Will My Trolling Motor Work in Saltwater?

Many anglers prefer using trolling motors to get around. Whether yours is powered by gas or electricity, the trolling motor you bought is designed for freshwater use. If you wanted to go fishing in the ocean, would you have to detach the motor before your trip, or could it endure the salty conditions?

Trolling motors can work in saltwater, however, you must rinse the motor when you wrap up your day of fishing. Applying anti-corrosive sprays or other treatments is important as well to maintain the condition of the metal components within the motor. You must also replace the rubber seal periodically to prevent motor leaks.  

In today’s article, we’ll talk further about whether using a freshwater trolling motor in saltwater is wise, what the implications are for your warranty, and how to prevent damage to your motor. You won’t want to miss it, so keep reading! 

Will Saltwater Damage a Freshwater Trolling Motor?

The average electric trolling motor consists of a control box adjacent to the motorhead, a motor indicator panel, a deploy lever, a motor mount, a depth collar, steering housing, fall-away ramps, the motor shaft, the power motor, and the propeller.

We’re sure you’ve seen your trolling motor up close and personal before, so you should be aware that a good handful of these parts are made of metal. You’re worried about what the impact will be of fishing in saltwater considering yours is a freshwater trolling motor.

Well, we won’t sugarcoat it. Salt and metal aren’t the best of friends. The longer the metal parts of your trolling motor spend in the salty waters, the higher the risk of corrosion. 

That said, the corrosion is preventable, as we hinted at in the intro and will talk more about later in this article. You must commit to these measures every single time you take your freshwater trolling motor into saltwater though. 

If yours is an electric trolling motor, the electrical components themselves could be destroyed by the saltwater. The reason? Compared to other types of water, saltwater is more likely to short out an electrical connection.

When designing trolling motors, many of today’s models are sealed to prevent water from entering, be that freshwater or saltwater. 

The seals are usually only made of rubber though, and salt can degrade the rubber over time. When those seals are weakened is when the real trouble starts. Now water could potentially leak into the trolling motor.

This can damage any encased metal components, but more dangerously, electrical shorting or shocks could then occur. 

Does Using a Freshwater Trolling Motor in Saltwater Void the Warranty?

Your whole setup is still quite new, and that includes the boat and the trolling motor alike. The motor is actively protected by a warranty that will be good for at least the next couple of years. 

Should you decide to go ocean fishing with your buddies, will using your trolling motor void your warranty?

If it’s a freshwater trolling motor, then most definitely, you will void your warranty. 

It doesn’t matter what item you’re protecting under a warranty, from an office chair to an iPad to a trolling motor. The warranty only covers the item under regular use. 

Since freshwater trolling motors are designed for use in salt-free waters, once you venture into the ocean with your boat, what you’re doing is considered outside of the realm of regular use.

So what does this mean for you, the warranty holder? Well, your warranty will now be null and void. If something happens to your trolling motor–which it could–the onus would be on you to replace it or get the parts repaired.

Now, if your warranty was ready to expire sooner than later, such as within the next couple of months, then using a freshwater trolling motor in saltwater is not a huge deal. 

For those in the situation above where your motor is brand-new and covered for several years, you might want to think carefully about whether it’s worth it to void your warranty. 

Tips for Preventing Trolling Motor Corrosion from Saltwater Exposure

You’ve decided that you’ll risk it and use your freshwater trolling motor in saltwater, at least this once. Well, your warranty will be gone, but that doesn’t mean your motor has to be as well. The following methods may preserve your trolling motor after saltwater exposure. 

Rinse the Trolling Motor Immediately After Exiting the Water

Among your best lines of defense against saltwater damage is rinsing your freshwater trolling motor. No matter how sunburnt or tired you are after a day of fishing or how eager you are to get your catches home so you can gut the fish, you need to prioritize rinsing your motor.

If you don’t, then the saltwater will spend days or possibly even weeks sitting on the metal surfaces of your trolling motor. Those areas will almost assuredly become corroded. Damage to the rubber seals that prevent leaks can also make the seals less efficient. 

Let’s say you then decide to go saltwater fishing again without having rinsed the salt off your freshwater trolling motor from the first time around. Well now you’ve got salt on salt, so you’re surely only compounding the problem. 

If your metal trolling motor parts didn’t corrode before, they would be far likelier to now.

You only need a bucket full of freshwater or even a gardening hose to rinse the trolling motor. This job takes maybe five minutes to do, tops. Don’t skip it or you will be forced to replace your trolling motor sooner than later! 

Apply Corrosion Block Spray

As another layer of protection outside of rinsing your freshwater trolling motor, you can also use Corrosion Block spray as produced by H&H. 

Corrosion Block is a corrosion-proofing aerosol spray that comes in 12-ounce canisters. The manufacturer recommends spraying Corrosion Block on a clean metal surface without grease or dirt. Outside of preventing corrosion, Corrosion Block can limit moisture exposure in electronics and double as a lubricant. 

We should note that Corrosion Block does not do anything for the rubber seals of your trolling motor. 

Add a Grease or Oil Coating

Another option you have in lieu of using a product like Corrosion Block is to apply a grease coating. We like Lucas Oil’s white lithium grease and think you will too.

You can buy the stuff in eight-ounce squeeze tubes for easy application. The white lithium grease lessens friction and wear in your trolling motor engine components. They just may last longer! 

If you’d rather not do any shopping for a protective product, check your garage. If you have motor oil, you can use that instead of a grease coating.

With either type of coating, you must add at least a couple of layers for the best protection against saltwater. 

Change the Rubber Seals Once Per Active Fishing Season 

None of the products we’ve discussed protect your freshwater trolling motor’s rubber seals, as we already mentioned. How do you safeguard them? Well, you can’t, not really. 

Rather than try to hold onto the seals well past their expiration date, we recommend replacing them once per active fishing season. At the very least, before you begin boating again the next time, you want to check the condition of your trolling motor’s seals.

If the seals seem okay and you plan to stay out of saltwater, then you can probably go another season before having to change them out. Should the seals already look worse for wear though, then please, get rid of them. 

Water leaks in your trolling motor will cause you a lot more trouble and money than replacing the rubber seals will now! 

Is It Worthwhile to Switch from a Freshwater Trolling Motor to a Saltwater Motor? 

Maybe, rather than go through all the above trouble, you should just buy a saltwater trolling motor instead. That would certainly save you the stress of always worrying about your motor corroding or the rubber seals allowing water to seep in.

For those who plan to make a habit out of saltwater fishing, all the money you’ll spend on new rubber seals, grease coatings, and Corrosion Block month after month could be better put towards a saltwater trolling motor. 

What About Using a Saltwater Trolling Motor in Freshwater? What Would Happen?

You decided to buy a saltwater trolling motor. You’ve gone out to the ocean to fish with your buddies several times now and you love that you don’t have to think twice about rust and corrosion wrecking your trolling motor.

This weekend, another friend invited you to do some freshwater fishing. Since buying your saltwater trolling motor, you’ve stuck to saltwater bodies exclusively. Can your saltwater trolling motor handle salt-free rivers or lakes?

Yes, it can. 

Saltwater trolling motors are even more well-insulated than freshwater motors since you already know that rubber seals can degrade faster in salty waters. The extra insulation safeguards the electrical components of the trolling motor so they don’t short out.

Compared to saltwater trolling motors, freshwater motors contain less paint. This is intentional, as freshwater isn’t corrosive, so why add the extra protection? Saltwater trolling motors, on the other hand, are covered in anti-corrosive paint, especially the metal components.

Finally, there are differences in hardware. Saltwater trolling motors are built using stainless steel, which is less likely to corrode. A freshwater trolling motor is usually made with alloys, which can corrode very easily in certain conditions (such as exposure to saltwater).

All this is to say that saltwater trolling motors are made extra-durable. You don’t have to worry about using them in freshwater in the slightest. 

Final Thoughts 

Freshwater trolling motors can venture into saltwater but require anti-corrosive treatments, rubber seal changes, and rinsing the metal components to prevent corrosion and rusting. You can use a saltwater trolling motor in freshwater without having to worry about it, as freshwater isn’t nearly as damaging.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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