To Upgrade … Or Not

The dead of winter gives many boaters the itch to think about the boating season ahead. If you are among them, you might be thinking of upgrades or changes to accessories on your boat. 

Taking those steps is no different than renovating your home. There are some things you can do, others you cannot. Upgrading appliances, replacing carpet with hardwood, sprucing up the landscaping. All those are doable. No longer happy with the style of brick or siding? You’re better off moving to another home. 

The same goes for a boat. Some improvements are not logical to make and you’d be better off upgrading to a new model. There are also affordable upgrades you can do yourself, or let the experts handle the job for you. Those improvements can add functionality, improve performance and add a touch of style to your boat or trailer. Here are some ideas of things you can upgrade to get you started.



Time to upgrade that tired outboard motor? You might be inclined to shop for a four-stroke outboard if your boat is powered by a two-stroke engine. Don’t go shopping just yet! Not all four-strokes are created equal. If your boat is a pre-2002 vessel, there is a concern regarding which repowering option works best. The reason why is boats from that era and older weren’t designed to handle the additional weight of a four-stroke—the transoms of older boats are incapable of balancing the load. Porpoising, slow planing, poor forward visibility and possible swamping with open transoms are possible. If you must stick with a two-stroke due to either weight or mass, direct injection V6s like the Mercury OptiMax are ideal choices. Sure, you’ll have to buy some two-stroke oil in bulk, which adds to the cost-per-mile of boat operation, but you’ll never have to do an oil change, swap an oil filter or adjust valves, all of which add to annual operating costs. Now, if your boat was originally powered by a four-stroke, you are in luck! First generation four-strokes had one thing in common—they were heavy. Four-strokes are losing weight and upkeep costs are coming down, which should help when repowering an older boat. The best advice is to seek the expertise of a reputable boat dealer before buying. 


Four-strokes vs. Two-strokes

Here is more advice to consider if you are stuck on making the decision—two- and four-strokes are now approaching parity when it comes to weight and maintenance. The decision on which to repower with is easier. The four-stroke’s lubrication system has an oil pan and filter. With two-strokes, a drive train is unnecessary because valve trains (camshafts, belts, chains) are nonexistent. With fewer moving parts, the two-stroke is lighter in weight and offers a quick, powerful holeshot. Internal engine parts are lubricated from oil mixed into the fuel. Decide based on which technology meets your expectations for performance and value. 



Electronics with advanced technology continue to make navigation safer and even put more fish on your hook. If fishing is your passion, high-definition electronic graphs with GPS plotting, sidescan technology and even real-time bottom viewing are no longer a fad. The good news is these once pricey luxuries are coming down in price. You can choose the unit that fits your needs and budget. If cruising is more your thing, navigation systems provide more detailed accuracy than ever, and are worth considering. 



Most of the wear and tear on your boat takes place on the seating upholstery. That’s no surprise. Water, heat and sunshine are part of the everyday boating environment and take their toll on seating. Over time, even the best upholstery will crack, lose the new shine and be more prone to tearing. First, check with the dealership if the time has come to reupholster the seating. Some boat manufacturers offer factory reupholstering services that can match your new upholstery to the original style and color. If you want to update the seating with today’s plush, ergonomically fit designs, then also first seek advice with the dealership about the options. Look for what you need at



Does your boat need new carpet? Consider other options first before you just replace it. Non-skid flooring is gaining popularity for fishing boats and the reason is its ease of cleaning. All it takes is hosing it down and you are done. If you have non-skid flooring, snap-in carpet is another option to consider. Carpet is cooler and easier on bare feet in hot weather, and the carpet can be snapped in or removed depending on the activity. The bottom line is you have options to consider like none before to suit your needs. Reflooring is a job that can be easily handled by the dealership. 


Bimini Top

Awnings and Bimini tops for pontoon and bay boats have come a long way in recent years. Power Bimini tops are the rage with pontoon owners, because they can be deployed and stored at the touch of a button by one person. All around, fabric for tops and awnings is generally lighter, stronger and less prone to fading. It all adds up to a worthwhile upgrade should your boating style be all about keeping it shady in the hot summer sun. 


Rod Holders

Got more rods than you have holders on your boat? The easy solution is adding them. This do-it-yourself project has plenty of options that are affordable and can protect your expensive rod-and-reel combos from breakage or damage. 


Interior Lighting

LED lights have gone from fad to practically standard equipment on boats these days. Brighter illumination is the reason why. That makes navigation lights—at the minimum—worth a look. Accent floor lighting is stylish and adds visibility to the floorboard at night, providing a safety feature that is a good idea to consider. 


Trailer Lights

Hot light bulbs and cold water are a predictably bad combination. Designed to last for about 3,000 hours, filament lightbulbs suffer from thermal shock when they're submerged—a good reason to unplug the lights before putting the trailer in the water. They also get damaged by vibration and grime while on the road. LED lights represent a better way, because they're virtually indestructible and last for up to 100,000 hours. They draw one-eighth the electrical current of light bulbs and activate instantly, so drivers behind you have an extra instant to apply their brakes when you make a quick stop.


Trailer Jack & Winch

Another easy and affordable must-have are the new trailer jacks. Old-style single-wheel models are obsolete, with the newer versions featuring big, wide wheels that roll independently. You can easily maneuver the trailer by hand in a parking lot or driveway. Another part worth upgrading is the winch if your trailer gets frequent use. Updated ratchet systems make for easier cranking, and adjustable length handles can be switched to right- or left-hand drive. 

Any of the above upgrades can be handled by the experts at your nearest Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Center. You can have your boat repowered and upgraded accessories installed at the same location, regardless of the boat brand. 


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