Can a Trolling Motor be used in Saltwater

Powerful Outdoors

Can a Trolling Motor be used in Saltwater

Anglers can catch more fish by using electric trolling motors. The electric trolling motor has made its mark on freshwater fishing, whether it’s used to reposition your boat for the perfect cast or to track down finicky trout with trolling spoons.

These same advantages have piqued the interest of serious saltwater anglers. Personally, I enjoy fishing in saltwaters in Bahrain located in the Arabian Gulf, and an electric trolling motor could make the experience much more enjoyable. However, I’ve heard that using a freshwater trolling motor in salt water is the quickest way to kill it. Is this, however, correct?

I decided to do some research and testing to really discover if it’s truly possible.

So, can a freshwater trolling motor be used in saltwater? Yes. In saltwater, a freshwater trolling motor can be used without immediate damage. Metal components, on the other hand, are more prone to corrosion. After using a trolling motor in salt water, apply a thin coat of oil or grease to exposed metal and rinse it with fresh water. Remember that most manufacturer warranties do not cover damage caused by saltwater use.

Let’s go over what I’ve discovered and why you might want to invest in an electric trolling motor for your next saltwater adventure.

A note on manufacturer warranties

Always read the manufacturer’s warranty before using a freshwater trolling motor in a saltwater environment. Companies such as MinnKota and MotorGuide, for example, void warranties on freshwater trolling motors used in saltwater.

If you value your warranty, avoid using it in saltwater. Always consult the user manual and contact the manufacturer if you have any concerns about using it in salt water.

If the proper precautions are taken to protect it, your motor will most likely be fine in saltwater. Eventually, you should use your own independent judgment based on the model of trolling motor you own and how frequently you intend to use it in saltwater.

Preventing corrosion from your trolling motor

Freshwater trolling motors are not designed to be corrosion resistant. It’s simply too costly to add stainless steel components and additional rust-proof coatings if they’re not required. If the motor is allowed to dry between uses, freshwater does not rust metal easily.

In contrast, saltwater is a different story. Even brief exposures can result in severe corrosion of unprotected metal components.

That’s why taking a few simple precautions before you hit the water can add years to the life of your trolling motor.

To reduce water contact, coat exposed metal with grease or oil. Most applications are suitable for corrosion preventatives such as WD-40, Corrosion Block spray, or marine grade grease.

Corrosion Block spray is the best all-around rust preventative I’ve found for trolling motor metal parts and electrical connections. One 12 oz can last for several trips and is reasonably priced on Amazon. It’s also ideal for a variety of other marine applications. You won’t be sorry if you keep some on hand.

Coat the mounting brackets, prop nut and pin, shaft, metal fasteners, and any electrical connections liberally with your preferred oil. When I feel that extra protection is required, I dab a dab of marine-grade grease on the transom lock-down bolts.

Using corrosion-resistant products helps to protect freshwater motors from the ravages of saltwater. Keeping this in mind, never leave a boat moored in saltwater for an extended period of time. Irreparable damage will occur at some point.

The importance of rinsing your trolling motor with fresh water

If you only do one thing to extend the life of your trolling motor, make it a habit of rinsing it with fresh water after using it in saltwater.

All it takes is a quick rinse with a bucket or garden hose at home. Begin at the top of the shaft and work your way down to the lower unit and prop. Take care not to spray the control head. Spraying the control head forcefully may expose sensitive electronics to water. Wipe down all other surfaces with a damp rag instead.

Contact with unprotected metal causes saltwater corrosion to begin immediately. The best way to prevent rust from forming is to rinse your boat with fresh water as soon as you remove it from the water.

In your vehicle, keep a jug or plastic bottle filled with fresh water. Once the boat is back on the trailer, use the bottled water to give the trolling motor a quick splash. After that, you can do a more thorough cleaning at home.

Spending the extra time to apply corrosion-blocking spray and rinse the motor with fresh water will go a long way toward ensuring years of trouble-free operation.

Electronic component failure

One common misconception is that saltwater will harm the electronics in freshwater trolling motors. It is widely assumed that saltwater shorts out power connections.

The truth is that trolling motors’ lower units are sealed to prevent leaks in both salt and freshwater. When power is applied to electrical connections exposed to water, whether fresh or saltwater, they will short out. The issue is a faulty seal, not the type of water.

Now, I will admit that saltwater is harsher on rubber seals than freshwater, so premature leakage may occur if the motor is not properly protected as described earlier.

Excessive salt spray and splashing on the control head of a freshwater trolling motor should also be avoided. Many freshwater motors do not have watertight seals on the control heads, which can lead to electrical damage. You should take this precaution whether you fish in freshwater or saltwater.

Trolling motors designed for saltwater

Trolling motor manufacturers such as MinnKota, MotorGuide, and Watersnake have recognized the popularity of saltwater trolling motors. As a result, each manufacturer has a saltwater line of motors available for anglers who want to use their boats in protected bays and other coastal environments.

Here are some of the features that make saltwater trolling motors more durable and safe to use in these harsh conditions:

  1. Internal and external components that are corrosion resistant
  2. Electronics that are completely encapsulated (lower unit, auto pilot components and control head)
  3. Coatings that are resistant to corrosion

All of these features come at a premium price, but they may be worth it in the long run. Standard maintenance is still needed to keep the motor running. All trolling motors should still be rinsed with fresh water after use, according to the manufacturers.

Final thoughts on trolling motors

Using a freshwater trolling motor in saltwater is not the end of the world.  With general care and some added precautions you can use your freshwater trolling motor without much trouble.  

For those of you who need more robust trolling motors for harsh conditions, check out the MinnKota Riptide and MotorGuide Saltwater trolling motors to get the best saltwater protection.

Check out my other blog posts!

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