By Cap’n Larry Jarboe
The warm spell that we experienced last month in February almost convinced me to de-winterize my boat and head up to the warm water discharge canal at the Chalk Point Power Plant on the Patuxent River. The thought of cranking in a nice mess of ten pound channel catfish nearly overcame the realization that I would have to re-winterize the boat when real winter returned. Instead of fishing during those balmy days, I prepped my boat, trailer, and truck for the day when I can launch my rig without fear of future freezing weather.
One of my projects during this spell is securing and mounting a “Plan B” motor for the inevitable day that the single inboard engine in my 20’ Shamrock fails to allow me to return to the dock.
Plan B is usually not a problem with twin engine boats. In fact, other than increased docking maneuverability, the get home insurance of a second engine and running gear is the main reason anyone would want twice the cost and maintenance of a single screw vessel.
Tow insurance is a good idea for the vast majority of us who have single engines in our boats. However, if you are twenty five miles up the Patuxent River in January trucked deep in the Chalk Point discharge canal, it is going to take a while before your friendly towboat operator from Solomon’s Island gets to you. Maybe, you should install a “Plan B” motor.
It does not take a very big outboard motor mounted on a “kicker bracket” to take you home at three or four knots. I used to run a 25’ diesel powered 6 passenger fishing/dive boat from a campground in Key Largo. I mounted a spring loaded anodized aluminum marine outboard motor bracket on the port side of the dive ladder at the stern of the boat. In the forward cabin, I kept a 5 horsepower 1965 Evinrude Angler outboard that was stored upright clamped to another simple bracket. This kept the outboard from bouncing around and the float in the carburetor bowl from sticking. This is the fundamental reason to always store outboard engines upright. The plastic gas tank full of pre-mixed fuel was stored in the stern under the broad gunnel.
Twice, once on a fishing trip and once on a dive trip, I was able to use the outboard to take the boat home when a mechanical problem occurred that was not repairable at sea. In both events, we had a fine time putt-putting back to the dock telling boating adventures and fish stories. The divers even gave my mate and I a twenty dollar tip which is remarkable. Most divers, me included, are notoriously cheap.
A very reasonably priced means to make headway when the main engine or marine drive train fails is to use an electric trolling motor. Most well equipped boats have a couple of heavy duty batteries that will power an electric trolling motor for a few hours. That should be enough to get you to a safe dock from most river and Bay locations. The electric trolling motor is a good affordable “Plan B” choice for trailerable boats in the range up to 20 feet.
In the Chesapeake Bay area, a marine rated trolling motor is the proper match for a smaller boat. Freshwater electric trolling motors are not designed to meet the corrosive rigors of saltwater immersion. During this cold spell transition to Spring, I chose a Minn Kota Riptide 45 that was delivered new to my door for less than three hundred dollars. Before my first trip out this Spring, it will be mounted and wired for use.
Not only will I have a cost effective “Plan B” motor to avoid the hassle and embarrassment of being towed home, but I will have a time tested motor to try out some slow trolling techniques for white perch after limiting out on striped bass. In the past, I have paddled home with a tee shirt tied over a crab net or sailed in using my Bimini top. Though these are still options, they are relegated to “Plan C” and beyond. Now, I think a spinning prop connected to a working motor is the better idea.
You have numerous options to get your boat back to the dock when the power train fails. If you take a little time and investment installing a system that works for you, it can pay back big dividends in saved tow charges. Plus, it makes you look like a well prepared, smart boat operator. Someone might even call you Captain when you help them get back to the dock after a mechanical mishap. Please, stay safe and don’t forget “Plan B”.