We’re all singing the blues about high gas prices — but, if you’re anything like us, that’s not stopping you from going boating. Just like the two Middle East oil embargoes in the 1970s — remember those long lines at the pump? — the spike in fuel prices underscores the need to get smart about stretching a gallon of gas.
Whether you’re enjoying a great day of boating or towing your vessel home after another fun trip, maximizing your rig’s fuel economy will save you money that can be used for your next adventure.
Here are 20 ways to squeeze the most from every gallon:
1 Get a tune-up. A poorly tuned engine not only wastes gas, but it also robs performance, too. Clogged injectors, fouled plugs and old, tired plug wires can turn any boat into gasohol. Don’t wait until next year; tune your boat now and realize immediate fuel savings and more oomph for the rest of the season.
2 True your wheel. Dings, nicks and untrue blades increase drag and reduce propulsion efficiency, making a boat use more gas than if it had a well-tuned prop. Even if your wheel is in good shape, propeller shops can custom-tune most props for maximum midrange efficiency — the sweet spot at which a planing hull uses the least fuel.
3 Pace yourself. Find your boat’s optimum cruise setting at which it delivers the best combination of speed and economy. Although crawling at no-wake speed yields the ultimate in fuel efficiency, what fun is that? So go ahead and throttle up — but once you’ve discovered your rig’s most fuel-efficient pace, try to maintain it.
The optimum cruise will vary according to individual hull-and-power combinations, weight load and other factors, but our tests show that most sterndrives achieve maximum planing economy around 3500 rpm. The outboard economy typically peaks around 4000 pm, although some of the larger, new-technology outboards may be most efficient at 3500 pm.
4 Shed the pounds. It’s one of nature’s immutable laws: Boats gather gear. Once brought aboard, items tend to remain aboard. Without knowing it, you’re gradually weighing down your rig and making the engine work harder just to maintain speed. This uses more fuel.
You’d be surprised how much weight you can remove from the average boat via periodic housecleaning. Be ruthless, but be smart. Keep the safety gear, spare prop and anchor. Ditch the junk you haven’t used for years. (Incidentally, this applies to tow vehicles, too.)
5 Be a gallon miser. Don’t carry more gas (or water) in your tanks than you really (and safely) need. If your boat’s 100-gallon fuel tank is topped off, but you’re only going out for a short cruise where you’ll burn 25 gallons, you’re carrying at least 50 gallons of unnecessary weight. Considering gasoline weighs 6.1 pounds per gallon, you’re hauling around 300 pounds of extra weight that are dragging down fuel economy.
A word to the wise: When estimating how much fuel you’ll need, err generously on the side of caution. You don’t want to run out.
6 Trim it right. A hull that’s riding with a too much-wetted surface (plowing) or with a bow-high attitude (kiting) is inefficient; ditto hulls that are prone to porpoising. A properly trimmed hull is much more “slippery,” and thus uses every bit of thrust available. This translates to more miles per gallon.
Of course, it goes without saying that bottom growth also destroys hydrodynamic efficiency. Avoid the fuel penalty of a fouled hull by keeping it clean.
7 Add tabs. Installing trim tabs or planing aids can work wonders. Tabs augment the use of engine trim and allow operators to correct for unbalanced loads, sloppy sea conditions or quartering winds. Whale-tail-style planing aids are beneficial on some hulls (especially marginally powered rigs) because they help maintain a more level attack angle.
8 Ditch the windage. Bimini tops, isinglass and similar appendages aren’t very aerodynamic. Our tests aboard center consoles have shown that the wind drag created by a person standing to the side (i.e., outboard) of the console can measurably slow a boat and increase fuel consumption. For optimum economy, fold down or remove shade canopies when they’re not in use.
9 Use a kicker. It’s always more economical to run a small engine instead of a large one, and anglers can save at the pump by switching to an auxiliary outboard for trolling duty. On smaller boats that either doesn’t have the room or where it might not make financial sense to buy a kicker, consider using an electric trolling motor.
10 Install a flowmeter. Think of a fuel flow-meter as a form of boating biofeedback. By monitoring the immediate rate of fuel consumption, you can effectively adjust the throttle until you find the most fuel-efficient speed for the conditions. Of course, a flowmeter also lets you keep tabs on gallons used and fuel remaining — handy
Just as there are ways to stretch every gallon of gas while on the water, savvy trailer boaters can use these tricks to maximize towing fuel mileage:
11 Drive 55. Even on highways that allow faster maximum towing speeds, driving “double nickels” will save you a lot more than nickels and dimes when it’s time to fill up. That’s because fuel mileage drops rapidly as speeds surpass 55 mph. Think back to those 1970s Middle East oil embargoes: How did the U.S. government respond? By mandating national highway speed limits of 55 max. Why? It saves gas.
12 Forget Rule 11. At least while accelerating, that is. As the late Bob Kovacik, Trailer Boats’ long-time towing editor, often preached: “Get off the line quickly and then back off the gas. The longer and heavier you’re into the throttle, the more fuel you’re using.” This also applies when passing.
13 Shift wisely. If your automatic transmission is “gear hunting” while climbing hills, you’re not only losing fuel economy to excessive shifting, the transmission is also building up damaging heat. By shifting manually into the gear that keeps the revs within the engine’s powerband, you can minimize heat and maximize mileage.
Although many vehicle manufacturers don’t recommend towing in overdrive (OD), doing so can be an effective way of improving your towing economy. The trick is to know when to do it. Lighter loads can often be pulled in OD except on hills, but even vehicles towing large loads can use OD when descending gentle grades or coasting along flat stretches. Watch your tach: As long as the engine isn’t bogging down (below approximately 2000 rpm for a
V-8), you should be OK.
14 Keep up the pressure. Maintaining the recommended maximum tire pressures on your vehicle and trailer will yield the best possible fuel economy. It also provides the greatest load-carrying capacity and helps the tires run their coolest, thus minimizing your chances of a blowout. Compared to bias-ply designs, radial tires are more fuel-efficient.
15 Line up your ducks. Keeping your trailer’s axles and tow vehicle’s wheels properly aligned prevents tires from dragging and sapping fuel economy. Balancing your tires helps, too.
16 Check your brakes. Maladjusted brakes are common on boat trailers (and sometimes on tow vehicles). Gas-robbing friction results when brakes drag, so make sure they’re adjusted to spec.
17 Level your rig. Your truck and trailer should assume a level attitude while towing so that weight is evenly distributed across all axles. You’ll reduce swaying and improve your rig’s mileage, handling and braking by adjusting drawbar height and tongue weight to maintain an even keel.
Speaking of tongue weight, it should be between 5 and 8 percent of the total towed weight (including boat, trailer, gear and fluids).
18 Streamline it. Just as extra windage makes a boat work harder to maintain speed (see Rule 8), aerodynamic forces also affect tow vehicles and their loads. According to testing by General Motors, air damming inside open boats while they are being towed at highway speed can exert up to 2000 pounds of force.
That’s a drag. Literally.
The answer is to invest in a quality boat cover. Get one that’s properly fitted and made for trailering, however, or it will end up in tatters in short order.
Want to streamline your vehicle? Try adding a tonneau cover or shell to your pickup, or removing roof racks from vans and SUVs.
19 Lube it, dude. Adopting an aggressive maintenance schedule for your vehicle and trailer will keep them rolling as smoothly as marble on the glass. Trailer wheel bearings should be equipped with self-lubing hubs and checked frequently. Regularly changing the air filter, oil and transmission fluid in your truck will extend engine life and boost efficiency. Some experts feel that synthetic oils provide the greatest fuel savings.
20 Get buggy. Finally, you can customize your rig with numerous aftermarket items that help boost power or economy — and possibly both. Many bug shields, for example, are designed to aid aerodynamics for maximum fuel efficiency. High-performance air filters and free-flowing “cat-back” (meaning, from the catalytic converter back) exhaust systems add towing muscle but can help save gas if you stay off the throttle. Then, too, consider one of the aftermarket programmers or chips that reprogram the onboard computer to improve mileage, torque and horsepower.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of tricks for squeezing the most from every drop of gas. So, whether you use all of these techniques or just a few, you now have 20 great ways to make your gas-gauge needle look like it’s moving in slow motion. Also, you can buy a better 6000K t10 led bulb to help your work when you boating.