Save Money and Fish More
  |  First Published: December 2008

Petrol prices are one of the big talking points in regard to fishing from a boat these days. From the ultra-high powered tournament rigs to the family cruiser and offshore rig, everyone is looking to save money somewhere with their fuel.

I did some research recently on just how much fuel anglers are using and how they go about saving fuel (money) while fishing. From all the hype we garnered some easy tips that boaters can use to save fuel and save money. These tips are simple, although some do come at some initial cost, and just might save you enough money to get you on the water more. And let’s be serious we’re not going to stop going fishing are we?

I spoke to a cross section of boaters to get a broader idea of the steps some were taking to get the best fuel economy. The list includes Tim Morgan, Darren Milgate, and James Cullen.

Tim Morgan is seasoned tournament professional and one of the best known anglers in Australia these days. He works for Humminbird full time and is on the water a lot – he therefore goes through a lot of petrol. This has meant that Tim has had to learn how to conserve petrol.

Honda professional boat driver and racer Darren Milgate has always been at the pointy end of fuel use. By its nature his competition racing demands he knows how to get the best performance from a boat and with 20 years plus of boat racing experience, there is not much Daren does not know about the subject. He is a Marine Technical Specialist for Honda Marine offering technical advice to dealerships including how to set up a boat properly and how to prop a boat properly. His other duties include testing and advising on all the new Honda models that hit our shores, so he knows what he is talking about when it comes to fuel economy.

James Cullen is the manager of the busy Stones Corner Marine in Queensland. He has worked in the industry for over 10 years and has a wealth of boating experience in the creeks and bays in South East Queensland. James is very passionate about ensuring his customers get the best from their rig or outboard and this attitude has kept customers coming back to Stones Corner Marine (07) 3397 9766.

So let’s cut to the chase and discuss some of the points this team unearthed as great fuel saving ideas.

1. Trim the boat right

Darren Milgate is a big advocate of trimming a boat so it runs at its peak economy. Most boaters do this by feeling the boat under them but Daren suggests there is a much better way to do this.

“Trimming a boat correctly is critical in maximising efficiency and reducing fuel usage,” said Darren.

“The use of fuel flow instruments is critical in determining the best trim position as it gives you fuel usage and does not rely on subjective feel from the skipper.

“An example of this is when we recently did some testing on a Sailfish running two BF150 Honda outboards. This boat is operated by the NSW National Parks and wildlife service on the Hawkesbury River and low fuel consumption is very important as it increases their range for their daily activities.

“We got under way and I asked the operator to get the boat at their normal cruising speed. At this speed the fuel use for both engines was 56 litres per hour.

“I then proceed to trim the engines up and down without touching the throttles to find the best litres per hour reading on the fuel flow gauge, The fuel use went down from 56 to 39 litres per hour.

“This is a saving of approx 30% just from adjusting the trim while monitoring the fuel use gauge. With fuel savings like this it would not take long to cover the extra set-up cost of fuel monitoring gauges that can be retrofitted after market sale or you can buy as an extra with most Honda outboards over 40hp,” finished Daren.

James Cullen says trimming the boat right is crucial not only to fuel economy but will also to improve the ride quality.

He said that Darren Milgate was right that fuel flow metres will more accurately provide details about trim position and fuel economy, but they are not always viable or practical in small, tiller-steered boats.

“I encourage people with smaller boats to spend some time testing their boat by adjusting the outboards tilt pin. By adjusting the tilt pin the attitude of the boat when underway will change due to the thrust line of the outboard; this will result in one of two things – improved performance (speed and fuel) or less performance, the key is finding the position that best suits your regular load and usual conditions that you going boating in and once you find this position your economy will improve,” said James.

One last word of advice James gave was not to set and forget the pin setting on a little tinnie as it may need adjusting as conditions, loads and use change over time.

2. Better Prop Choices

Ensuring the correct propeller choice is critical for fuel economy, top end speed and hole shot (i.e. getting the boat out of the water at start up). In most cases a good stainless steel propeller will make a boat run more efficiently, yet they are far more expensive than standard propellers. The extra cost of a stainless steel prop should pay for itself in fuel savings over time.

Too many boat owners worry about their speed at a certain RPM, they should be more concerned about their outboard operating within the recommended range in which their outboard has been designed. Setting up to achieve a certain speed at a certain RPM is like pissing fuel in to the wind: It usually results in an outboard not performing optimally across the RPM range for fuel and performance (either bottom end or top end).

“Many boat owners go down the path of sourcing non-genuine propellers believing it is the only way to gain improved performance,” said James Cullen.

“I applaud their effort in seeking the best out of the outboard but through my experience outboard companies like Yamaha will have a prop that suits that particular motor and set up.

“They have spent thousands of hours and many hundred thousands of dollars more than you will in designing and testing props to suit their outboards for different applications.

“I suggest it always pays to seek advice from your outboard manufacturer through their dealer network, finished James.

To best assist you the dealer will require information about the current performance of your rig. They will need to know the size of prop, pitch and diameter, the maximum RPM with regular load, the mounting height of the outboard and your opinion of performance in turning situations and hole shot. With this information the dealer will be able to advise a propeller that will deliver an improved result.

Keep in mind that when a change is made to a boat for example load, application or configuration, the performance can change and it is possible that a different prop is required. This is common when a family buys a second hand boat with a new application in mind rather than the original application the boat was setup for.

3. Lead Feet Empty Wallets

Driving your boat sensibly is the easiest way to increase fuel economy. Research has shown that fuel economy can be essentially doubled if anglers will follow a few simple rules when it comes to running their rigs.

Tim Morgan says "Unless there's a good reason to do otherwise, don't run the motor at full throttle. You only waste gas and accomplish nothing. Slow down, save gas and go fishing."

And although Tim doesn't worry about fuel savings during a tournament, he tries to conserve otherwise, saying, “Saving fuel costs is a matter of common sense.”

“Running a big tournament rig is not cheap at the best of times, so anything I can do to save a dollar or two will see more money in my pocket, which literally means more time on the water to me,” said Morgan.

“In a pre-fish I cruise around at about half to three-quarters throttle and try to trim the boat to perform at its best and most efficient. I am not in a big rush, so why waste the money blasting around everywhere?” finished Morgan.

4. Upgrade to save

This brings us to engine selection.

With so many years running around boats Honda’s Darren Milgate knows that it is generally more efficient to run a larger engine at about 3/4 throttle than it is to run a smaller engine at full throttle.

“I recently monitored a repower of a houseboat at Echuca on the Murray River,” said Milgate.

“The boat was fitted with a 60EFI four stroke that was using 8.2 litres per hour to push the boat at maximum hull speed.

“The boat was then fitted with a Honda BF135 outboard and at the same boat speed the fuel used dropped to 5.9 litres per hour. That's a 28% reduction in fuel use by selecting the correct engine for the task” said Milgate.

“In some cases it might actually make financial sense to upgrade your motor,” says Morgan.

“With some of the newer model outboards the fuel usage is about half what it was in the older models throughout the entire rpm range – and that is across just about every brand of outboard in Australia.

“Upgrading to the newest, more efficient and environmentally cleaner outboard won't make sense for everyone, but if an angler fishes several times a week it certainly will, said Morgan.

5. Clean up below

Another great way to save money on the water is to clean up the mess below the waterline on your rig. Everything that breaks the dynamical design of the hull will cause more fuel to be used if you run at the same speeds.

Things like speed pick ups, transducers, boarding ladders, overflow hoses and anything else that may hang below the hull will all cause your boat to run less fuel efficiently.

James Cullen suggests that the motor height is important when seeking fuel efficiency; finding the optimum height for an outboard to deliver performance and efficiency can take many hours of testing, something many people are not prepared to pay for. And this is just as important in small tinnies as it is in large boats as it reduces the gearcase drag allowing the propeller to rev more freely.

“There are rules of thumb on what is the correct outboard running height but in my experience each boat with a different hull, hull configuration, application and outboard can vary widely,” said James.

Most retailers of boats have a good understanding of what suits the package they are selling and setup their boats accordingly to give the best performance and the best fuel efficiency,” said James.

6. Maintenance matters

It's hard to overemphasize the importance of properly maintaining your motor and rig. Just like a car, an outboard runs more efficiently if it is serviced at the appropriate intervals and is operating at its peak performance. Maintenance and upkeep pay for themselves in fuel savings, not to mention the comfort you have knowing your rig is in the best shape it can be in.

Both James and Tim recommend that you keep your propeller tidy with clean edges as a knocked around prop is like having flat tyres on your car: Not very efficient.

James also suggests you use the correct fuel or oil mixes as money can be wasted for no performance gain by using something other than what the manufacturer recommends.

“Yamaha for instance, on two stroke outboards up to 30hp, recommend after run in a fuel oil mix of 100:1. The outboard has been designed to operate with this mix with no risk of harm, however I have many customers that say they are running 50:1 in other outboards in the past so they will continue to do so – they are simply wasting oil which equals money,” said James.

7. Lighten your load

As anglers we carry a lot of gear that will not be used in a month of Sundays, so we need to ask ourselves, so I need all this excess gear on board?

Take the time to rationalise what you carry on your rig every trip out. The extra kilograms of weight make a massive difference to fuel use. Little things like not having the livewell or bait tank full of water, cleaning out last trips gear and generally cleaning out all the accumulated gear you have stored in your boat over the years.

James Cullen says “Know, know, know your boat - it should be a song.”

“People should get to know their boat intimately, know their fuel usage, know the trip they are about to undertake as most excess weight is often in the form of reserve fuel. If you are planning on going boating on a trip that you frequent and you have never used one full tank why carry three tanks with fuel? But equally, make sure you have emergency fuel as saving a dollar on fuel running costs is not going to help if you run out of fuel because conditions turn nasty,” recommends James.

8. Trailer rather than run

Tim Morgan does plenty of fishing with a hectic tournament circuit keeping him on the water a lot. He knows the efficiency of his rig and the efficiency of his car and to save the most money on any given trip he will drive his rig to the closest boat ramp to where he is going to fish rather than drive his boat there.

“My car uses about 15 litres per 100km when towing my tournament boat,” said Morgan.

“In contrast, my tournament boat, while being nearly two times as efficient as older outboards, still uses about 45 litres per 100km of water travel. That’s about three times less fuel used and is a major saving,” finished Morgan.


Setting up your rig for maximum efficiency isn't easy. There's more to it than your prop, motor and boat. Gross weight, weight distribution, motor height, weather and weather conditions all play a part. You may want to hire a professional to help. Yes, they charge money, but so does the gas station.

I hope this has given you a few things to think about when it next comes time to use your fishing rig. By being sensible with how you set up, use and power your rig, you just might find that you have extra money in your pocket.

And now that we’ve saved those extra dollars, we’d better head down to the nearest tackle store and spend it quick smart.

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