If you're looking for ways to improve your boat's performance, search no further.
BOAT PERFORMANCE IS ABOUT MORE than top speed and holeshot — unless it’s a race and there’s a checkered flag at the finish. A holistic view of boat performance covers not only how fast the boat goes but how much fun it offers passengers, how comfortable it is, and how easy it is to maintain and operate safely, whether one is alone or has a skier or tube in tow.
The boat, of course, can’t do anything without a driver, and good or bad performance is often the result of good or bad decisions at the helm. It’s not always the equipment’s fault. Sometimes the driver will make a wrong move that makes the boat do really weird, funny things that result in really bad performance. However, proper planning prevents poor performance, and there are ways to improve your boat’s overall running attitude.
01/ Shed the Extra Pounds
Reducing the boat’s overall weight is an important way to save fuel. Aside from ensuring you’re not carrying anything you don’t need — such as your teenager’s barbell set — reducing the weight of common items such as the anchor chain can be effective. For example, a steel anchor chain can weigh three pounds per foot or more, depending on the size of the chain. Having a combination of steel anchor chain and rope can save weight and be just as safe and effective as all steel.
02/ Water Is Heavy
Livewells and freshwater tanks can hold a lot of water, and the extra water means extra pounds. Boat owners with a water-maker or an ice-maker, primarily on sportfishing boats, would be smart to run with the freshwater tank or fishbox empty, and then make water or ice after the long run to the fishing grounds.
03/ Cut the Clutter
It’s common to put stuff on a boat but less common to take it off. Once a wrench, an extra set of lines or even a beat-up wakeboard comes aboard, if it isn’t directly underfoot, it settles into a nook or cranny. That’s all fine until there’s an emergency and the flare kit is buried under an old beach towel, a wetsuit and a 2012 issue of People magazine. If you haven’t used something on your boat in a year,
get rid of it. It’s only going to get in the way.
04/ Mirror, Mirror
If towing a skier or wakeboarder is a big part of your boating, adding a rearview mirror can help the driver be more aware.
“The driver should be in complete control of the driving experience,” said Zenon Bilas, a barefoot waterskiing champion who coaches barefooting and waterskiing around the world out of his home base of West Palm Beach, Fla. “So having a rearview mirror like a car helps me see what’s in front of me and what’s to the side of me, and to look at the skier or wakeboarder and see if any boats are behind. I want to be very visual as a driver and have the observer as a backup.”
05/ Stay Straight
Weaving around like a “drunken sailor” doesn’t just apply to overserved, happy servicemen stumbling around a port town on shore leave. When piloting your boat, take a look aft and check the direction of the trailing wake. If it’s zigzagging back and forth like the aforementioned sailor, the boat’s traveling farther than it needs to, and that wastes time and fuel.
06/ Drive Right
Furthermore, learn how to pilot the boat properly and take a boating safety course through entities such as the United States Power Squadrons. For more than 100 years, local Power Squadrons have helped people improve their boating skills and knowledge in the classroom with certified instructors, outdoors with hands-on training or online. Proper boat operation can often be surprisingly simple. Crossing another boat’s wake at a safe distance at a 45-degree angle is a driving technique that is underrated and often not followed. Your passengers will appreciate it and might thank you more if you remember the throttle works both ways. When in doubt, slow down, which is especially true around the docks, where slow is almost always the way to go. Too much propeller thrust in tight spaces often results in a hard crunch.
07/ Trim Tips
Adjusting the trim of the engine is closely associated with proper driving. Simply put, adjusting the trim of a sterndrive or outboard changes the angle of the prop thrust in the water and forces the boat to raise or lower in the water.
Proper trim makes the boat plane smoothly instead of plowing through the water, which results in a boat that is easier to turn and one that gets better fuel economy. On takeoff, put the trim all the way down for the best holeshot, and then trim the engine up as you gain speed and come on plane. If you trim out too much, the engine will over rev, so tap the trim down a touch.
While it takes practice to trim properly, it’s fun to learn, and in a short time you’ll know the boat is trimmed perfectly by feel and sound.
08/ Propeller Prep
Propspeed is a product you apply that gives running gear a long-lasting, ultra-smooth surface, preventing fouling and giving the boat more speed. It’s a two-part compound brushed onto the props.
In some applications, it can give a boat a knot and a half more top speed and saves a gallon and a half of fuel an hour. If a boat is left in the water, preventing marine growth can be a huge benefit in both maintenance and performance.
09/ Level it Out
The captain’s job is to make sure the boat rides as safely and smoothly as possible. That means you might have to gently suggest (or sternly order) exactly where passengers sit. It’s a task a captain has to handle. Having heavy people in the bow while lightweights are on the aft bench seat may cause poor performance. When towing a waterskier or a tube, it’s important the boat rides level for the best possible wake. Too much weight on one side or the other can cause an uneven wake and may make it more difficult to drive. Remember, the smoothest ride is going to be aft, so if you have children or elderly people who don’t want to get bounced around, position them aft.
10/ Watch the Weather
Choose your weather wisely. Be an early bird for the best water conditions and performance. How often have you gazed out at 7 a.m. when it’s flat calm and said, “It’s perfect right now,” only to get started at 11 a.m., when the wind is starting to freshen and white caps are beginning to form? It’s especially true for watersports, where wind can ruin a day.
“Everything is easier when it’s calmer,” Bilas said. “Whether you are a beginner or really good, when it’s calm, it’s a better experience for the driver and the person being towed.”
11/ Be a Smooth Operator
When one is towing a skier or wakeboarder, providing smooth, steady acceleration helps the skier come out of the water. Maintaining the course and speed throughout the run is vital, and knowing how your engine’s rpm correlates to actual speed increases the quality of the run. In addition, aftermarket accessories such as GPS speed control from PerfectPass can help you maintain that ideal speed. Installation is often as easy as “Plug & Play,” and since it’s based off GPS input, no paddlewheel or speedometer pitot tube is required.
12/ Is Everyone Ready?
Dropping the throttle and taking off like a rocket can be fun, but make sure everyone is ready for such acceleration. Check with every passenger before starting. Tell them, “I’m putting the boat in gear and going to be accelerating.” This is especially true with a lot of passengers or kids, and on bigger boats where people are moving around aft. Listen intently and keep your eyes aware for problems when first taking off. Ask your passengers often if they are OK, and tell them to alert you to problems.
13/ Fuelish Pleasures
Today’s gasoline may contain ethanol, and fuel treatments such as K-100, SeaFoam and Sta-Bil can provide protection against ethanol blended fuels, as well as help clean your engine’s fuel system. Using treatments such as these lubricates upper cylinder parts, for longer engine wear life, and helps protect the entire fuel system from corrosion.
14/ Bottom Line
You might not be able to see problems with your boat’s running surface or running gear, but you can definitely feel a problem. Vibrations mean either a propeller problem or something amiss with the boat’s bottom, such as marine growth or even damage to the hull itself.
Inspect the boat when you pull it out of the water to trailer it, or hire a marine diver to check on the bottom if the boat is always in the water. While it may not be a simple fix, it could be a very important one to correct if it prevents a problem while running at speed.
15/ Shipshape Electronics & Gauges
Having a speedometer and fuel gauge that work (relatively) well can also be a boon to performance. While both speedos and fuel gauges are notoriously unreliable, knowing their individual nuances can make your boating better. For example, a fuel tank can read full almost all day and then drop to half all of a sudden. Knowing that when the gauge is at half really means it’s almost on empty can help you avoid running out of gas. A boat with no gas is an example of extremely poor performance, and you don’t want be that boat owner.