Most anglers and boaters have precious little time to pursue their passions. Don’t waste it fixing a problem that could have been avoided, like a blown trailer tire or dirty carburetor/injectors. Here are our seven top maintenance tips to keep your boat, motor and trailer in peak condition.
1. Change the oil (four-stroke engines)
Engine oil is your lone defense against breakdowns and poor performance due to wear and deposits. Change it every fall prior to storage. That way you remove the acidic byproducts of combustion and ensure fresh oil is available to protect components against corrosion during storage. Don’t forget to change the oil filter, too.
PRO TIP: Use an engine oil specifically designed for marine engines. Contrary to popular belief, motor oil has no natural ability to prevent rust or corrosion. Instead, special rust and corrosion inhibitors must be added to the formulation to provide the required protection, and some oils simply don’t contain the correct additives in the correct concentration.
Rust and corrosion protection are vital given your engine’s exposure to water. When you shut down the engine, some of the valves remain partially open, allowing damp air to infiltrate the combustion chamber. Rust and corrosion begin to form, creating contaminants that flake off and populate the oil, where it acts like sandpaper and scours metal surfaces until engine failure results. Use an oil specifically formulated for marine engines to avoid this scenario.
2. Change the lower unit gear lube
The lower unit houses gears, bearings and seals that require a quality gear lube to perform properly and last as designed. The pinion gear concentrates extreme pressure on the ring gear teeth, especially during throttle bursts. If the lubricant film weakens (due to water intrusion, most likely) and fails to keep the gear teeth separated, they can chip and lead to failure. This can also occur if the boat owner fails to service the lower unit annually and allows the lubricant to deplete to a dangerously low level. The lubricant’s extreme-pressure properties are key to providing superior gear protection.
The shift dog is another area of concern. It contains large teeth that mate with similar teeth on the forward or reverse gears, connecting the drive shaft to the prop. If your outboard frequently pops out of gear, it’s likely due to rounded-over shift-dog teeth as a result of wear. The shift dog is typically made of softer metal than the gears so it wears out instead of the gears, which are more expensive to replace. Strong anti-wear properties are vital to ensuring the lower unit shifts properly and stays in gear.
PRO TIP: The best thing you can do for your marine lower unit is change the gear lube annually. If water breaches the seals and is allowed to freeze over the winter, it will ruin the bearings and lead to expensive repairs.
3. Drain and clean the live well and bilge
Transporting invasive species is a huge problem in some areas. It’s a good idea to clean your bilge and live well to prevent inadvertently introducing invasive species to an area river or lake. It’s also sound maintenance to keep your boat in top shape.
Drain the bilge and live well. When cleaning, avoid using caustic chemicals – they can harm the environment, not to mention your fish. Instead, buy biodegradable cleaners that are specifically recommended for cleaning the bilge or live well. Some boaters use warm water and baking soda. Simply let it soak for a while, scrub with a soft brush and rinse clean.
4. Grease the trailer bearings
There’s nothing worse than gearing up for a fishing trip only to end up on the side of the highway after a trailer bearing fails.
Trailer maintenance is easy to overlook. But make sure you check the bearings each year and grease as needed.
Be sure to use a water-resistant grease. They’re designed to resist wash-out as the trailer is repeatedly submerged at the boat landing throughout the season. A quality synthetic grease also resists heat better than conventional greases, which helps prevent the grease from losing viscosity and oozing out of the bearings, leaving components exposed to wear.
5. Check trailer tire condition and pressure
Like the trailer bearings, the tires often get overlooked.
Each fall prior to storage, examine the tires for checking or cracking on the sidewalls. Check the tire tread for uneven wear or inadequate tread. You may be familiar with the “penny” test: Insert a penny upside-down into the tire tread. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, the tread has worn down and the tire should be replaced.
Store the trailer with the tires elevated and covered. This prevents them from developing flat spots and deteriorating due to UV rays.
Check for proper tire pressure monthly or if a tire happens to appear low. The correct tire pressure should be stamped on the tire’s sidewall.
PRO TIP: A low tire equals a hot tire, and a hot tire is more likely to blow. Check trailer tire pressure at least monthly.
6. Cover your boat when not in use
The sun’s UV rays can turn your beautiful boat into trailer trash in just a few short years if you fail to protect it.
A covered boat lift is the best method. It’s effective without the hassle of unfurling and applying a cover every time you finish a day on the water.
Most enthusiasts can’t afford a covered lift or don’t have room for one. In this case, take the time to cover your boat when you’re done using it. It may be frustrating to apply a cover, especially if it’s windy, but you’ll reap the benefits in the form of not having to reupholster your boat seats or replace carpet. Once the seat fabric dries out and cracks, it’s just a matter of time before the cushion deteriorates and the seat becomes useless.
7. Treat every tank of fuel
Most gasoline sold today contains up to 15 percent ethanol. For best performance, use ethanol-free gasoline.
Because ethanol has an affinity for water, you need to be aware of the conditions in which you operate your equipment. If water collects in the gas tank, the bond between ethanol and gasoline can break, causing a phenomenon known as phase separation.
The ethanol bonds with the water and sinks to the bottom of the fuel tank, which can create a whole host of problems, including the formation of gums, varnish and other insoluble debris that can plug fuel passages and negatively affect engine performance. When this ethanol/water mixture is pulled into the engine, it creates a lean-burn situation that increases combustion-chamber temperatures and can lead to engine damage. Once this happens there is no easy or inexpensive fix. To avoid these problems, contaminated fuel tanks should be emptied and refilled with fresh fuel.
Alternatively, treat fuel with an additive designed to fight ethanol problems. AMSOIL Quickshot, for example, is designed to keep water dispersed throughout the fuel tank, moving it out as a normal part of operation and decreasing the chance of phase separation.