Man watching large boat come into Orange Beach, AL

When Winter Comes, Focus on Boat Maintenance

Although our fishing and boating seasons last for most of the year on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, the weather will finally deteriorate to the point that it’s better to take care of your boat maintenance and get ready for the spring seasons.

I’ve got buddies in Wisconsin who have to go through an extensive process to make sure their boats are ready to go when the weather warms in the spring. They have to remove plugs to drain all the water out of the motors and then pump in RV antifreeze into the outboard or outdrive. 

Luckily for those of us who live in south Alabama, all we have to do is tilt the outboard all the way down and let the water drain out.

But that doesn’t mean we’re good to go. Occasionally, a cold blast will send our temperatures down into the 20s or teens for a night or two. That could wreak havoc on your outboard’s lower unit or outdrive.

Therefore, I always change the oil in the lower unit of the outdrive to ensure there has been no water intrusion that got past the seal. A milky consistency in the oil indicates water, and with low enough temperatures, that water could freeze, expand and crack your lower unit housing, an expensive repair.

Just take a large flathead screwdriver and remove the lower plug out of the lower unit and let it drain into a pan. Loosen the top plug to vent and speed up the process. Give it plenty of time to drain. You can purchase a threaded pump hose at any discount store, sporting goods or marine equipment store to refill the lower unit with fresh oil. Get the proper gear oil for your unit and pump it through the lower plug until it starts to run out the top hole. Reinstall the plugs.

If you discover milky oil, repair the seals before you head out in the spring.

Outboard water impeller

Also, be sure to check your water impeller, which is housed in the lower unit. The water impeller is what injects water into your cooling system to make sure your outboard doesn’t overheat. That stream of water that shoots out of the back of your outboard is an indication of how well your impeller is working. If you have a strong, steady stream of water coming out of that rear water outlet, your impeller is likely fine if it’s not too old. If you have poor flow out of the outlet, it’s likely time to get a new impeller.

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, remove the lower unit and secure it properly. Remove the water pump housing and check the impeller, which is made of rubber. If the rubber is cracked or rigid, it’s time to replace it. The impeller blades have to be flexible to work properly. Also change out the gasket and check the base plate for excessive wear.

Boat Motors

If it seems like a tight fit when installing the new impeller, take a little dish soap and wipe it on the impeller. 

If you’re not mechanically inclined, let a professional install a new impeller. If you use your boat a good bit, you may need a new impeller every year or two.

If it’s more than a year old, replace the fuel filter with a fuel/water separating filter that filters down to 10-microns.

Because I own an older outboard, I don’t put anything but ethanol-free gas in my boat. Numerous gas stations on the Alabama Coast have this option. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s worth it to me. Modern engines will likely do fine on gas with up to 10 percent ethanol, but all marine engine manufacturers expressly recommend you never use E-15 gas in the boat. If you do use gas with ethanol, I recommend additives that ensure you have no fuel separation and keep the gas fresh.

Make sure to keep your batteries charged while not in use. A drained battery can ruin a potential day on the water.

Get the maintenance squared away and be ready for another great day on the water on the Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast.


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David Rainer Blogger
David Rainer (2 Posts)
David Rainer has written about the great outdoors on the Alabama Gulf Coast for more than 20 years. For 14 of those years, he covered the many fishing opportunities on the Gulf Coast as outdoors…