Winterizing your boat
Like anything in life, preparation is the key to success in your endeavors. Boat ownership is possibly one of the most important things you can ever put preparation into place for.
Some may not realize it, but winter “time off” can be especially hard on your boat. Extended periods of inactivity will accelerate wear and tear and can contribute to breakdowns in the next boating season. If left unchecked, corrosion and rust can spread extensively and moisture can intrude and freeze during the winter. Lubrication can congeal and basic neglect can really take its roots over the long, cold months. If you don't take the time to get your boat ready for winter, it may come back to haunt you when you're itching to hit the water again.
For these reasons, it’s vitally important to get your boat ready for that “long winter’s nap” with a proper autumn lay-up. Even if you don’t live in a place where the waters freeze and the snow piles deep on the ground, following some basic tips will keep your boat “ship shape” and ready for action after an extended period of storage.
Keep your boat clean
Seems basic but it's hard to do for many. A clean boat will weather the time of winter storage better and will reduce the work necessary when the time comes to take her out again.
Wash the topsides, bottom, and deck (with a coat of wax on the topsides too) and clean all hardware and trim.
Check for any blistering in fiberglass boats, especially for boats that spend extended periods in the water. If any blisters are found, treat and repair these problems.
Don’t forget to clean windscreens as well as any bi-mini tops, spray hoods and the like.
Let all canvas dry thoroughly before neatly storing these away. If possible, remove all canvas from the boat and store indoors.
Some parts of your boat should be drained, where moisture can cause corrosion during these winter months.
Drain the gear case and watch for water intrusion. This can cause gear oil to look milky or discolored. If moisture is present you may have leaky seals.
Completely drain any fresh water tanks and the hot water heater.
Open seacocks to allow any water to drain.
Drain all water from the engine.
Check bilges and remove any standing water, dirt, and oil
A boat that starts its winter holiday clean will help keep dirt and corrosion from getting a foothold and will be much quicker to get ready in spring.
Prepare the fuel system
Top off your fuel tank to avoid build-up of condensation over the months of storage. Change the fuel filter at the end of the season. Add a marine fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank as per instructions to reduce the build-up of gum and varnish, and to keep the fuel and entire fuel system clean during storage. After adding stabilizer to the tank, run the engine for a few minutes to ensure it circulates through the system.
Take care of the engine
It also seems like common sense, but most of these maintenance tasks are simply overlooked due to timing or life events. How many times have you skipped your daily workout or not brushed your teeth before bedtime. They all lead to degradation - the same goes for your boat. There are products out there formulated to leave a protective chemical film over internal engine surfaces without leaving a greasy residue or causing smoke when the engine is re-started. It’s also a good idea to spray fogging oil on a soft rag and apply a light coat to visible areas of the engine exterior. We can't give you specifics on how to treat your engine as your manufacturer and reseller probably have brand-specific instructions, so check with them or take it in to be winterized.
Pressure wash the entire hull and running gear. Blast off barnacles and other growth on your shafts, props, rudders, struts and everything else on the lower unit. Clean the topsides, deck and lower unit with soap and water. Wax the deck. Check for blisters on the hull, and should it the hull need it, wax or sand and paint it at this time.
Check for leaks – keep an eye on the strainer, valve or seacocks, or any other areas where you may recall a leak occurring.
Other liquids to flush, change or add
Certain systems on your boat will require flushing and liquids such as fuel, oil and antifreeze should be changed or added.
Thoroughly flush your cooling system with warm fresh water in order to remove any salt, dirt or corrosion.
Change the engine oil and oil filter after the engine has been slightly warmed up in order to help flush out sediment and impurities with the discarded oil. Refill the engine with the appropriate oil recommended by your boat’s manufacturer. Change transmission fluid as well.
As mentioned above, use fogging oil to protect the engine against rust and corrosion. Spray it into the air intakes while the engine is running. Remove spark plugs and spray into each cylinder. Also, spray fogging oil onto a soft rag and apply to the visible areas of the engine exterior.
Run antifreeze into the cooling system and engine by using an intake hose to the water pump. Start the engine and run the antifreeze until it exits the exhaust. Run non-toxic antifreeze through your freshwater system, including shower, faucets, and any wash-down areas until you see the antifreeze coming out. Put non-toxic antifreeze in the water heater as well.
Take care of your batteries
Your batteries also need to survive the winter. You'll want to keep them with a healthy charge so they are ready to go and provide long battery life for you.
It may be best to unplug your battery charger and test the charge on your batteries once a month. If you see the charge drop below 75%, plug in the battery charger, and top off your batteries with a full charge over night. In the morning, once fully charged, disconnect from the power. Repeat this step next month.
If you’re in an area where freezing occurs, it’s best to remove batteries entirely from your boat, and store in your home or some other warmer place. Get a portable charger to keep your batteries healthy during the winter with a periodic charge.
You'll also want to remove all electronics, fire extinguishers and other valuables from the boat. Obviously, you'll avoid losing them but it will also keep them safe from moisture damage, freezing or other damage that may occur.
How about the vinyl and surfaces?
You probably read our article on how to Bring Your Boat Interior Back to New, where we reminded you of the acronym B.O.A.T. ...
You work hard to buy a boat and work harder to keep your boat looking good. You routinely put it in and take it out of the water, wash it, apply wax, and do your best to ensure it remains the boat of your dreams. Then it happens; one of our friends (hopefully invited) spills their adult beverage all over your well-kept carpeting, or they spill a cleaner or bleach on our vinyl seats and seams. Read our article "Top 4 Tips For Cleaning Marine Vinyl Interior" to really snap your boat into shape before the winter season.
And when springtime rolls around again, pull out this article "It's time to unleash the boat and repair" if restoration wasn't in your winter budget at the time.