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Don’t let batteries ruin the day

August 25, 2017
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

During the dog days boat maintenance chores are the last thing on most folks' minds, or in my case on my mind, but not getting done.

Today I decided to buckle down and address one of boat ownership's most important and never ending maintenance issues.

Today was battery day on two boats using a total of seven starting and deep cycle batteries that were all crying for water and a good terminal-wire end connections clean-up.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

If your boat is less than 23 feet, there is a good chance you may have to lose 12 inches in height, grow 12-inch arm extensions and be able to pour distilled water upside down to service the batteries in many poorly laid out or space limited center consoles.

Do boat designers live in the real world?

My bay boat was a giant pain to service resulting in an expensive re-thinking and relocating of wiring and batteries, but in the end worth every penny as filling and cleaning is now a breeze.

Keeping batteries topped off with distilled water (only) is a given. Evaporation slowly lowers the water levels till plates are exposed. That usually means a no-start Sunday with out-of-town friends and family, especially kids and family know-it-alls standing on the dock. All are now battery experts saying, "Sounds like you've got a dead battery!"

Don't be that guy, Captain!

Battery rule No. 1 - Distilled water and a little summer sweat is cheaper than new batteries.

No. 2 -Don't overfill the cells. Most recommend filling to the bottom of the fill hole, under the battery cap. Do not fill to the top of the hole or high up in the tube as it will spill or boil out while charging.

After filling, clean and dry the area and the caps. Reinstall them tightly. Use a plastic turkey baster to fill and a rubber mallet to make sure caps are secure when replacing over the fill holes.

No. 3 - Make sure batteries are securely strapped/anchored to the floor. Batteries take a tremendous pounding while underway in choppy seas. Unsecured batteries slamming up and down not only ruins them, but are an obvious safety hazard.

No. 4 - When not on the water keep smart-charger connected to the batteries 24/7, supplying a trickle or maintenance charge will keep them healthy. Batteries left in an uncharged state live shortened lives.

Many sources and manufacturers tell you to remove battery caps when charging to vent the gases produced during the charging cycle. I recommend you research that for yourself and make your own choices.

Personally, I make sure the space is well ventilated but don't remove the caps. Since I don't overfill I've had no charging issues in decades.

Clean all wire connections going to and from the battery terminals. These days it's common to have three or more ring terminals (circle wire ends) under the terminal wing nuts going to bilge pumps and electronics and your heavier main cables which equals more places for corrosion, or a bad case of the not starting, not charging blues.

Remove all connections and clean both sides of ring terminals with a wire brush as well as the terminal post and underside of wing nuts and put it all back together.

While the ring terminal connections are removed, carefully pull on each ring terminal and make sure it's solidly connected to the wire. Often they look good but are internally corroded and pull right off. Better to find out now before heading out to sea.

Many like to coat the terminals and connections with a special grease-like compound that isolates them from the corrosion-causing salt air.

Another much easier summer maintenance chore is to change out that fuel water separator filter that prevents ethanol sludge from entering the engine.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-440-1621 or



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