March 01, 2021
By Capt. Ross Robertson
Fifty years ago, Scotty was telling Capt. Kirk he needed more power. Roughly 20 years later, Tim Allen still needed more power. We are living in a time period were in many cases technology stills seems to have surpassed our ability to power it. This is arguably the case with anything from your cell phone, to many of the outdoor products we use today. At times, it seems like we spend as much or more time hooked up to chargers than before when we were actually “wireless.”
Here are three cases where improvements in lithium battery technology is changing and improving our performance on the water.
I have spent the better part of two decades watching volt meters in my boat because of the fear I was either going to kill my trolling motor or cranking batteries. It wasn’t that I had bad batteries, it’s just that technology changed faster than batteries did at that point. In the early years, an average sonar/GPS unit would pull less than 1 amp and anglers had one to two units on their boat. Modern-day big, full-color screen units pull as much as 7 amps. Pair that with boats having as many as five of these units and something has to give.
The same could be said for trolling motor batteries. Anglers are using Spot Lock to hold in current for a full day and it is just too hard on conventional batteries. Slowly, tournament pros have been moving over to lithium as their preferred battery type. Initially, cost and even the fine tuning of these batteries to marine applications slowed their integration.
The end result is a battery that weighs half as much, and in many cases, can provide three times the run time. You will pay a premium for this added benefit, but manufactures claim that the added life cycles you get actually make the battery more affordable and more reliable over its life when comparing apples to apples. The added run time/power is so significant, that I find myself not using my kicker engine for added thrust nearly as much as I did before.
Starting in 2021, I will be running a separate battery for just my electronics. It will actually be a separate battery, but the same model Dakota Lithium 12V 100-amp battery that will run my trolling motor. While I have always used five batteries, the fifth was just to jump start when the main battery was depleted too much to turn over the big engine. This setup was necessary because I needed the alternator on my big engine and kicker motor to charge during the day. An isolated battery with no ability to charge would not make it through a day.
Another added benefit of having a battery solely dedicated to electronics is you get much less interference, resulting in a much cleaner display.
I’ve carried a jump box in my truck for about 15 years. The only difference is that with each new model I purchased they get smaller and more powerful thanks to lithium technology. In the case of my boat or snowmobile, this is super important because I just don’t have the extra room like I do in the back of my truck. If you have ever found yourself with a dead car battery in a parking garage you also know that jumper cables can render themselves useless when access can’t be achieved. The same is true in a boat compartment. The two biggest lessons I’ve learned with jump boxes is to select a model with much higher specs than what you require and make sure to charge it a few times per year even when not used. They also are very handy for charging a smartphone or GoPro in a pinch.
A few years back, I adamantly fought using a digital flasher for ice fishing. Looking back, it was just dumb to not make the switch. The clarity, target separation and GPS with mapping on my Humminbird Helix makes it the total package. The downside is it takes more power than what a traditional flasher battery can provide to fish a full day in the cold. The advantage now is that I can run a Dakota Lithium 10-, 18- or 23-amp battery on any size LCD fish finder unit and still fit it in the carrying case, with some slight modification on the biggest models. A hidden benefit is that in many cases you can cut your battery weight in half, which is a big deal rather you are dragging it or hoofing it my hand.
A newer ice toy to the game is Humminbird’s Mega 360. If you think a 5- or 7-inch unit pull power wait till you see what a 10 or 12-inch unit pulls. While I won’t split hairs on the size factor and how nice it is to have a bigger screen with the 360, a majority of ice anglers are using it with a large screen unit because it is one that they have pulled off of their boat. No need to get a second unit, but there is a need to get a battery large enough to power it. A Dakota Lithium 18- or 23-amp battery will fit ice packs and fulfill the needed run times in most cases.
A Dremel made quick work to cut an additional groove in the ice cases plastic bottom to add a battery strap, which helped confidently secure the battery.
While jumper cables aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon, knock on wood, I haven’t used them in years. With the use of lithium batteries that is a realistic goal.
Capt. Ross Robertson