Take the guessing game out of boat battery care

Take the guessing game out of boat battery care

If you spend enough time in a boat, you’re going to have battery problems. The solution? Keep them charged, and don’t try to get by without replacing them every two to three years.

I hate boat batteries. They’re ruthless. But like a romance, if nurtured they won’t turn against you — most of the time.

Over many years of boating, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to keep batteries from going south is to replace them about every two years. The average life span of a battery for your car or boat is from three to four years, according to Chuck Husick, a BoatUS battery expert.

Sure you might be able to get an extra year or so out of a good battery. But to be on the safe side, you can do two things – keep them charged and keep them fresh. It’s a cheap way to keep the trolling motor running and the big engine cranking.

A deep cycle battery is a must for running trolling motors. This is where you don’t want to pinch pennies.

“You need to make three decisions when you buy a deep cycle battery,” said Husick. “How big should it be? How long do I want it to last? What type of battery technology is best for my use? Buy the largest capacity battery that will fit in the battery box. Deciding how long you want the battery to last is more complicated. High-cycle life batteries cost more. However, the cost per cycle goes down as battery life goes up.”

Once you’ve got your boat set up with new batteries, the key to longevity is maintenance. Husick’s advice is to keep it clean and dry. His advice is to avoid using more than 50 percent of the energy of a battery prior to recharging. His best bit of advice is to recharge the battery after each use. That way you know you’ve got cranking power and juice to run the trolling motor every time you’re on the water.

When buying a battery, don’t forget to buy a good charger. What a lot of people don’t know is that battery chargers go bad just like batteries. Also, always keep a pair of jumper cables on your boat, along with a good pair of pliers. The cables can be used to jump from one battery to the next. And the pliers are good for just about any mechanical malfunction, like removing battery cables, etc.

Tips from Texas Marine on boat battery care

Don’t let the “maintenance free” battery in your car lull you into complacency about the battery in your boat. Neglecting a marine battery is certain to shorten its life.

Get the most from your boat’s batteries by following these guidelines:

• Keep idle batteries fully charged. Leaving a battery even partially discharged leads to sulfation and loss of capacity.

• Check the water level regularly. Top up as necessary to keep the level about 1/4 inch above the plates.

• Use only distilled water for topping up; trace minerals and/or chlorine in tap water really do shorten battery life.

• Fill cells after charging. If you fill them before, expansion during charging will pump electrolyte out on top of the battery, causing a corrosive mess and reducing the acid level inside the battery.

• Keep the top of the case clean and dry. Dampness, dirt and acid on the battery case can create a circuit between the terminals that will drain the battery.

• Keep terminals and cable clamps corrosion-free. Use a wire brush to remove corrosion. Coat both terminal and clamp with petroleum jelly (not grease) to prevent future corrosion.