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Bob Banfelder

Bob is an award-winning crime-thriller novelist and outdoors writer. "The Fishing Smart Anywhere Handbook for Salt Water & Fresh Water" is endorsed by Lefty Kreh and Angelo Peluso~online at Amazon.

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January 01, 2014

Covering Your Ice-Eater Investment: Literally

by Bob Banfelder

De-Icers, or ice eaters as they are also commonly called, are basically cylindrical units with an electric motor and propeller. The units are designed to prevent ice from building up around such structures as docks, pilings (aka pylons), stanchions, piers, ramps, in-water boats, marinas, et cetera. The way the unit works is that the propeller circulates the warmer geothermal subsurface water from below, flowing upward and thereby keeping an area open and free from ice formation. Set up your unit(s) early enough with the proper output (horsepower) and you won't have to worry about initially breaking up a barrier as the units do little in the way of actually melting ice that has already formed. If you are a last-minute Charlie and wait until Mother Nature's penultimate hour when the ice has already taken hold, you may have a difficult time.

My original unit was and still is a ¾ horsepower Kasco Marine Inc., Water Agitator (De-Icer) with a The Power House, Inc., thermostat, both purchased in the early 90s. Following instructions, I had placed the unit in various positions (angles) in order to cover the greatest surface area possible. The unit worked adequately, except during extremely cold and continuous weather conditions. Case in point:

I awoke one morning during a low tide to find my floating dock not floating but actually suspended three feet above an ice-covered surface. The piling's horseshoe hoops had frozen and locked the docks solidly in place. I had to wait until the tide rose anew in order to safely free the dock. Another time, I waited too long to place the ice eaters and had to smash 3- to 4-inch thick ice with a heavy-duty sledge hammer all along the periphery of the floating docks; that's 44 feet of unnecessary laborious work. What I hadn't realized at the time was that the snow-covered dock was actually suspended a good foot off the surface and came crashing down at one end when it released. I was thrown forward but managed to grab a ramp railing. How many times one has to be hit over the head with a stupidity stick is perhaps an excellent gauge of one's IQ. In my case, it was but twice. It was clear that I needed an additional unit working in concert with the first in order to protect the entire dock and pier area.

I had purchased a new ¾ horsepower The Power House Ice Eater with a K-Kontrol thermostat, strategically placed and set in a timely fashion, meaning before Mother Nature once again took her tenacious hold. Let's examine the area I had to cover and how I went about nipping well-below freezing January and February temperatures in the bud:

I have two floating docks, each measuring 16-feet in length. Another 8 feet separates the end of one floating dock from the pier (of which a 14-foot ramp joins the two structures). We're already up to 40 feet in length x 6 feet in width that warrants protection for the dock area alone. Next, I had to take into account approximately another 36-foot length of stanchions supporting the pier to where it connects land during a mean low-water and a mean high-water mark. That's a total length of 76 feet of required protection times 6-plus feet in width. I suspended one unit off the end of the floating dock, closest to and angled toward the pier. The second unit I centered and suspended along the westerly edge of the outboard floating dock, angled outward as this is the side most susceptible to ice buildup because of severe winds blowing northeasterly.

Suspending the top of the unit(s) approximately two feet below the water's surface, at a point where the water churns and bubbles and barely breaks the surface, is the threshold you want to achieve. If the water bubbles up well above the surface, it will harden into ice in a continuous freezing wind. Set too low in the water column, the unit(s) will not work effectively either, and you will find yourself having to chop ice along the periphery, especially on those consecutive days when the mercury plummets well into the teens. Also, I adhere to suspending the lines and positioning the unit at its sharpest angle for an elongated rather than a circular pattern. I have been experimenting with different depths and angle suspensions for twenty-three consecutive years and find the above procedure to be the most effective. Consult the unit's instructions for ancillary but important information.

Once you have satisfactorily protected the area from freezing over, giving yourself a comfortable margin to completely surround your dock, pilings, stanchions, pier, boat, et cetera, only then would I start adjusting the thermostat(s) for ambient temperature control in order to conserve energy. Do not try to be penny wise initially because you are likely to wind up being pound foolish sooner than later.

Important: Now, here's the kicker. You're all set up and ready to attack Old Man Winter. You even remembered to install a new sacrificial zinc (which may or may not come with your new unit, but should) so as to thwart electrolysis and not damage the ice eater. Therefore, what unforeseen calamity awaits you? Answer: Plastic bags and/or other debris floating about can bring that unit to a sudden halt and a slow death, burning out the motor in the bargain.
If memory serves me, the initial Kasco ¾ horsepower De-Icer ran me in the neighborhood of $400 (twenty-three years ago), not including thermostat. Certainly not cheap, but worth its weight in gold in terms of insurance against losing your dock, pilings, boat, and so forth. Likewise, the additional The Power House, Inc., Ice Eater ¾ horsepower unit that I purchased, perhaps a year or two later, cost in the same neighborhood. A plastic bag had lodged itself into the unprotected top opening of the unit and seized the motor. Not that this couldn't happen to the Kasco unit of smaller diameter, for both units are open and unprotected at the top. The Power House unit is well-protected along its cylindrical wall. The Kasco unit is but semi-protected by thin ribs running vertically along its sides. Again, both units are open at the top and invite trouble. At a repair cost of practically three quarters the price of a new unit, I remembered a quote coined by Plato: "Necessity is the mother of invention." I nipped this issue in the bud pronto, need I be hit over the head thrice.

1. Purchase a small roll of plastic garden mesh with 1- inch squares; not 1½- inches as found with snow fencing.
2. With a black marker, outline the periphery of the top of the unit.
3. Using a pair of strong serrated scissors or wire cutters, cut out the shape of the unit's circumference.

If screening The Power House unit, you should find five predrilled holes along the top of the unit. Space out and drill five smaller (13/16) additional holes along the periphery in order to securely screen the top of the unit with cable ties. For added insurance, you may want to screen the bottom of the unit as well.

If screening the Kasco unit, simply follow steps 1– 3, then attach screen to the top frame with cable ties (no drilling necessary).

4. Cut the excess tags.

In contacting The Powerhouse Inc., Company, their Venturi design has remained unchanged since 1978. They offer an optional screen for $20. I suggest making your own. Kasco Marine, Inc., too, has remained virtually unchanged. The Kasco unit does not offer an optional screen. Also, you may want to screen Kasco's cylindrical frame as 5-inch x 2-inch vertical slits surround the unit. This simple and inexpensive procedure will give you piece of mind and could save you a considerable expense. I haven't had another issue in all these years. However, I have found plastic bags that wanted to wend their way inside the screening but to no avail. So check those units periodically through the season. I will admit that I live in an area surrounded by three marinas and am therefore prone to debris. If you're a fisherman and/or boater, you know you can find those troublesome plastic bags and other debris anywhere in the water column. In making a final decision on which unit to choose, there are several consideration: size of the unit(½, ¾ or 1 horsepower for the area you want protected; weight of the unit; ease of screen instillation; and, of course, cost. Shopping the Internet will save you money—just weigh the shipping charge into the equation.

At the end of the wintry season, it's a simple matter of carefully cutting a few cable ties holding a section of the top screen in order to remove the old zinc anode, replacing it with a new one (approx. $20). Check for any fishing line and such on propeller and shaft.

The Kasco ¾ horsepower De-Icer is available at [] for $538.99; shipping is extra. The Kasco C-10 Thermostat Controller costs approximately $100.

The Power House ¾ horsepower Ice Eater is available at [] for $525.95 with free shipping. The Power House Ice Eater thermostat, under the name K-Kontrol, is $67.95 from [].

If I were to amortize the cost of a $600 investment today; that is, a ¾ horsepower ice-eater and thermostat over a 20-year period, that would come to $30 a season ~ $60 for two units (exclusive of zinc anodes and electricity). That's pretty cheap insurance, provided they last as long as my units have, which I'm sure they will if you heed my advice. As I don't wish to be hit over the head again, I store a spare unit and thermostat because you never know what can happen when dealing with Mother Nature, or that unpredictable law called Murphy's.

Have a happy and healthy New Year, guys and gals.

Robert Banfelder
Award-Winning Thriller Novelist, Outdoors Writer, "Gifted" College Instructor & Creator of a Unique Writing Course Guide
Senior Editor, Broadwater Books
Cablevision TV Show Host, Special Interests with Bob & Donna

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