CHINOOK — Thanks to exuberance about great fishing, the Buoy 10 fishery brings boats of all sizes and seaworthiness to the Columbia each season. Fishermen begin showing up in May and ports get progressively busier through August into September. Taking care of fishing vessels is a huge job.
“August is nuts,” said Dale Hughes, owner of Chinook Marine Repair. “If the fish stay here and the weather stays good, we’ll have a busy September.”
The business services several hundred boats annually, but August and September are the busiest for the five full-time employees.
“For three weeks, the Buoy 10 season is pretty much an onslaught,” said mechanic Bernie Wilson.
Preventative maintenance is often an afterthought, particularly when the fishing is good.
“Nobody takes any preventive maintenance on their boat until it’s time to go fishing,” Wilson said. There’s little room to spare on the lot as boats over every size crowd nearly every inch.
“When fishing get super good, that’s when a lot of junk comes out of the brush, people want to throw a battery in it and take off,” Wilson said.
A simple fuel filter is often the reason many boaters become stranded each season. Some problems arise from using improper fuel, particularly with new boat owners. Not all gas stations carry ethanol-free fuel, a requirement for some marine engines, which sometimes leads to people putting the wrong fuel in their marine tanks.
“We’ve got flyers and bulletins on Yamaha and Honda (engines) that say do not use ethanol fuel in the outboards, but people do it anyway,” Wilson said.
“When ethanol sits in a fuel tank, water separates out of it, then you just fill your carburetor or outboard (with water).” Bigger engines with larger filters can be more forgiving, but smaller outboards with smaller fuel filters and carburetors are more susceptible. And it doesn’t take a lot of water to ruin an engine, according to Wilson.
“When you’re talking about water in an outboard, you’re talking pinhead-size drops,” he said.
Marine engine care has evolved over the years.
“In the old days, they said keep your fuel tanks topped off,” Wilson said. “Now they say to run them down.”
Wilson suggests getting the boat serviced at the end of the season instead of waiting until the next year. Unlike a car where service schedules are based on mileage, with boats it’s all about hours. He recommends an oil change after approximately every 100 to 150 hours of use on the water.
“A lot of people don’t put 100 hours on in a year, but even if you don’t, you still should get it serviced every year at least,” he said. A regular service includes an oil change, new fuel filters and lower unit lube.
“If someone doesn’t have a good water-separating fuel filter in their system, then we install them,” Wilson said. Depending on the boat and the engine, the price is typically between $200 to $500.
Frequency of running into debris or animals — from logs to submerged shipping containers to sea lions — increases as more boaters crowd the water during the Buoy 10 season. So far in 2017, two boats have been brought in for engine repairs this summer after suspected collisions with sea lions. Shake N Bake, a tuna-fishing charter based in Ilwaco, spent a couple weeks in the Ilwaco Boatyard after a collision with an unknown underwater object earlier in the summer. The crew suspected it was a log or shipping container. Bent propellers and busted lower units are the common result.
“Nobody usually knows what it is,” Wilson said.