Batteries – The Lifeblood of Your Boat


Some things that boaters may let slip by as something all that important are the batteries that are found within.  Batteries are often stowed under the deck of the boat.  Maybe they’re placed in black plastic boxes and stashed under a seat.  In most cases, batteries are out of sight and unfortunately, out of mind. Yes, it’s quite possible that they’re forgotten, but boaters should consider them a priority like gas in the tank.

We have to take care of the batteries in our boat.   By not doing so, we can be found dead in the water.  The motor may not start or the electric trolling motor will just not do the job it’s intended to do.

I met with Gale Kimbrough, from Interstate Batteries.  Kimbrough joined me as a guest on the Illinois Outdoors TV Show.  I thought it would be great to have a battery expert tell the viewers all about batteries, how to maintain them, how to hook them up and even how to charge them so they’re ready to go on the next trip.

This is going to be a pretty good show.  Kimbrough did a great job explaining all the technical ins and outs of batteries and I truly believe that the viewers will not only learn a few things about batteries, but also find this show quite entertaining.  Now, I’d like to share some of the tips that I learned from a battery expert when it comes to educating people about that battery that’s hidden somewhere in the boat.

First, let’s consider the trolling motor batteries.  These are deep cycle batteries that are intended for a lot of use and many recharges.  Car batteries, and in the case of a boat’s starting battery are cranking batteries.  They’re designed to give a lot of power up front to get a motor started.

Can you use a cranking battery for your trolling motor?  Well, yes you can, but it will not be operating your trolling motor at peak efficiency.  Too, the battery will not last as long as a deep cycle battery.

Now how about battery replacement?

When you have two (or three) batteries hooked up in a series (for 24 or 36 volt trolling motors) or hooked up parallel (for added power for a 12 volt motor), each battery should be the same type and age.

Basically, to explain it better, you should never add a new battery to run along side in series or parallel with an old battery.  The power will only be as strong as it possibly can be of the weakest battery.  An old battery is like an anchor that will hold down the full power potential of a new battery.

A clean battery is also a happy battery.  Batteries should be clean with a water solution with some baking soda mixed in.  This will neutralize all of that white crusty corrosion that has built up around the battery terminals.

Always disconnect the wires to the terminal when cleaning the battery because even a little corrosion under the connections or washers will cause problems.  After the wires are disconnected wash down the battery and scuff up the lead terminals with a wire brush or battery cleaning brush.  A good clean up job will result in a shiny silvery terminals.  There is also an aerosol spray that you can use on the battery terminals so the possibility of future corrosion is reduced considerably.

Testing a battery can be done with a volt meter or by using a hydrometer.  Obviously, a volt meter is a lot cleaner and more accurate.  You connect the wires to the positive and negative terminals and you should get a reading of about 12.65 volts.  Under 12 volts means you are in need of a good charging.

A hydrometer requires that you lift off the battery caps and suck out a quantity of battery acid with the turkey baster looking tool.  A float inside the glass tube will rise in the liquid and according to the measurements printed on the float, you will learn what shape the battery is in.

When it comes to charging your battery, remember this.  Cranking and deep cycle batteries have no memory.  You can charge them a little or a lot and it doesn’t matter.  They take on the charge you give them and the amount of charge held is based on what level of charge the battery receives.  Obviously it is always best to keep batteries at full charge.

There are basically two different types of chargers.  One is a trickle charger, i.e., one that gives 1.5 or 2 amps charge.  This gives a battery a slow steady charge and it’s best when you have plenty of time to charge up a battery.  Some chargers will monitor the charge as it goes into the battery and will turn itself off when the battery is full.

Another type charger is one that gives about 10 amps.  This is for a quicker charge.  So let’s say you’re on vacation and one day you use the trolling motor a lot.  You come in to your cottage for lunch and plug in your charger so it charges the batteries while you eat.  A 10 amp charger will give your battery a better charge in a short period of time.  Depending on the charger and level of the battery, you can be back in business right after lunch.

Some chargers have a switch to go from let’s say 2 amps to 10 amps.  I have one of these and it works well.  I also have onboard chargers for my batteries in my boat.  They’re quite convenient.

Well, I can probably go on and on about batteries.  But this is some good information to know because they are the lifeblood of your boat.  Keep them clean and well maintained and they’ll never let you down.  Now it’s time for fishing.  Why?  Because great fishing is not that far away.

Interstate Batteries is not a sponsor of Illinois Outdoors TV.

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