Original article by Gord Pyzer published on Outdoor Canada
Bedtime for Boats — It’s time to put away your fishing rig and make sure it’s ready for action in the spring.
What’s one of the most important things you can do this fall to ensure you catch more and bigger fish next spring? Properly store your fishing boat and motor for the winter.
As service mechanics will tell you, regular use of a vehicle doesn’t typically cause problems—lengthy periods of inactivity do. For boats and motors, that means the long, harsh winter. So, how do you ensure your fishing machine performs flawlessly once the open-water season rolls around again? Here are the essentials.
Step one: Clean Care
I like to pick a warm fall day to winterize my two rigs, a small aluminum tiller I use for backcountry fishing and a Kingfisher for big water. I start by vacuuming them out and scrubbing the hulls with a quality boat soap to remove any grime or fish blood that has accumulated over the season (the Kingfisher’s carpeted floor also gets splattered with fish blood, so I scrub each spot with a spray-on stain remover and carpet cleaner). Then I use a pressure-washer to rinse the hulls before carefully drying them with a chamois, inspecting for scratches and scrapes. If I find any, I touch them up with colour-coordinated paint.
I do all this with the boats on their trailers, on a downhill grade. That way, I can pull out the plug and drain every last drop of water from the bilge. I also turn on the bilge and livewell pumps to ensure they’re free of water, which would otherwise freeze and expand over the winter, cracking the plastic housings. I finish up by pouring non-toxic plumber’s antifreeze into the bilge and livewell, then briefly turning on the pumps to ensure they’re well coated.
I am very protective of my big boat and motor, so I keep them covered up in my garage while my truck spends the winter outside instead. If you don’t have this option, it’s a good idea to have professionals shrink-wrap your boat. Just be sure they frame it and shrink the plastic to block out the rain and snow, and leave openings at the transom to allow fresh air to circulate.
Whether you store your boat in a garage or shrink-wrap it, remove all the lifejackets, raingear, spare clothing, tackle and anything else from the storage compartments that might rust or get mildew. It’s also a good idea to keep your rod locker and storage lids open to air them out.
Step two: Motor Maintenance
While I service my smaller four-stroke outboard myself, I get the local marina to handle the 250-horsepower Verado on my big boat, if for no other reason than I don’t have specialized tools to access some of the components. The winterizing process is essentially the same for big and small motors, so if you’re mechanically inclined and have the right tools for the job, go for it.
If you don’t already have one, get a simple motor flusher (it looks like giant pair of earmuffs). This inexpensive but essential tool lets you service your engine in your driveway by hooking it up to a hose and attaching it to the water intakes on the lower unit. If you start the motor without water going through it, not only will you overheat it or score the pistons, you could also burn out the water pump.
Before I get to work on the motor, I first fill the gas tank with premium, ethanol-free fuel and add a good stabilizer to prevent fuel separation. That way, the additives will circulate throughout the engine as I prep it for winter storage.
To get started, I first remove the propeller and check the shaft for fishing line, plastic bags, weeds or anything else that might have gotten wrapped around it. Then I start the engine and warm it up so any sediment will suspend and drain out when I change the oil and filter. I always run a few drops of oil through my fingers to carefully check for signs of contamination. Slightly dirty oil is normal, but cloudy or milky oil is a sure sign of water—possibly from broken seals—so be vigilant. If you see that, it’s time to get your motor to a mechanic.
Next, change the lube in your lower unit and check it for water contamination, too. This job typically involves nothing more than removing the drain and vent plugs and catching the oil in a pan placed below the skeg. Just be careful not to lose the tiny rubber washers (because they cost only pennies a piece, I always replace mine anyway as a matter of course). Once the lower unit is drained, refill it with oil using a manual pump (see photo). Just screw the pump into the drain hole in the bottom and pump until you see the fluid emerge from the vent hole at the top. Then put the vent screw back in the top, which creates a vacuum, and insert the drain screw back in the bottom.
Replacing the spark plugs, fuel filter and water filter are the next items to cross off your motor maintenance to-do list. These take just seconds to change, and come next season when you find yourself far down the lake at night, with thunder rumbling in the distance, you’ll be glad you did.
Another hugely important item that very few anglers change until their goose is fully cooked is the water pump impeller. This is essentially a small, thick rubber fan that rotates and sucks in water to cool the engine. The water you see streaming out of the side of an outboard tells you the water pump and impeller are working. If you don’t see that when you start the motor, have a mechanic replace the impeller.
If your motor is a two-stroke, now’s the time to fog it. Simply remove the cowling and spray fogging lubricant into the air intake while the engine is running with the gas line removed. This keeps the internal engine parts lubricated to prevent corrosion and cylinder scuffing. You know you’ve completed the job once the engine smokes, sputters and stalls. Alternatively, you can remove each spark plug and spray the lubricant into the cylinders before replacing the plugs. Finally, drain the gas out of the carburetor. This typically involves nothing more than removing the fuel line and carburetor set screw.
What about fogging a four-stroke engine? Don’t bother. “Fogging four-stroke engines is a myth,” says my good friend Alvin Sinclair, a senior service mechanic. “You mix oil in the gasoline to lubricate a two-stroke outboard, that’s why you fog it. But four stroke motors have oil reservoirs just like your car or truck. It’s simply a waste of time, effort and money.”
Step three: Trolling Motor Storage
Most anglers know how critical it is to properly store their outboard engines for the winter, but what about electric trolling motors? They need just as much TLC. For safety reasons and to prevent battery drainage, start by unplugging the motor, then lubricating the moving parts on the shaft with aqueous silicone.
As with the big motor, take off the prop and remove anything that might be wrapped around the shaft. Fishing line, in particular, can slice through the seals and let water into the lower unit. Also, run your fingers along the edges of the prop to check for nicks and serrated edges that can reduce its effectiveness, especially if you fish in weeds. If you find any, rub them smooth with fine sandpaper.
Store your bow-mount motors in a horizontal position, whether you leave them on the boat or remove them. The MinnKota Terrova and Power Drive models, for example, have a special drain hole at the back of the casing, so if you store them upright, the water could get trapped and freeze, potentially damaging the small servo motor in the housing.
Step four: Electronics Storage
The operating temperature range of your state-of-the-art chartplotter and sonar unit is between -20°C and 70°C, a threshold that’s typically exceeded on the lower end during Canada’s cold winters. That’s why you should remove the units from your boat and store them somewhere warm in padded protective cases.
It’s also wise to place mothballs inside the boat compartments where your electrical wires and transducer cables are routed. Mice are fond of wintering inside the confines of a snug, shrink-wrapped boat, and they will gnaw and chew on the wires and cable. Fortunately, they detest the smell of mothballs, and it drives them away.
Step five: Power Preservation
Pay extra-special attention to the cranking battery that starts the engine, the house battery that powers the accessories (electronics, lights, livewell, horn and so on) and the deep-cycle batteries that run your electric trolling motor. Turn off the master power control switch on the boat, then clean all the terminal posts and pop open each cap to check the electrolyte levels. Top them up with distilled water as required, then ensure all the batteries are fully charged.
Now, the big question is whether you should remove the batteries from the boat, leave them connected or leave them in place, but unconnected. I keep mine connected, but only because I have installed a digital voltage-sensitive relay system that allows me to turn off everything to ensure there’s no parasitic drain. And because I store the boat in the garage, I run a maintenance charge through the cranking and deep-cycle batteries every two weeks.
If you shrink-wrap your boat and/or store it outside, however, you don’t have that luxury, so you have to turn off the master power switch and disconnect the negative cables if you want to leave the batteries in the boat. An even better course of action is to remove and store the batteries in a dry, warm spot where you can recharge them over the winter. Always remove the negative cables first, and put them back on last.
Also, be sure to remove any jewellery, especially rings, while working with batteries. Boat batteries are miniature hydrogen bombs that store enormous amounts of electrical power, so never take risks. Several years ago, for example, a guest jumped up on the back casting platform of my old boat, somehow pushing the battery compartment lid onto the battery posts. Dense black smoke suddenly started billowing out of the compartment, and when I lifted the lid, I watched as the thick lead terminals melted into liquid. It turned out the underside of the lid had a foil-like metal lining. Now, imagine if you were disconnecting the cables while wearing a ring or using a wrench and accidentally touched a metal strut. Enough said.
To keep track of which cables go with which battery, label each battery and its set of positive and negative cables with matching numbers (group the individual sets of cables together with zip ties or electrical tape). That way, you won’t mistakenly attach a cable to the wrong battery. And to be extra sure where everything belongs, snap some photos of the batteries before you remove the cables.
When the spring bite is on, after all, the last thing you want to be doing is figuring out why the boat won’t fire up.
Article written by Gord “Doc” Pyzer