the protective plastic coating. Even with a heat shrunk connector, once you damage the outer layer of protection it's not long before corrosion sets in, due to the fact that most of these connections are commonly in the bilge. Inspect these connections often and look for green buildup, a sure sign that this connection is soon to fail. Also periodically spray the back of switch panels with silicone- based lubricant for a barrier of protection there.

Batteries – The location of your batteries plays a large part in their longevity. If they're mounted in a damp, salty bilge, you will need to disconnect the battery cables and clean the battery terminals often. Many outboard motors need a minimum amount of current to remain running. If the voltage level drops too low they simply shut off. Fish finders and other electronic devices may also malfunction. Even if your batteries are housed in a center console or above deck compartment, you need to check the torque of the terminal wing nuts and apply a liberal coating of lithium grease or some other terminal protectant on a regular basis.

Seacocks and thru-hull fittings – Over time hoses can develop leaks, hose clamps can rust (even the stainless ones) and seacocks become frozen in the open position. Check the condition of the hoses in your bilge. Lubricate seacocks as necessary and operate all seacocks through the open and closed range often to keep them free.

Fuel lines and filters – If you notice a fuel line or squeeze primer that feels stiff, replace it. Fuel filters also need replacing on a regular basis. If your boat has a canister- type water separator, change it every 50 to 100 engine hours. If your boat is going to be stored for any length of time, consider adding a stabilizer to your fuel.

Baitwell and bilge pumps – 12-volt powered pumps are often necessary to keep your boat afloat, supply life support to your bait, and wash down your decks. Unfortunately, many boaters think about their pumps only when they quit. To add to this aggravation, getting to a pump mounted deep within a bilge can be a challenge. Before each trip, activate the switches that control different pumps on your boat and listen to make sure they come on. If your bilge pump has a float switch, confirm it is working properly. If a pump makes a grinding sound, that's often a sign that it will soon fail and needs replacement. Depending on the design of your pump, it may have a motor that unlocks and twists off from the pump housing. This will allow you to check and clean the pumps impeller.

Thankfully, some manufacturers have addressed the systems access on the boats they produce and many new craft now have large bilge hatches and transom bulkheads that lift out of the way. Pumps are labeled, wire terminal ends are heat shrunk and fuel filters are located safely and conveniently out of the bilge.

Take advantage of any down time, weather days or even afternoons during daylight savings time to stay on top of your boat's condition. FS

First published Florida Sportsman June 2015

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