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How to Use Hydraulic Jack Plates

Hydraulic jack plates may not be a necessary piece of equipment for your boat; however, if any accessory makes your boating experience nicer, it's a hydraulic jack plate. This is especially true for hunters and anglers, as they may find themselves in waters that are not ideal or more shallow than normal. By using a hydraulic jack plate, any boat can be turned into a finely tuned and optimized machine.

The Basics of Hydraulic Jack Plates

What Is a Jack Plate Anyways?

A jack plate is an accessory that mounts between the boat's transom and the outboard motor. It allows for vertical displacement of the engine, parallel to the hull, and provides optimal positioning of the engine in the water. There are three types of jack plates, each with its own advantages:

  • Fixed jack plate - least expensive, least flexible
  • Manual jack plate - mid-level cost, relatively easy to adjust outside of the water
  • Hydraulic jack plate - highest cost, most flexibility with adjusting while on the water and moving

This article will focus on how to use a hydraulic jack plate, which provides the most flexibility while underway. In addition to flexibility, these are also the easiest to adjust as it is done simply by adjusting a lever, as you would your throttle.

How Does a Hydraulic Jack Plate Work?

A hydraulic jack plate works by attaching the engine to a jack plate that adjusts its vertical position via hydraulic pistons on either side of the engine. The jack plate is then attached to the boat. The hydraulic pressure in the lines makes it simple to adjust the vertical height of the engine with the push of a button. The only limitation with a hydraulic jack plate is the mounting position is limited by the length of the hydraulic line. However, the length of the hydraulic line is long enough to fit boats and could be custom made if needed.

How To Adjust a Hydraulic Jack Plate

A hydraulic line runs from the pistons up to a lever that is typically mounted next to the throttle or on the steering column for ease of use and access. The vertical position of the engine is adjusted simply by using the lever or button to engage the pump and pistons to move the engine. Unlike the other types of jack plates mentioned above, once the jack plate is mounted correctly, tools are not needed to adjust the vertical position.

How Do You Use a Hydraulic Jack Plate?

Hydraulic jack plates provide the boater with an opportunity to optimize engine performance while underway. While this will be specific to your boat and how the engine is trimmed and how it is mounted on the transom, knowing when to adjust the vertical position will quickly become second nature. There are several ways to optimize the use of your hydraulic jack plate, including using it in shallow water, using it when first getting up on plane and adjusting it for efficient use in rough water.

Using the Hydraulic Jack Plate in Shallow Water

Shallow water is almost always a tricky situation, as you do not want propellor blades to touch the bottom or get too tangled in any of the vegetation that is on the bottom. The hydraulic jack plate will allow the real-time adjustment of the vertical position of the engine to bring the propeller blades furthest from the bottom or vegetation while keeping them fully in the water. While it's easier for cavitation when the propeller is higher in the water column, it's best to run a lower RPM to maneuver the shallow waters.

Using the Hydraulic Jack Plate When Going Up on Plane

This is one of the areas that provides the best flexibility for optimizing your engine's efficiency in the water. The consensus when getting your boat up on plane is to trim your engine all the way down and have your hydraulic jack plate moved to the highest vertical position. As the throttle is maximized, the bow will lurch up, placing the engine lower in the water column and providing the thrust needed. As the bow lurches up, start lowering and trimming out the engine. This process will coincide with the bow of the boat lunging up and coming out on plane. If cavitation is felt while planing or coming out on plane, lower the vertical position of the engine a bit more to increase the pressure of the water column to reduce the probability of cavitation.

Hydraulic Jack Plate Boating Tips

Some things are key to keep in mind when using a hydraulic jack plate. First, hydraulic jack plates are meant to be completely lowered to release any pressure in the pistons if they are to be trailered for an extended period of time. Hydraulic jack plates provide the boater with the ability to change the vertical position at any time, and therefore can always be used to help optimize the efficiency of the engine. If cavitation is ever experienced, the hydraulic jack plate can compensate for that, thereby reducing cavitation and improving efficiency. Finally, practice with your hydraulic jack plate and see how performance increases as the engine positions are optimized.

Final Thoughts

A hydraulic jack plate provides the boater with the greatest flexibility to adjust the vertical position of the engine while running. The engine can be placed at the optimal height for everything from rough water (lower vertical position) to shallow water (high vertical position). Optimizing your engine's thrust and output lets you unleash the full potential of your boating experience. Vance Manufacturing has a hydraulic jack plate with variable setback for 0–150 HP engines to help meet your boating needs.