Electrics Offshore – A New Level of Precision

Ben Knaggs give us some great information about Electric motors that is a must read if you are contemplating purchasing one.

GPS equipped bow-mount electric motors are a total game changer for tweaking lures for fish like coral trout

GPS equipped bow-mount electric motors are a total game changer for tweaking lures for fish like coral trout

Modern Australian fishing is all about technology. The switched on sportfisho of today is always looking for the next innovation that will improve their fishing, navigating the spendthrift road of near useless gadgets and gismos along the way to suss out the must-have gear that will result in more fish coming to the boat.

Bow-mount electric motors are one such game changing innovation. Granted, bow-mount electric motors are nothing new, having been prominent in sportfishing worldwide since at least the early nineties. But nowadays electrics aren’t just for tinnies and bass boats fishing the estuaries and impoundments. Affixed to the bow of your typical 4.5-7 metre trailerboat, an electric motor can make a huge difference to offshore fishing for everything from snapper to marlin. In my opinion, the perfect sportfishing trailerboat cannot be such without a bow-mount electric. Here’s why.

Electric Advantages

When electric motors first came to popularity, the main advantage they were spruiked as delivering was that of stealth. While the ability to sneak up on fish under near silent running electric power is still a significant benefit of electric motors, on larger boats fishing deeper waters, the major advantages of a bow-mount ‘leccy are a bit different. Today’s current crop of bow-mount electric motors are really quite sophisticated bits of kit. Integrated GPS makes them much more than just low thrust power plants. GPS enables dynamic positioning which is a fancy way to say a modern bow-mount electric to act like an electronic anchor. Offshore this is nothing short of a boon.

Shaft length is critical when fishing offshore so that the prop remains in the water at all times.

Shaft length is critical when fishing offshore so that the prop remains in the water at all times.

A bow-mount electric is the most convenient anchor you’ll ever own. With the mere press of a button you can keep your vessel right on a spot with unparalleled accuracy. The smaller the ground or school of fish you’re fishing over, the more beneficial this feature is, particularly for fish that are fussy or holding sight to structure.

Since installing a bow-mount electric on my trailerboat, this position lock feature has been little short of a revelation. With that sort of hands-free positional accuracy, it’s possible to work fish holding ground – and particularly small ground like a tiny reef edge, a weedbed, or a rubble patch – extremely methodically. This is something you just can’t do on the drift, and isn’t overly practical nor easy to do rocking the outboard throttle. From bouncing plastics or vibes in shallow where the targets might be coral trout, right through to jigging metals in 200 metres or more for amberjack, jobfish and bar cod, that ability to position right over the spot and stay there with no fuss at all results in a pile more fish to the boat.

The other major advantage GPS integration within a bow-mount electric provides is hands free, semi- or completely automatic manoeuvring. Most modern bow-mount electric motors have the ability to store waypoints or trails and automatically navigate to or along those points. Whether slow trolling, casting lures along a reef edge or simply covering broad areas of likely ground, this allows you to systematically work a beat and winkle out any fish in attendance.

Similarly, you can use this functionality to slow troll live baits over bait schools without spooking either the bait or the predators. This is a tactic that can be useful on anything from mackerel right through to marlin, once again showing what a worthwhile tool a bow-mount electric can be in the armoury of an offshore angler.

Few larger trailerboats are factory designed to take a bow-mount electric motor, so a solid, well thought out base plate will need to be welded or glassed on aftermarket.

Few larger trailerboats are factory designed to take a bow-mount electric motor, so a solid, well thought out base plate will need to be welded or glassed on aftermarket.

Selection and Installation

So those are some of the major advantages of bow-mount electric motors on oceangoing trailerboats. Now to the challenges. There are precious few offshore capable trailerboats on the Aussie market that are designed to take a bow-mount electric, so after market installation is always going to be a bit tricky. A mounting plate of some description will usually need to be welded or glassed in by a well skilled tradesman, and this should be mounted as far forward as possible (while keeping in mind the need to offset the motor to keep the shaft when stowed from getting in the way) to reduce drag and maximise the motor’s efficiency.

One option to consider is installing your electric over the bowsprit, replacing or incorporating into your vessel’s bow roller and anchor cleat. This positioning means the motor will cope as well as possible with strong wind or current, and is a smaller sacrifice to the vessel’s capabilities than you may at first surmise. Trust me; you won’t be dropping the anchor often once you have a ‘leccy on the bow!

The next issue to consider is the output power requirement, which in the world of electric trolling motors is measured in pounds of thrust. Now the best advice I could offer here is to choose a ‘leccy that delivers the highest amount of thrust you can afford, fit on the boat, or have the capacity to power your battery bank (more on that later). As a general guide, an average sized offshore trailerboat of around 5.5m will require an electric capable of producing at least 80lbs of thrust.

A bow-mount electric requires its own dedicated battery bank.

A bow-mount electric requires its own dedicated battery bank.

Just as important as power output is the unit’s ability to deliver that output through the prop, and to overcome this issue we need to look at the motor’s shaft length versus its position above water on the bow. Offshore, the up and down wave action on a vessel will invariably lift a bow-mount electric’s prop out of the water, which obviously hinders its ability to function. Therefore, the longer the shaft length, the better, so that prop stays beneath the waterline in anything less than really choppy conditions.

Without significant modification or customisation you are constrained to the maker’s specifications on ‘leccy shaft lengths, which is why it’s great to see electric trolling motor manufacturers now producing models with longer shafts and easier stow/deploy mechanisms, specifically to cater to the offshore trailerboat market. These newer models are also able to deliver impressively high thrust output on small boat friendly 12 or 24 volt power systems.

This latter point is an important one because a bow-mount electric requires its own dedicated battery bank. Simply hooking your ‘leccy up to starter system is asking to get stuck offshore with dead batteries. Unfortunately, batteries are heavy things for a small to mid-sized trailerboat to lug around, making available power a limitation on how long you can operate a bow-mount ‘leccy offshore.

Because of stronger wind, current and larger boat size in an offshore situation, it’s a given that power draw from a bow-mount electric is going to be much higher than it would be on calmer, inshore waters. That issue of battery weight and limited underfloor or dry space on a trailerboat usually means you can’t just throw bigger batteries at the problem, so an alternative solution is to incorporate a solar panel into the system. Now obviously this will require its own dry, open space (ideally the top of a cabin or bimini) and well thought out wiring with trip switches to stop power surges frying the unit, but it’s a worthwhile investment to extend the working time of the system.

With the greater positioning control a bow-mount electric provides, you can expect your offshore jigging results to drastically improve, particularly on more wary species such as red emperor.

With the greater positioning control a bow-mount electric provides, you can expect your offshore jigging results to drastically improve, particularly on more wary species such as red emperor.

Like a lot of relatively expensive trailerboat accessories, bow-mount electric motors took quite a while to find mainstream acceptance within the Aussie sportfishing community. Their next step into the offshore domain has likewise been a slow burn, but once you’ve experienced the advantages one of these teched-up gadgets can deliver offshore, you’ll never go back!

Ben Knaggs

About Ben Knaggs

Born and bred in South Australia, Ben’s love of fishing developed from a very early age and evolved to become an obsession which would ultimately shape his life. Actively involved in fishing related journalism from his mid teens, Ben has written articles for most Australian fishing titles and served as editor of Saltwater Fishing magazine for eight years.

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