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Outrigger Love: Maintenance Tips and Techniques

Expert advice on properly maintaining your riggers

February 4, 2020
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An outrigger ready for routine maintenance.
An outrigger ready for routine maintenance. Courtesy Palm Beach Towers

In big-game fishing, one of our most important tools is the outriggers. They allow us to present a tangle-free bait or lure spread, and while caring for them presents somewhat of a challenge to most, it’s well worth it. Whether you are on a tournament team, own a charter boat or are a weekend fisherman, your outriggers are a vital piece of equipment, and should be treated with a corresponding level of care and respect. Keeping your outriggers functioning properly—and shining all the way to the tips—should be top priority, because without them, you might as well go bottomfishing.

General Maintenance

After a day of fishing, take the time to give your outriggers a solid ­freshwater washdown. After they are salt-free, be sure to chamois them completely dry with a clean mop. The best mops to use are those with wooden handles. Using an aluminum handle makes it all too easy to scratch not only your boat’s surface, but also the outriggers themselves, which are made primarily from high-polished hollow aluminum. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m doing” more than a mate who’s wielding an aluminum pole with a snapped-on chamois head.

When rinsing hydraulic outriggers, extend the layout arms completely, and rinse the inner hydraulic cylinder with fresh water. Rinsing the layout arms is especially important for maintaining smooth function, in addition to prolonging the life of your hydraulic seals.

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Removal

In addition to your regular daily maintenance, there will be an occasion when you will need to remove your outriggers. Taking them off the boat a minimum of once per year is required, but I recommend that those who fish regularly remove, clean, inspect and wax them more often—up to three times per year. If done correctly, removing your outriggers is relatively easy with the help of some friends, but you can also have them professionally removed and inspected during your annual yard visit.

First, disconnect the layout arms from each rigger, keeping the hardware attached so it isn’t misplaced, or simply set the hardware safely aside. With hydraulic layout arms, unbolt them from the collar on the rigger and extend the arms, taping them to the rigger lock or a safety rail for protection. It’s always a good idea to either tie the rigger in place or keep a hand on it while you extend the layout arm so it doesn’t release from the lock and fall.

Next, loosen the backbar bolts and main base-pad bolts. At this point, it is imperative to protect the tower legs and any other fiberglass or metalwork that might come in contact with the ­outrigger cables. Outrigger cables are notorious for scraping tower legs and rod holders. Foam pool noodles and tape on these areas offer good protection.

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Watch: We take a ride on the Viking 46 Billfish.

The next step will require ­additional manpower. Putting a rope around the outrigger somewhere near the first spreader is best for safety reasons and will help take off some of the weight as the rigger is lowered. Remove the backbar from its collar, lay it forward onto the gunwales, and tape it in place. If your boat has welded outrigger locks, you can leave the riggers locked in, but with ­manual flip-style locks, someone will have to hold up on the outrigger while pressure is relieved from the lock.

While keeping the main base bolt engaged, hold up on the outrigger and release it from the locking arm, being careful not to hit the welded locking arms with the cables, and begin to lower the outrigger. Once the crew has a firm hold of the rigger, remove the base bolt and completely remove the outrigger from the boat; repeat for the other side.

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Be sure all your hardware is together or put it back where it was removed so it doesn’t go swimming. To reinstall, ­simply reverse the process. Although this might seem like a daunting ­procedure, with some help and safety awareness, it is very doable.

Cleaning sport fishing riggers with a toothbrush.
When cleaning, polishing and waxing your outriggers, don’t neglect the details—hardware, cables and turnbuckles included. Courtesy Palm Beach Towers

Inspection

Now that the outriggers are off, take the time to give them a good inspection. Each rigger section should be checked for bends, cracked or broken spreaders and tips, frayed or loose cables, inoperable or damaged pulleys, and missing sleeves and hardware. If you have hydraulic ­riggers, inspect the pump for leaks and ­appropriate fluid levels.

Any replacement parts or spare hardware can be obtained from the manufacturer by providing the set’s serial number. I recommend keeping one or two extra bushing kits and a couple of extra cables, especially if you are traveling.

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When adjusting or changing the cables, I recommend leaving this to the professionals. If you choose to give it a shot, there are some tips to help. Changing a cable is fairly easy, but it’s the tuning that gets a little tricky.

Before removing the old cable, take note if it travels on the top or the bottom of the cable going to the next section. The spreaders are offset so that the cables don’t rub against one another. If you install the cable and it’s touching another, unhook it and move it to the other side. Whenever loosening or tightening the cables, always spin the side of the turnbuckle with the ball that attaches to the rigger. Spinning the end that is attached and crimped to the cable will unwind the cable.

Read Next: Learn how to combat growth in your boat’s raw-water lines.

Waxing

After the outriggers are off and tuned up, you’ll want to give them a couple of fresh coats of wax. Wash the outriggers thoroughly with a soft mitt and mild soap—taking a toothbrush to the crevices on the collars, turnbuckles, pulleys and cables—then rinse with fresh water and chamois-dry. Using a good cleaner wax, lay a thick coat on not only the tubes, but also the layout arms, backbars, tips and spreaders; remove with clean, soft towels after it completely dries.

The stainless-steel cables, ­turnbuckles and pins should also be cleaned and protected. Using IMAR’s Yacht Metals Protective Polish and a stiff toothbrush—and some elbow grease—brush on the polish and remove it by rubbing each wire and component with a soft terry cloth. Apply a final coat of protection to all the outrigger components using Collinite’s Insulator Wax for the next step, ­removing it with clean microfiber towels.

For hydraulic outriggers, fully extend the layout arms, and wash and wax the inner hydraulic cylinders just as you would the outriggers.

There are many things to care for on a boat, so be cautious not to neglect one of the most important tools of the trade. And if you can look at a set of outriggers without your sunglasses on, they simply aren’t shiny enough.

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