• Published:July 2, 2019
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If you own a fishing boat you almost certainly love it.

After giving it some key upgrades, you're going to love it even more!
Among all of the options out there, changing the cable steering to hydraulics, adding autopilot and installing a new radar are three top projects that will change the way you feel about your boat.




STEERING SYSTEMS

For over a decade, every time I ran my boat I fought the wheel. The cable steering started out stiff and only grew worse over time as most systems do. By the end of last summer, I was getting a shoulder ache after every long run. The solution? An upgrade to hydraulics.

Depending on the style of your boat and how it’s rigged, this upgrade can be relatively easy or a major hassle. My boat, a Glacier Bay 22 Powercat with twin 90-hp Suzuki outboards, was a worst-case scenario. Since the outboards are separated by a large fiberglass step and platform, they can’t be connected by a tie-rod or a standard-issue catamaran kit. Fortunately, SeaStar Solutions had, well, the solution… Install dual rams, one for each motor, with a helm assembly and a single autopilot pump kit.

The odd shape and size of the motor wells also presented a challenge, but SeaStar has side-, front-, and splashwell-mount rams so it wasn’t too tough to figure out how to put all of the pieces and parts together. No matter what type of boat you own, it’s almost certain there’s a system that can be pieced together or customized to match.

The difference from cable to hydraulics is night and day. What used to be a fight-the-wheel struggle is now a matter of fingertip control. There’s also an unexpected benefit -- the ability to actually steer a straighter course, thereby cutting cruising times. Since making small adjustments at the wheel is now much easier, over-steering isn’t the issue it used to be and when a wave knocks the boat out of kilter the corrective turn is faster and easier. And with fewer cables and lines, we were able to clean up the rigging.

ADDING AUTOPILOT

When my kids were younger and they joined me on virtually every trip through the inlet, I used to joke that I didn’t need an autopilot because I had them. Then, they went off to college and my “autopilots” disappeared. Those two- and three-hour cruises to the canyons suddenly became a much more significant task. The answer was obvious, install an autopilot system.

With the hydraulics going in, the timing was excellent. If you don’t have hydraulics or power-assisted steering there are some cable options out there, but they’re much more limited. The Si-Tex SP110C autopilot matched up nicely with the SeaStar system. Although the Si-Tex may not have a lot of bells and whistles, it’s NMEA0183 compatible, has a color LCD display, comes with a rate gyro compass, offers course detection of better than one degree, and my favorite trait of all, it’s simple and easy to set up and operate.

On the run out to the fishing grounds, it’s nice to have autopilot, but it’s those long runs home after a full day of fishing that you really appreciate it. While I used to dread steering for hours on end with my personal energy level close to zero, now it’s just a matter of setting the course, pressing a button, and keeping a lookout while the autopilot does all the work.

A NEW RADAR

My boat’s had radar for years, but I remember when it didn’t and I remember how lacking older radar systems are compared to today. Not having a radar didn’t worry me much since I didn’t regularly run at night and heavy fog is pretty rare along the Mid-Atlantic coast where we boat. Until, of course, the day I ran into a fog bank 35 miles from the inlet.

With 20 more miles to go until Poor Man’s Canyon, I slowed to about 18 knots, but kept the boat up on plane. After half an hour of peering into the fog, a dark shape appeared and in seconds took the form of a 40-something sport-fish with its outriggers down and lines deployed. I chopped the throttles, made a 90-degree turn to avoid going over his lines and heard, “Let me guess, you don’t have radar… right?” cackle out from the VHF.

The safety benefits of radar are obvious, and go well beyond being able to see objects through fog or darkness. It provides another way to navigate in case GPS goes down, and also allows you to track incoming storms and their direction of travel. What I hadn’t necessarily expected, however, was the upper hand radar would give me when fishing. Sure, we all know radar can be used to locate birds, but truth be told a good pair of gyroscopic binoculars is better for that task.

When hunting for lobster pot balls (which are often rigged with radar reflectors) to try some bailing for mahi-mahi, however, radar is much more effective. It’s also helpful for identifying the fleet’s location from afar. And when bluefin are tagging along behind the commercial scallop boats, it’s easy to pick out the big returns they provide and nail down your next course-line.

What happens when you put these three key upgrades together? Your boat is not only more comfortable to run, but also becomes a more efficient fishing machine.

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