Personal responsibility is the first step to overcoming a problem. If your boat is guzzling more fuel than a one-ton truck, you shouldn’t be blaming the boat—you should be looking inward, namely to the owner of the boat. Unlike an alcoholic, the boat isn’t making the decision how much to consume—it’s consuming fuel based on a lot of factors—such as drag from the hull or the prop, but mainly the reason revolves around the captain.
Fuel prices have plummeted, but let’s not kid ourselves. Getting out of the habit of burning fuel foolishly will make life easier not only now, but also when prices start their climb back up, even if that which goes up doesn’t come back down. We’ve provided some fuel-saving tips on turning your fuel-guzzling boat into something that drinks much more responsibly.
Clean Your Filthy Bottom
The first thing to do is to get to the bottom of it—your boat, that is. Ideally, your boat should be in dry storage, but if not, your boat hull below the water line is constantly in an environment where organisms such as freshwater algae thrive. Organisms attach to the hull, much like barnacles on the hulls of saltwater vessels, thus creating hydrodynamic drag. Merely cleaning your hull will cut fuel consumption. A fresh coat of anti-fouling paint prevents growth. If your boat has seen several paint jobs, consider blasting the hull first, then have a smooth bottom paint reapplied.
Lose Excess Weight
Though pontoons and deck boats boast lots of extra space, there’s a time and a place to pack the kitchen sink (though now that I think about it, I'm not really sure when that is). Don’t be a pack rat—only take those things you’re going to use, or may use in emergencies or if weather conditions change. Ditch the towables if you’re only going fishing. Do a little cleaning at the beginning or end of the season—take out the unused equipment, and either get rid of it, or only put it back in the boat when you think you’ll need it.
One thing you may want to consider is only filling up the fuel tank with the amount of fuel you think you’ll use that day, plus 20 percent as a safety reserve. That’s only if you’re planning on not going far that day. If there’s any doubt, the weight that comes from a full tank will always be worth it. You do have a little more leverage, however, when it comes to the amount of water in your water tank. Don’t top off that tank if you’re not staying out long.
Ever heard of the expression “a well-oiled machine” when applied to the way someone or something runs? Your boat IS a machine; therefore, you should keep it in the best possible shape to achieve the highest fuel efficiency. Perform basic routine tune-ups, such as checking and replacing the oil and spark plugs, correcting injection timings, properly adjusting valve clearances, tuning injectors/injection pumps, etc.
Ever watched someone in a pickup in the lane next to you gun it like he’s trying to escape the cops, when in actuality he’s just trying to show off or get to his destination faster? As soon as I see the truck hit the speed of light (or at the very least hit the very next stop light), I always think about how much money that guy burned in a matter of a couple seconds. Your boat is the same way. Reduce your speed when you don’t need to run wide open. The magic number for road vehicles has been 55 mph for optimum fuel efficiency, but in your pontoon you’ll need to find the speed that maintains plane but isn’t vaporizing gas like a snowflake on a hot stove. Use a fuel consumption chart from your engine manufacturer to find the engine speed that will be the most efficient.
Pay Attention To The Prop
Is your prop aluminum? If it is, swap it for a stainless steel prop. You can gain 1 to 3 mph by making the switch, because aluminum flexes more than steel. You’ll increase fuel efficiency as well as speed, because your motor will be turning at the same RPM as the prop. Also, check to make sure your propeller isn’t nicked or dinged, which will add fuel consumption as well as cause engine wear.
Monitor your gauges—RPM, fuel and speedometer—to find the most efficient speed. On top of that, consider installing a fuel flow meter. Like a heart monitor, it monitors activity in real time, thus helping you find and establish your boat’s most efficient cruising speed at whatever conditions—because it must be pointed out that changing conditions, such as a choppy lake surface, will change the most efficient speed. Fuel flow meters cost around $350 or so. Or, you can calculate fuel mileage by dividing total distance traveled by gallons when you fill up. Keeping a record, you can find the average speed for the optimum fuel flow. In addition, you can consider installing a trim tab meter to help you more evenly distribute weight on board.
Taking small steps now will make a big difference in the long run. Besides, the more gas you save in your boat, the longer you can stay out, and the more essential aftermarket products you can add to your boat!