How to Accessorize a Boat on a Budget

How to Accessorize a Boat on a Budget

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big glitter boat guy. Since buying my first in the fall of 1996, I’ve bought and sold five more. The fifth is about to leave for a new owner, and a sixth is on the way.

I’ve tried to be careful, but I’ve done lots of stupid shit—run into logs, forgot to put the drain plug back in, and mostly just been on the water when it wasn’t necessarily a good idea to be out there. Boats are meant to get wet, and good raingear is a godsend, but as I’ve moved into my post-50 dotage I’ve learned that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

Each boat gets new accessories that may not even have existed when the last one was purchased. When I first saw Power Poles, which are essentially shallow water anchors, I laughed. Now I can’t imagine living without them. My first boat didn’t have a hydraulic jackplate. I can’t imagine how much mud I would have sucked up and how many (more) times I would’ve been semi-permanently stuck if I hadn’t insisted on one on each subsequent boat. This next boat will have lithium batteries and forward-facing sonar. It’ll be a craft that I couldn’t have imagined owning—and certainly not affording— when I first got “serious” about the sport a few decades back.

You can argue all day about whether these add-ons cost too much, help you catch any fish, or take the sport out of the game. I’m not going to indulge you that way. But I am going to tell you one dirty truth of my cult—a lot of the most important accessories are among the cheapest. And many of them aren’t even made specifically for boating. Here are a few I can’t live without:

Problem: Trolling motor is running too deep

Solution: Diet Dr. Pepper bottle

If you like to fish in super-shallow water, or over thick submerged vegetation, your trolling motor is likely going to dig in and get bogged down. That’ll wear on your propeller and battery, create unnecessary noise, and subtract from your fishing time. The solution is to jack up the trolling motor shaft at an angle so the prop is just under the water. You can hold it up by the pull rope, but that only leaves you with one hand to fish, a subpar solution. You can also adjust the collar on the motor so that the prop is permanently at that depth, but when you return to an area where the motor can run lower (and more efficiently) you’ll have to adjust it again, which is a major pain.

Years ago, I had a boat with a device called a “Power Gator” where with the touch of a switch you could hydraulically adjust the motor up and down. I had one switch on the deck and one on the console. I could deploy the motor while cruising to a stop, and hop up on the deck with it fully submerged. It was great when it worked, which only lasted for a few weeks. Then I’d hit a stump or otherwise strain the mount, at which point the gears would strip out. After getting it fixed twice, I gave up.

The better solution? Pull your motor to the height you like and then cram a Diet Dr. Pepper bottle in between the two scissoring parts of the motor mount. It’ll hold it in place and it’s cheap, easy, and silent. Why the Pepper? It could be water, Gatorade, Cheerwine, or whatever libation you prefer. I just happen to be addicted to the Doc and usually have one on the way to the ramp.

Problem: Spun hub or thrown prop blade

Solution: a Prop block

Ever had a prop blow up on you while running down the lake? I’ve had it happen both after hitting a submerged obstacle and also for no apparent reason at all. It’s all fun and games until your outboard starts vibrating violently.

When it’s severely dinged or missing a blade you can’t continue to run it or you’ll mess up your prop shaft, or create other horrific damage. You need to get that sucker off. Idle into the shallows and, if you’re smart enough to have a spare prop (even a cheap one) you just take off the old one, put the new one in place, and you’re back in business.

Of course you’ll have to be sure not to drop the hardware in the drink. Ideally, you got that prop nut on pretty tight when you installed it, and the (remaining) blades are likely to be pretty sharp. So how do you immobilize the prop enough to get leverage on it?

The cheapest way is a simple block of wood, jammed between the prop and the cavitation plate. Better yet, get a bright yellow “Prop Block” that slides onto the plate and stops the spin.

Problem: Spun hub or thrown prop blade

Solution: Floating prop wrench

This is a problem so monumental and potentially vexing that it requires two accessories (see above for the other). Luckily they’re both cheap. When putting on a prop you’re gonna want to jam it the hell on, but the best solution is to torque it to the appropriate specs.

You can carry a torque wrench if you want, but that’ll take up space, and it’s likely to get messed up and bent as you bounce through 6-foot waves on tournament day. Put it in your truck for fine-tuning on land, but in the boat carry one of these bright yellow plastic prop wrenches.

It’ll work fine in a pinch, and if you drop it in the lake you’re not out major bucks. In fact, you’re out nothing because the sucker floats. While you’re at it, keep an extra set of prop hardware in the boat, because there’s a good chance you’ll lose one or more pieces.

Problem: Flat trailer tire

Solution: Curb

On your way to the lake, one of your trailer tires takes a dump. Whether it’s a slow leak or an E-ticket blowout it still sucks, especially because it’s often in the dark, or in places where you don’t want to have to get down on the ground to get a jack situated.

If you have a dual-axle trailer, I’ve got a free solution. After loosening the flat tire, just drive the other tire (i.e., if it’s right front, then the right rear, or vice versa) up onto a curb or a parking lot stop block and let the flattened one dangle. Now you can take off the bad one and replace it with your spare (you do have a spare, and the tools to change it, right?). If there are no curbs available, a simple gizmo like the Trailer Aid serves the same purpose.

Problem: Runaway trailer

Solution: Block of wood or chock

A friend unhooked his boat in his driveway and stood with mouth agape as it rolled backward toward the lake. Luckily it stopped before it got there.

Unluckily, it stopped because it ran dead smack into a tree. Even if there’s the slightest element of a slope, better safe than sorry. You can buy a cheap chock for a few bucks or use a block of wood or even a rock.

Problem: Stolen boat and trailer

Solution: Lock

Boats are magnets for thieves so I remain shocked at how many anglers leave their trailered boats sitting in parking lots and driveways simply waiting for someone to back up to them and pull them away.

If you have a detachable trailer tongue, take the pin out, swing it, and place a lock in the middle. If you don’t, put a lock through the coupler hole. Don’t make it easy for someone to steal your pride and joy.

While you’re stocking up on these inexpensive lifesavers, get a portable tire inflator and standalone battery charger to keep in your tow vehicle. Jumper cables, or better yet, a portable jump starter, should be in anything with big batteries too. None of these are particularly exciting, but if you can’t get to the fish, or to the lake, or back to the ramp, nothing else really matters. Trust me. I’ve been there.

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