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September 21, 2007

Jacked Up

A Jackplate Raises a boat's engine and fishing productivity.
PICK-ME-UP: Jackplates are a common sight on shallow-running boats.
Photo: Courtesy of Cook Manufacturing Corp.

Conditions were perfect: dead low tide, clear water and not a breath of wind. I knew wads of redfish tails were wagging in Stony Bayou, a Florida Gulf estuary. Would I waste my window of opportunity poling through the rock-infested shallows to reach them? I mashed a console switch, raised my outboard seven inches straight up and idled within easy poling range of the tailers without dinging my prop or chewing up seagrass beds, thanks to my jackplate.

Many flats stalkers have discovered that a jackplate is indispensable for gaining access to the shallow water where trophy fish hide. Here's how they work: A machined-aluminum bracket mounts to the transom. The outboard bolts to a lift plate, so it can be raised or lowered vertically. Jackplates are either manually set or driven by hydraulic pumps.

Manual plates, set with wrenches and bolts, are impractical or impossible to adjust while on the water. But if you can set the engine height and leave it all day, their bulletproof design and low price are worth considering.

Driven jackplates, in contrast, are more convenient because they use hydraulics to raise and lower the engine while the boat is underway.

Besides reducing running draft by raising the engine vertically, jackplates also improve boat performance and fuel efficiency. The engine setback off the transom moves the propeller farther aft into cleaner water where it gets a better bite and provides more torque. A higher engine means less drag and more hull lift and speed.

Choose and Use Wisely

Raise an outboard, and its performance, with a jackplate like this one from CMC.
Photo: Courtesy of Cook Manufacturing Corp.

When buying a jackplate, smart owners match the setback with the engine's horsepower rating and the design of the hull.

"In theory, every inch of bracket setback lets you raise the motor one-half inch and still have enough water to cool the engine," says Mark Pelini, an engineer with Bob's Machine Shop in Tampa, Florida. "It's always critical to maintain adequate engine water pressure. I recommend installing a water-pressure gauge with any jackplate."

If engine water pressure drops in the raised position, lower the engine immediately to prevent damage.

"To find the ideal operating height for speed, performance and fuel economy, get the boat up on plane, then raise the engine until the prop starts cavitating," Pelini says. "Lower the jackplate until the cavitation stops. That will be the sweet spot."

Of course, the ideal height changes with the conditions. Many anglers adjust constantly for performance, raising the outboard to get into the shallows and extend fishing hours.

Plate Tech
Manufacturers, including Bob's Machine Shop and Cook Manufacturing Company (CMC) of Duncan, Oklahoma, build jackplates for any need.

Bob's Machine Shop places its hydraulic reservoir inside the boat to keep out salt water. The units only need grease on the lifting tracks twice a year. The company's most popular model, the Lightweight, weighs 38 pounds and supports engines up to 300 horsepower. The unit has a six-inch setback and sells for $789.

CMC jackplates are hydraulic units with all the guts sealed inside a waterproof housing. CMC uses Nylatron self-lubricating bearings for its brackets, making them maintenance-free, according to CMC's Rick Presley. CMC's universal drive jackplate, the Power Lift 65, sells for $737.

Installing a jackplate is easy if you have access to an engine hoist. Simply unbolt the outboard (without disconnecting the wires and cables) and swing it away from the transom. Bolt the bracket to the transom and re-mount the outboard to the lift plate. It can be done in two hours, according to Presley. Or get a pro to install it for $100 to $200, depending on the unit.

And when it's done, you'll be set to chase the fish, getting there faster, on less fuel, through less water.

Plate Makers
These builders know jack.

Bob's Machine Shop; (800) 966-3493; www.bobsmachine.com

Cook Manufacturing Company; (800) 654-3697; www.cook-mfg.com

Pow'rTran; (800) 466-7697; www.powrtran.com

Stick It
Stop the boat from spooking fish.

DROP STOP: A deployed Power-Pole holds the boat in casting range.
Photo: Courtesy of J&L Marine Systems

Many skiffs or bay boats now sport a device bolted to the stern resembling a scorpion's tail. Called a Power-Pole, it uses hydraulics to drive a fiberglass spike into the bottom, keeping the boat from drifting too close to laid-up fish. The pole deploys quietly in five seconds flat, activated by a remote switch. The eight-foot Power-Pole XL ($1,394) comes with a five-year warranty and lifetime spike replacement. J&L Marine Systems; (888) 442-4900; www.power-pole.com