The air is getting colder, the leaves are turning yellow, and scarves and sweaters begin to appear on the streets – it is the approach of fall, the boater’s least favorite time of year. In colder weather areas, the harbors are emptying and you too must take your boat off the water and put it in storage until the weather begins to warm up again.
You may want to keep your boat on the water as long as possible, but it is imperative that you pull it with enough time left before winter to prepare properly. It is better to cut the tail end of the season short than to be delayed at the start of the next season and lose out on some of the year’s most beautiful weather. Before taking your boat out of the water, however, it is a good idea to take one last trip, pay careful attention to how the boat runs, and take note of any problems or potential repairs that you have noticed during the course of the summer.
When you have marked everything that needs to be done, it is time to pull your boat out of the water and begin to winterize it. Winterizing is not just solely preparing for winter, but is also an opportunity to perform routine maintenance on all parts of your boat. When you are on the water in the summer, you know the importance of everything being in its proper place, neat and accounted for – in other words, shipshape. Think of the process of winterizing in the same vein, to ensure your boat is shipshape for the cold months ahead and the next summer.
Below is a guide to winterizing your boat. Keep in mind that some tips are geared towards owners of sailboats or powerboats, but most are applicable to both.
Clean the Boat
When your boat is in drydock, you are likely to notice some stowaways riding on the hull; barnacles and other sea-creatures are common passengers throughout the summer months. Be sure to clean your hull and touch up any areas where paint has chipped. Scraping will take care of the barnacles, and power-washing will remove any remaining residue. When the hull is clean, check it in its entirety for cracks or other damage that may need to be repaired by a professional. When everything has been checked, applying a coat of marine wax will make future cleaning easier and reduce the time that must be taken in scraping the hull.
Once your hull is sorted out, it is time to clean the rest of your boat from bow to stern. This is a tedious task, but the payoff will be huge come the summer. Wash down the decks with soapy water. Varnish any exposed woodwork and polish any exposed metal. If you have a sailboat, lay out all the sails and lines and wash with warm, soapy water. If any canvas needs repair, now is the time to head to your local sail loft.
Dry the Boat
One of the greatest dangers of the winter months is the moisture of varying kinds that is an inseparable piece of boat ownership. If left unattended to, fluid remaining inside pipes or engines can freeze, expand, and crack its casing. In addition, mold and mildew will form without proper measures; not only is this unpleasant, but it can ruin items.
To remove all moisture, drain and pump any and all sinks and the head if you have them on board, then pump with non-toxic antifreeze. Keep interior hatches open to allow for proper airflow, and place moisture absorbers or anti-mold devices in lockers and other areas which are likely to collect moisture.
On-board electronics are susceptible to corrosion during the winter months, so if possible remove them and store in a dry environment.
Storing Boat Engines
An engine, whether outboard or inboard, is one of the most delicate parts on any boat and so special care must be taken to prepare it for the winter. When you last use your boat, check that the engine is running smoothly and once your boat is pulled, make any necessary repairs either on your own or with the help of a professional. In addition, perform maintenance tasks such as changing the oil and filter.
Flush the engine and, if it is an outboard, hang it so that it dries out completely. Remove the battery and store separately, charging if necessary. If you have an inboard engine, drain and fill the block, manifold, and circulating pump with antifreeze to protect against damage.
Keep in mind that gasoline breaks down in storage, so you should add fuel stabilizer to your tanks to protect against this. In addition, spraying the carburetor with fogging oil will prevent internal rust and corrosion.
Cover the Boat Until Spring
Covering your boat may seem like a no-brainer if it is stored outdoors, but boats kept inside – even in a heated location – must be covered in order to combat the incursion of dust, insects, and other creatures. In addition, the cover must be tight to protect against these but should also allow airflow so as not to allow the collection of moisture and the growth of mildew. If stored outside, make sure a tarp is rigged so that any snow will slide away from the weaker areas of the boat.
The most important aspect of winterizing is to be thorough. Besides choosing not to do it, the biggest mistake that boaters make is inattention to detail. Keep your vessel happy through the cold months of winter, and she will be only too happy to welcome you back aboard in the summer.