To facilitate driving and operation of fishing related equipment I’ve incorporated some devices into my truck and boats that may assist others who have a little trouble getting around.
Who needs oars with this system?
The biblical three score and ten years is well in my rear-view mirror and I’m a disabled vet with mobility is sues to boot. When they find the boat with my body aboard, I’d like it to be draped over a freshly landed 30-pound springer and with a smile on my face. To delay that event for myself and others I’d like to share with you some things I’ve seen and developed. As with many of us there are lots of parts that don’t function as well as they used to but to some of my buddies I’m known as “the kid.” This is because I can still drive without glasses and row a drift boat, putting me ahead of at least a few of them.
To facilitate driving and operation of fishing related equipment I’ve incorporated some devices into my truck and boats that may assist others who have a little trouble getting around. Some of these will also expand the capabilities of a drift boat.
For people with disabilities and oldsters, falls are one of the more frequent events that can derail or end an angling career. With available technology, getting in and out of a boat or vehicle can be made easier. Safely driving the vehicle and boat to the launch can be facilitated with some equipment changes and additions. A purchase that has twice saved my bacon from bad accidents cost only $60 (see image). The ski boat mirrors that are mounted to a boat’s windshield provide a super wide-angle view that is far superior to the factory fisheye mirrors installed on my truck. These simply clamp onto (no drilling) the mirror’s shroud and let me see what’s in the blind spot, plus, they cost only $30 apiece. Due to their larger size, just a quick glance is needed to see obstacles in your way. When my spouse saw how well they worked she requested a pair for her SUV.
These mirrors just clamp onto the shroud of many vehicle mirrors with no drilling.
These mirrors work well in low light, but electronic blind spot sensors work even better and now seem to be standard on most new vehicles. The most expensive option on my ’21 Ram half ton was a bird’s eye view camera showing everything around the truck and a sensor system that shows vehicles or obstructions along-side the boat or trailer. This suite of options came with sensors and warnings that are multi-level for sensitivity and which will serve to keep you in your own lane by detecting the almost invisible lines at night or in the rain. At the highest setting it will even direct the truck back into the lane forcibly. With this package came variably sensitive backup and braking features that automatically apply the brakes or at least sound an alarm when the radar locates an object ahead or behind. One option that is easily added to an older vehicle is a backup camera system. Other than the obvious reasons, this feature makes hooking up the trailer much easier and tells me when the receiver is over the ball, as well as when an obstacle is in my backing path.
Having the ability to lower the vehicle’s height and be able to step out onto retractable running boards makes entry and exit much easier from a pickup for those who are mobility impaired. When exiting onto a slippery surface these can be a godsend. Being able to raise and lower the hitch ball allows for mating the truck and boat without even getting out of the vehicle. This saves a lot of in and out and having to crank the trailer into place. Being able to raise the chassis of the truck when on primitive ramps saves on dam-age to its undercarriage from curbs, logs, and rocks. For heavier boats and trailers the tow vehicle is automatically leveled to keep the headlights from blinding oncoming vehicles while on the road.
The opportunity to break a hip is found at many boat launches. To minimize getting wet and walking on mossy concrete I have shaped a 5 foot 2x12 plank to go between the dock and the tailgate for either launching or retrailering. The plank is held in place on the vehicle by the tailgate cable. Before backing down, the plank is laid crossways on the gate then slid into place onto the dock when I’m stopped. The system is tip proof if the plank is placed under a dockside tie up bar which holds it even steadier. Getting the trailer very close to the dock allows me safe access while stepping on the anti-skid tape atop the fenders. To assist getting low enough to operate the winch I have attached a foot square platform of diamond plate to (see image) the trailer tongue. While seated on the lowered tailgate I can safely center the boat, attach the hook, and operate the winch with no boots needed.
This non-skid platform makes reaching the bow hook and winch handle safe and easy.
Over the years I have had to rescue five people from the water, and three had to be pulled into the boat. Getting someone who is sopping wet or worse, unconscious, into a boat is a daunting process. A freestanding boat ladder is always in the way in a boat, and it is of NO use if doing a self-rescue because you ain’t in the boat and it is. A feature available on my new Stryker was a small swim platform that has a built in, retractable ladder (see image) that deploys with the push of a button even from the water. Two great features of this device were the cost (under $300) and needing only two through-the-transom bolts to install. This platform also allows for another entry and exit point from boat to dock or onto dry ground with the ladder deployed. By adding anti-skid tape to the inside of the spill well I provided an easy step down to the boat’s deck.
There is not a lot to grab ahold of on the top of the main motor when going in or out. I used a piece of galvanized steel tube and bolted it to the transom after covering it with heavy shrink tube (see image). This made for a sturdy but removable “geezer stick” at the stern. My previous Freedrifter open boat had a similar stick. This boat had a tiller operated pump outboard and was frequently used offshore in rough water or in rapids that made for dicey maneuvering situations. Holding onto the stick with my right hand and operating the tiller really simplified making quick turns and operating safely even in the ocean on swells. The stick is made from 1 ½” galvanized tube steel. It is bent at the top and equipped with a rubber grip just above a 45-degree bend. It is easily removable, secured to the gunnel and clipped to the deck. When I moved on to the Stryker with a windshield, this stick was remounted in the open bow and facilitated easy and stable entry from the dock.
Removable “Geezer Sticks” are a necessity for maneuvering and boat entry safety.
Pneumatic suspension seats are wonderful for traversing rough water even in lakes. I seldom have more than three individuals on my boats, so passengers needing a softer ride are relegated to the aft seating. This allows the bow to do the wave splitting and the passengers a much softer ride on the rear foam seats. That pneumatic seat is a godsend at Buoy 10 or on the open ocean swells with a wind chop.
These pneumatic suspension seats are expensive but wonderful.
At a friend’s suggestion I purchased an extendable handled boat hook knife. Traveling in estuaries one is bound to come across crab pots that have their floats just below the water. The added swim platform would allow me to at least get to the vicinity of a fouled prop. For under a hundred dollars this is just too good to pass up.
My boat did not come with an installed horn and the cost for refills on air horns has gone way too high. I found an air refillable horn that will give you forty “beeps” at 80 psi. The storage bottle looks like a stocky plastic Coke bottle with a protective cloth wrap. I topped it off with my truck’s compressor last fall and I’m writing this in September almost a year later. Just tried it out after its sitting in the glove compartment for nine months and it still had the advertised forty honks. The manufacturer smartly included a simple lever shut off valve that isolates the horn’s tank quite nicely and it is plastic with only a tiny bit of metal involved that has no hint of rust. I attached a plastic whistle that is clipped to the outside of that horn’s bag just in case, and I also keep an 18v battery operated blower and compressor aboard the boat. This allows for pumping up flats on the boat trailer as well as the truck’s tires, and services other inflatables as well with a long-lasting 18v battery.
One of the things that I really detest is having to continually replace flares that perpetually seem out of date at the drop of the inspecting Coast Guardsman’s hat and run about $50 for three flares. I came across a floating, electric flare buoy that was less than $80 and it followed me home. When you try it out, and you will, PULLEASE, don’t look at the light without your welding goggles on!! It runs on replaceable D Cells, floats, and burns a whole lot longer than a dozen of the expensive flares that are easily ruined by only a bit of water. Over the years I have saved my out-of-date flares in vacuum sealed bags. They double as road hazard flares that last years past their expira-tion date. Just for grins I’ll break open a pack of the oldest ones and by golly they work just fine but would not pass muster on inspection because of the date. Kept from water, they seem to have an excellent and indefinite shelf life. Something else the Coasties are always interested in is your fire extinguishers. I always have two available and at hand in the form of pressurized dry powder bottles. Something new on the market is a much longer lasting variety that operates like a flare with a strike ignition system. Upon ignition it exudes a gas that smothers the fire and leaves very little residue. The beauty of this type of extinguisher is the smaller one lasts a full fifty seconds and the larger type keeps working for a hundred seconds. Compared to the roughly fifteen seconds on the dry powder that gives you three times as long to get the job done. There is an excellent demonstration video for this product available online.
We reside in a community with a homeowner’s association and boats stored outside can’t be visible from the street. The gate post clearance on the Stryker is two inches on each side and that’s after negotiating an uphill, “S” shaped driveway in the blind. To do this I laid out painted lines that told me exactly where the left boat tire needed to be to avoid hitting the gate, electric or gas meter. This works great unless it’s dark or the mirrors are foggy. For about $150 I purchased a Bluetooth remote backup camera system that is mounted to fit in the starboard stern rod holder. The viewing screen plugs into the cigarette lighter in the truck. The system allows me to see the gate and the edge of the driveway in poor conditions and at night to avoid those meters. Its light is also a great help in backing down a busy boat ramp inhabited with pedestrians watching their cell phones and nothing else.
Removable, Bluetooth and makes backing a trailer in tight spots easier and safer.
What can be done to adapt a drift boat for seniors or folks with mobility problems? I think the entry doors on Pavoti’s are wonderful! Mine, however, is an 18x60 Willie and it is not a lightweight boat. Just getting it on and off the trailer can be a dangerous effort. Rather than use a plastic bottom or thick, heavy paint-on bottom covering, I have gone to Slip Plate #1. This is a graphite-based coating that does not chip off and is only several thousandths of an inch thick. It may be “rollered” onto a new hull’s bottom or used to recover a Glovit type coating. It is super slippery (enough that when pulling a boat up onto the shore it will not stay), but it does just glide over a shallow rocky bottom. When removing the boat from the trailer I just push it off. The best way to get it water-borne is to hand-push it back until overbalanced and the winch strap is taught. Then back-winch it into the water. One person launching is safe and easy. The same is true for winching it back onto the trailer. This stuff is slick. When it’s time to recoat the bottom, it can be done right on the trailer with a paint roller by just moving it fore and aft while still trailered. A gallon will cover three drift boat bottoms and it costs about sixty bucks. It just slides over gravel bottoms and rocks without chipping as it is very durable and very thin. This product reduces launching passengers out of the boat with sudden stops on rocks!
With a couple of passengers aboard, that big Willie can be a bear to row and anchor. I have devised a “voice-activated” anchor system that does not involve my releasing the oars and only requires about a 20-pound pull for a 35-pound anchor. It’s voice-activated by my telling the passenger to lift the anchor! Another advantage with this system is that a fouled anchor can easily be retrieved because the bow passenger is doing the lifting and the oarsman stays on the sticks. By having the anchor supported by an in-line pulley the retrieval weight is halved, and a swivel is in place to prevent anchor line twist. To return to the standard anchoring system one must only pull the rope out of the top two pullies.
"Voice activated" anchor system that saves the rower’s back.
In some bodies of water gasoline powered motors are prohibited but electrics are allowed.
A bow-mounted electric that is remotely controlled and programmable is fantastic in rivers. It will follow a previously recorded track when the motor is pulling the boat upstream. The boat remains well controlled even in cross currents or breezes. These programmable track motors will stay within five feet on their course upstream. They are ideal for backtrolling or back bouncing and work well for anchorless bobber fishing in tidewater. The base shown for this motor mount is of my own design. It was easy to build and not a lot of work. The prop is located on the centerline and the motor is easily lifted and stowed out of the way as well as being easily removable from the boat by pulling a pin. It is held sturdily in place by one small turnbuckle. If you want to have the ability to launch the boat at the takeout and go upstream, the addition of a stern electric provides me almost 200 pounds of controlled thrust.
I love to jig and troll for kokanee. The bow electric allows me to quietly stay atop a kokanee school and either the stern electric or a 9.9 gas motor allows for excellent mobility in both the drifter and the runabout. To expand the kokanee pursuit, installing a full-sized downrigger on the drift boat was actually pretty easy when mounted on a raised base next to the rower’s seat, and it’s easily removable.
In my drift boat I have three different seat options for operating the stern motor. The drift boat was ordered with a swivel rowing seat base capability. The box upon which the seat sits came with the welded ears that holds the rowers strap seat. The factory dimensions make the space between the ears too narrow to install a rotating seat but by ordering these ears spread another four inches, there was plenty of room to spin the seat without pinching fingers. For a permanent mount the ears may be removed. For rowing, I bought a low-backed, padded tractor seat that is sturdy and comfortable. If the ears are removed only a simple swivel base is necessary to add this seat adaptations. With a pull and lift on the oars, they may be stowed on the gunwale-mounted retractable oar rests which keeps them out of the way for landing a fish. A quick turn of the seat from bow-facing to stern allows immediate access to either the electric or gasoline outboard without standing. For side drifting with a motor this feature is priceless, as the boat operator is facing in the direction of the cast. Over the shoulder hook sets are much more effective. This feature also works very well for pointing a camera after dropping or stowing the oars. For moving comfortably from place to place on the river, bay, or lake, a gunwale-mounted removable high-backed gunnel seat, or a stern-mounted box seat allows for simplified operation of an outboard. A stern-mounted storage box seat facilitates motor operation while facing the bow and keeps the boat well balanced for three passengers (with or without an outboard), plus providing more dry storage.
By adding tracks to the seat box top this will swivel, slide and is removable.
Battery storage is always a problem if you don’t want to give up dry storage under the seats. Having the ability to move the batteries from bow to midship or even to the stern facilitates a proper center of gravity in all directions. If the battery box is also designed as either a step or a seat box, its mobility allows for even more seating combinations. With proper wiring of the batteries, two electric outboards may be accommodated with voltages from 12 to 36 volts for the electric troller. A fish finder, bilge pump, running lights or electric start may be available for the gas outboard which will also keep the batteries charged.
As seen on TV these solar powered, movable lights make for both safety and security.
If you consider the cost of these additional options, they might seem prohibitive. With them, however, the capabilities of a drift boat are expanded to cover a lot more angling venues. Think as well of the of the expense of a broken hip, back surgery or any other preventable medical procedure involving an overnight stay in a hospital. This does not even consider the time away from your sport while recuperating!
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Loved the article on Geezer Sticks. Wonder where I can get a skid plate for my trailer?