Regardless of what hull design your boat may have and how efficient it may or may not be, just how much fuel you burn on any given fishing trip will be influenced by how you run your boat.
Who among us wouldn’t like to burn less fuel?
Reality Check: The best way to burn less fuel is often to simply go slower. But for many of us, fishing time is precious and we’ll be running just as fast as the sea conditions and our boats allow – easing back on the throttle to save a few gallons simply isn’t going to happen. We get that. Fortunately, there are other ways that mariners can get miserly. Whether you’re a canyon commando or a bayou buccaneer, check out these tricks. They’ll help you reduce your boat’s fuel burn, every time you leave the dock.
- Go on a diet. Weight means increased fuel burn, no matter what size or type of boat you own. The smaller the boat, the more dramatic the effect. One particular item to look for: full water tanks that you rarely use. If your boat has a 20-gallon tank, for example, and you never use more than a couple of gallons each trip, fill it half way and get rid of 80 extra pounds. Save on more water-weight by plugging the inlet of your livewell when it’s not in use, if it has a high-speed pick-up. Many wells fill as soon as you start running, and add 80- to 160-pounds or even more to the load. Anchor rode is another place many back country and inshore boaters can save weight. Are you hauling around 500’ of anchor line, yet your depth finder rarely hits 20’? Get rid of half that line and you’ll shed a significant amount of weight. Next, go through your boat from stem to stern and dump everything you stowed aboard but haven’t used in the past year. The pounds will add up, and you’ll soon be burning less fuel. Oh, and by the way, after dumping all that excess weight you’ll go faster, too.
- Get steel. Is your prop aluminum? You can usually gain one to three mph by swapping it for a stainless-steel prop. Aluminum flexes more than steel and switching prop materials won’t cost you anything (performance-wise, that is) while boosting your boat’s performance and efficiency.
- Become automated. The benefits of installing an autopilot are greater than most imagine. Yes, it’s a heck of a lot easier to steer. Yes, you can sit back in the helm chair or leaning post while cruising, saving wear and tear on your back. No, you won’t have to check the GPS every 10 seconds to make sure you’re still steering a proper course. But have you thought about the fuel and time savings an autopilot can provide? Much as we might hate to admit it, the computer can steer the boat a whole lot straighter than you or I. In fact, if you calculate in all the zigs and zags a captain makes as he corrects his course on a long cruise, you’ll find that it adds as much as five to 10 percent to the total distance of the cruise. And that means an autopilot can save you five to 10 percent of your fuel costs, not to mention five to 10 percent of the time it takes you to get to the hotspot.
- Trim matters. Trim tabs or interceptors will allow you to find the best running attitude for your boat, which will give your top-end and cruising speeds a slight bump while taking a nick out of the fuel expenses. The savings won’t be huge – maybe you’ll pick up a mph, while burning one or two percent less fuel – but you’ll also get a boost in overall comfort. Your boat will be able to handle seas better, smoother, and faster than before. Added bonus: some new interceptor systems, like Imtra’s Zipwakes, can react to changes in a boat’s trim so quickly that they can actually counter the boat’s side-to-side motion and mitigate the effect of waves.
- Hold the paint. Bottom paint adds weight to your boat, while decreasing the hydrodynamic nature of the fiberglass hull. This is a price you’ll have to pay if you keep your boat in saltwater 24/7, but there are a few bottom treatments out there that allow you to keep your boat in the water, seaweed- and barnacle-free, for a week or two at a time. And if you bought a boat with a bottom that was painted and re-painted over time, but the boats’ now kept on a trailer, soda-blasting or getting rid of the old paint away can shave off a surprising amount of weight.
- Gauge your progress. Most modern power systems will display both gph and mpg right at the helm, where you can monitor them – if you bother. And if you have an older boat, installing a fuel flow monitor at the dash will give you the ability to know exactly how much fuel you’re burning at any given time, in any given conditions. Finding the boat’s sweet spot becomes a piece of cake. (Read Take Command of Fuel Efficiency, to learn more about utilizing fuel flow data to find most efficient cruise).
- Juice the juice. Use a good fuel additive, and you’ll not only stave off ethanol problems but will also help your powerplant(s) attain peak efficiency. There are a number of benefits to using a quality additive (we discuss ‘em in Boat Fuel System Health), like Techron Marine, a new formulation for marine use from Chevron Lubricants.
When all else fails and you really need to pinch those pennies, you can, of course, simply pull back on the throttle and slow down a bit. It may take you longer to get to the hotspot and the ride might be a little less exhilarating, but… but… but… Nah, we didn’t think so.