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A guide to setting up small boats

December 19, 2019
A guide to setting up small boats

Being completely different to big boats, a good deal of planning needs to be done to kit out your small boat properly and travel in comfort. Forsyth Thompson explains.

Fuel filters

Small boats are going to be wet, there’s no getting around that! The small fuel filters you find on your 15-30hp outboards aren’t as effective as you need sometimes (getting a tow back from Kawau with water in the fuel was enough for me!). It is relatively inexpensive to get an in-line fuel filter fitted (on the transom or nearby), and give yourself a much more robust setup.

Bilge pump

The IRB guys obviously have scuppers, and whilst the 349 bung is on the interior, it simply doesn’t get water out fast enough when you need it.

I run a simple bilge pump with a length of hose just enough to hang over the transom, and went for a size a bit larger than you’d think for a small boat – I want to be able to get water out fast if things go wrong! Also, always have a manual backup even if it’s just a bottle with the top cut off.

Fishfinder​

Given that I do a lot of both LBG and boat fishing, I need a fishfinder which is easily removed, so I have built a very simple removable bracket which has the transducer mounted on it.

When you’re on an LBG trip and space is at a premium, you don’t want a fishfinder and cables in the way, and you don’t want a transducer on the bottom of the boat if you’re beach launching or banging around rocks and foul. Much easier to remove it than break it off!

Lights

Again, removable is the way to go with these for me. There is a good selection available from any marine supplies store, but do yourself a favour and don’t go cheap: small boats are wet and I can absolutely guarantee that you’ll end up replacing them again and again.

The white light I have sits in a (removable) rod holder and, like all the electrics, is obviously hooked up to a simple battery system.

Power

I’ve tried a few different methods of keeping batteries dry and functional, but the best solution I’ve found isn’t actually one I found at all. One of my good mates (Brenton) is about the most practical guy I know, and always working away on some homemade project or other.

He came up with the idea of using a small waterproof Otterbox-type case with waterproof plugs on the front for the adaptors from the various devices and then sealed the holes he made in it with silicone.

I run 2x 12v batteries in it and have it set so I can run 2 devices at a time from it. Getting this right has made a massive difference to the ease of running electronics successfully in a wet environment.

VHF

I’m on my third one in five years which tells a story, namely that waterproof VHFs just aren’t as waterproof as they need to be for small boat use. The answer here is a really simple one – get a dry case for them.

Some guys favour a hard case (again like an Otterbox) and put them in there, but I prefer what I see a lot of kayak folks use which is a dry-bag type arrangement which still allows use of the unit.

If I’m in an emergency situation where I need a VHF, I’d prefer to have it to hand and be able to use it immediately. Cellphones are even worse, and I’m infamous for the amount I broke in the past, up until when I discovered the Life Proof range of cases which have solved the waterproof issue for me!

There are a number of types available and I’ve tested a number of them unsuccessfully: as far as I’m concerned there is no such thing as a really good but cheap waterproof case.

Big success from small boats

Flares

Small boats are hard to see on the water, fact. When you add to that some of the remote places we go, there is no way I’d ever leave without the flare kit, and no-one should ever.

One thing I learned though is that the hard yellow containers with the screw top that the cheaper ones come in aren’t very waterproof. I went to look for them once when we were out on a trip at North Cape (not an emergency situation but conditions had got much worse than forecasted, fast) and found that the flares were in shoddy condition.

Make sure that your flares etc are in a properly waterproof container which you’ve tested yourself – imagine trying to use broken flares in a serious emergency.

EPIRB

​At time of writing I don’t own one, but I know many guys who do and it is something that is on my list of must-own gear for the coming LBG season (for me this starts in April/May). So many areas we cover in small boats, for LBG particularly, are going to mean we have limited VHF coverage because we’re fishing at the base of cliffs or similar, and there’s no cellphone coverage.

If something goes really wrong, there is simply no substitute for an EPIRB. Granted they’re not cheap, but with many of the areas we access being so remote and so far from any practical help in the event of an emergency, the cost simply has to stop being an issue.

So that’s a lot of the main gear covered off, next come a number of things which I’ve tried and used over the years and which simply make life easier on a small boat when you’ve not got much room.

Anchor

I have two, one for if I’m boat fishing and want to anchor on the sand or mud of the Hauraki, and a smaller grapple anchor for LBG. As with all anchoring, the key is to have enough chain, fortunately in a small boat that doesn’t mean a huge amount!

The grapple for LBG is essential: you are without a doubt going to get one snagged and have to drag it out and bend one or more of the tines to get it back.

Mine has been bent and re-straightened more times than I could count, and that’s exactly what you want it to do: don’t go using combination anchors, Danforths and the like, because all you do is keep losing expensive gear.

If your grapple anchor gets stuck, and it will, don’t panic and whatever you do, do not try to drive off really flat out to try to remove it, people have been killed doing this. Steadily increasing pressure while trying to clear it from different directions will always get your anchor back, you just need a bit of patience and the pressure to bend a tine until it comes out.

Always keep an eye out for bigger vessles

Drogue

Even small boats will drift too fast for effective drift fishing and you’re going to need a drogue or sea anchor. The Stabicraft is a super-stable little platform and we can easily fish with two of us standing up and casting in good conditions, but the key is to have the drogue attached not with a rope, but with bungy or shock cord.

The elasticity of it stops the boat moving sharply, makes the experience a lot easier on you and it’s a cheap way to do things. As shock cord is hard to tie knots in, I have a stainless clip on the end and simply clip it off to the boat when it’s needed.

Rod holders

Really good for boat fishing (obviously), real pain in the ass on an LBG trip when they’re just in the way! Like so many things, removable ones are the best answer and there are many options in the market. One of my mates has fixed them to his chilly bin and uses that when it’s in the boat – not a bad use of space, but personally I prefer using mounted ones which I can remove when not in use.

Loading the boat for LBG

On a typical trip I’d have a crew of three including myself, and as much bait and berley as we can manage. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for additional gear, so you need to be smart about what you take.

I’ve been on so many trips where guys (and me too!) have taken rods and reels that never even got set up, let alone used. Similarly gaffs, terminal tackle and food and water. The key thing that I tell guys I fish with, even if it’s a competition, is that LBG is a real team effort.

Everyone has to do their bit with berley, keeping a cube trail going, netting or gaffing each other’s fish, catching liveys so everyone has one, and so on.

This also extends to gear – we make sure we only take what we need as a team, not three individual guys taking everything they need on their own, and by doing that we save a heap of both space and weight. We have one person sorting out food and drink for the group.

In more practical boat terms, we need to make sure that all the safety gear is loaded and that we’ve got access to it if we need it.

Of course always wear life jackets.

Then we come to boat loading: there are obvious things like looking at where you’re launching from – if it’s a beach launch, you probably don’t want to have the boat fully-loaded on the trailer. Get it off the trailer fast and then load it once that’s done.

If you’re going to be going out through surf make sure you’re light enough that if you need to get the boat moving in a real hurry, that you can. An overloaded boat is accident waiting to happen, and when you add in a beach launch to the mix it just isn’t worth it – just to pack lighter or rethink your launching.

You also need to make sure that the weight is distributed correctly for your boat setup, being loaded so you can’t get on the plane is no good at all.

Of course, you all will have your own modifications you make to your boats – we’re Kiwis after all and that kind of thing is in our DNA! But hopefully these tips will help you get the most out of your small boat and be able to enjoy fishing even more.

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