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Turn Your Fishing Boat into a General-Purpose Boat

Adding a few new features can make it a vessel the whole family will enjoy.

Turn Your Fishing Boat into a General-Purpose Boat

Many bass boats, bay boats, center consoles and other fishing boat models are designed for a single purpose: catching fish. Their decks are open and relatively free of built-in furniture and cabinetry that could interfere with fishing. Most of the stowage space on board is dedicated to storing tackle, bait and fish. If these boats have a hard or soft top, it is usually small, so it won’t interfere with an angler casting a line. These are “lean, mean fighting machines.”

But most anglers have families and friends who also like to go boating – and their idea of a fun day on the water may not be sitting for hours watching to see if anything bites. With the recent rise in popularity boating has enjoyed, we have been seeing a trend toward fishing-boat owners outfitting their vessels with new equipment that can help turn their single-purpose crafts into general-purpose boats.

“You see more and more boats that started out strictly as fishing boats and are turned into family runabouts by making two or three little additions,” said Jimmy Houston, host of “Jimmy Houston Outdoors” and a member of the Mercury Pro Staff.

For example, one of the most exciting family activities you can do with a boat is towing the kids behind it in an inflatable tube. If your fishing boat has enough power to pull the tube, it is easy to convert it to a tow-sports platform.

“If you are going to tow an inflatable tube from a bass boat or center console boat, you need to have something you can tow it from,” Houston said, adding that marine dealers and retailers offer a variety of aftermarket towing solutions. “Most boats have two rings on the back where you can clip a towing harness, but on some boats, you can remove the back seat and add a tow bar,” he said.

If you are planning to tow tubers, water skiers or wakeboarders from your fishing boat, Houston also recommends installing a wide-angle rear-view mirror at the helm. “Most states require them,” he said.

In addition, riders and water skiers, as well as swimmers and snorkelers, need to have a safe way to re-board the boat from the water. Some dedicated fishing boats do not have a swim ladder, however, or only come with a small one. Houston, who operates the Jimmy Houston Marine boat dealership in Park Hill, Oklahoma, said, “I order all my boats with a ladder.”

Whatever water sports you plan to pursue from your boat, it’s also essential to have the right life jackets on board.

“When you are fishing, you want to wear a life jacket that is comfortable. Anglers tend to use inflatable PFDs. But you need different life jackets for water sports,” said Phil Indekeu, private label manager for marine distributor Land ‘N’ Sea®. He added that Seachoice®, a Land ‘N’ Sea brand, offers a wide variety of sizes and styles of PFDs for on-water activities like fishing, tow sports and paddle sports.

For a guide to choosing the right life jacket, click here

If scuba diving is your passion, you can add a dive tank rack to your fishing boat. There are several types available, ranging from portable racks to units that bolt onto the transom to stainless racks that mount to the back of a leaning post. Be sure to look for an option that won’t impede your fishing activity.

In addition to equipping your boat for watersports activities, there are other features you can add to increase the comfort level of everyone on board. For example, an onboard head can extend the amount of time you and your guests stay out on the water. If you have a center console that is not already equipped with a head, consider purchasing a portable marine toilet or “potty” to keep in the console. If your boat does not have a compartment large enough to fit a person, a small, pop-up tent can provide the privacy needed to use the head.

Protection from the sun, such as a Bimini top or sunshade, can be another desirable upgrade for your boat. Philip Osborne, vice president of marine parts and components provider, recommends a telescoping shade solution you can attach to a rod holder, hard top or T-top. When closed, it is small enough not to impede fishing action. When open, however, the fabric provides sun protection for the cockpit or other areas. “This is an easy-to-install item that can greatly expand the amount of shade on board,” he said.

Osborne also pointed out that there are other aftermarket items boaters can purchase to enhance their time on the water, such as portable barbecue grills that mount in a rod holder and rigid-sided coolers with cushion tops that provide additional seating on board. “You can add a backrest to them as well,” he said.

Most of the items mentioned above are either portable or can be added to your fishing boat as DIY projects. There are other upgrades to consider, however, that would need to be installed by a dealer or boat service yard. For example, adding or upgrading a chart plotter, radar unit or other electronics equipment can help to increase your boat’s cruising capabilities.

If your vessel is powered by Mercury, upgrading to the VesselView® onboard information system will allow you to monitor and control your boat from an intuitive LCD screen at the helm or the VesselView Mobile app. “If you are going to expand beyond day boating and take your boat for a weekend camping trip, for example, then having a clear picture of your fuel efficiency becomes important. VesselView gives you that,” Osborne said.

A VesselView display or a Lowrance® or Simrad® display connected via VesselView Link will allow you to use Smart Tow® and Cruise Control from the touch screen. Both are handy for tow sports. For more information, click here.

Adding systems and equipment like this to turn your fishing boat will not only broaden its appeal for your family and friends, but it can also make it more competitive with other general-purpose boats on the market.

“New boats are becoming more and more feature-rich. Adding these products provides an opportunity for existing boat owners to emulate these new boats and expand the capabilities of their boat,” Osborne said.

So, if you’re looking to add some recreational functionality to your fishing boat – something that will provide even more opportunities for spending time on the water with family and friends, there are some great options available to you. You can try a simple modification like adding a towbar to enhance behind-the-boat activities to upgrading to a VesselView onboard information system. Whatever you end up doing, just remember that time on the water is sacred, so get out, be safe and enjoy!

Lowrance is a registered trademark of Lowrance Electronics, Inc. Simrad is a registered trademark of Kongsberg Maritime AS Stock Co. All other trademarks belong to Brunswick Corporation.

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