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Boat blaze is a reminder of the importance of boating prep

Ahead of fishing opener, NWS shares weather forecast; DNR shares Minnesota fishing facts

Paul Christianson took photos of a boat fire on Clamshell Lake and later came to learn the blaze was likely caused by fuel fumes in the bilge. Submitted Photo

In anticipation of this weekend's walleye and northern pike fishing opener, boat owners who are just taking their crafts out after a long, cold winter are reminded that there are important procedures to prep their boats for fun on the lake.

Some steps should be taken every time they venture out, as one unlucky boater learned early last month on Clamshell Lake while watching their boat go up in flames.

An unnamed boater and his son were getting ready to cruise on the water. The boat was still on the trailer when they started the motor and had an immediate, unpleasant surprise.

"He cranked the engine and it kind of immediately blew the floorboards up just a little bit," said Paul Christianson, who has a house right next to the landing.


Christianson saw the fire and spoke to the boat owner while awaiting the fire department's arrival.

The likely culprit was a buildup of fumes from the boat's fuel inside of the bilge. Turning over the engine not only started the motor, but ignited the mixture of gasoline and air.

"On every inboard and inboard/outboard boat you have a blower. You're supposed to run it for about three minutes before you start the boat. That takes clean air from the outside and recycles the air in the engine."

— Ross Krautkremer, service manager at Nisswa Marine

Boaters should remember to pump all the air out of the bilge before they start their engines every time they are out on the water. It's an easy step to forget and an easy mistake to make. Luckily, this time there were no injuries, though the boat was quickly engulfed. The back of the vehicle hauling the trailer sustained damage as well.

"On every inboard and inboard/outboard boat you have a blower," said Ross Krautkremer, service manager at Nisswa Marine. "You're supposed to run it for about three minutes before you start the boat. That takes clean air from the outside and recycles the air in the engine."

Christianson said he will use the mishap he witnessed as a reminder.


"I have mine winterized in the winter and I bring it to the marina and store it. Then in the spring I get a notice and they 'summerize' it."

— Paul Christianson, boat owner

"I do let mine run, but I'm going to be even more adamant about doing it all the time now," he said.

It's an important reminder that boat ownership comes with maintenance and preparation to keep a boat running well and safe. Some maintenance and prep starts before the boat gets to the lake in what storage and service professionals call "summerizing."

"I have mine winterized in the winter and I bring it to the marina and store it," Christianson said. "Then in the spring I get a notice and they 'summerize' it."

"People should get their boat ready even before they get to the landing," said Krautkremer. "They should check the engine, make sure batteries are charged and that it turns over. Then check around the engine for any rodents in the winter that could have made a mess or anything that's flammable or could fall into the engine."

If there are foreign objects in the engine, they should be carefully removed. For mouse nests or similar debris, a vacuum cleaner could do the job.

Once the boat arrives on the water, it may be hard to resist, but people should remember to stick around the landing for a while before taking off to avoid being stranded far from land if something does go wrong. Being considerate to other boaters, they should navigate to a space near the docks, but without crowding other arriving or departing boats.

"Once it's running in the water, leave the engine hatch open and look and verify that you don't have water coming out any place that it's not supposed to on that engine," Krautkremer said. "Then, before you leave the area of the boat landing, bring it up to temperature and make sure the cooling system is working. A lot of times the impellers will go out over the winter and you might overheat because the water from the lake is what cools the engine, but then it might not be sucking water."


If the temperature gauge does not stop at a reasonable temperature, the motor should be turned off and the boat should be brought in for service. Krautkremer said people also want to make sure that if they have an outboard motor, they can see it expelling water from the proper outlets as this will be a good indicator of whether the motor is cooling properly.

Some places that offer both storage and service will perform these checks before the owners get their boats back in the spring; however, Krautkremer said boat owners can easily do these checks themselves.

"It's nothing you really need a dealer to do," he said. "It's all visual. It's nothing overly complicated. You just watch the temperature gauge and if it gets up to 200, then it's not pumping water."

Of course, it is also imperative that boat owners check their boats after they are taken out of a lake to ensure removal of any plant materials and to make sure all water is drained to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species.


Minnesota fishing seasons open for walleye, bass, trout in lakes, and northern pike on Saturday, May 15. Following is a lakes area weekend weather forecast, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth:

  • Saturday, May 15: A chance of showers. Partly sunny with a high near 65. Southeast wind 5 to 10 mph, with gusts as high as 15 mph.
  • Saturday night: A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy with a low around 46. Southeast wind 5 to 10 mph.
  • Sunday, May 16: A chance of showers. Partly sunny with a high near 67. Breezy with a southeast wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.


Following are Minnesota fishing facts courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:


Anglers and waters

  • There are about 1.4 million licensed anglers in Minnesota.
  • About 500,000 people are expected to fish on Minnesota’s opening day of the walleye and northern pike season.
  • Minnesota has 11,842 lakes, 4,500 of which are considered fishing lakes. There are more than 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams.
  • Average annual expenditure per angler in Minnesota is about $1,500.*

Participation and the economy

  • Fishing contributes $2.4 billion to the state’s economy in direct retail sales, ranking Minnesota third in the nation for angler expenditures.*
  • Fishing supports nearly 35,500 Minnesota jobs.**
  • Minnesota ranks second in resident fishing participation at 32 percent, second only to Alaska.*
  • Most resident anglers are from urban areas. However, a higher percentage of people living in rural Minnesota fish compared to the percentage of people living in urban areas who fish.*

Fishing habits

  • Significantly more time is spent fishing on lakes than on rivers and streams.*
  • The average Minnesota angler spends 15 days fishing each year.*
  • Walleye are the most sought-after fish in Minnesota, followed by northern pike and muskie combined, then panfish, bass, crappie and trout.*

Visit mndnr.gov/LicenseDollarsAtWork for more information about how the DNR spends fishing license dollars, and select a Fisheries area to find local information.


* 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation , (U.S. and Minnesota reports) U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

** Sportfishing in America , January 2013, produced by Southwick and Associates.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.


Firefighters put out a blaze on a boat at the Clamshell Lake boat landing April 10. Submitted Photo.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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