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Forget Anything?

By badriance - Published December 31, 2008 - Viewed 2628 times

Now that most boats have been winterized, Seaworthy looks at the BoatUS claim files to see which jobs are most likely to have been overlooked.

(For more great tips on how to avoid damage to your boat, visit the Seaworthy Archives.)


Winterizing a boat isn’t much fun. While the entire crew is likely to lend a hand for spring fitting out, winterizing the boat in the fall is like cleaning up after a party; there are few volunteers and even less effort. A true story: A man in Minnesota was planning to spend the weekend hunting. As he was heading out the door with his buddies, his wife asked when he was going to winterize his boat. The man put his arm around her and said, “Honey, I think of it as our boat. You do it.” So she drove to the boat, poured kerosene in the bilge and tossed in a match. Two points: The wife’s winterizing “shortcut” created more problems than it solved and (2) the couple is no longer married. BoatU.S. didn’t insure the boat incidentally.


The Minnesota incident wasn’t the first time a boat was damaged by a hasty winterizing effort. Many boats are damaged or even destroyed every year because the systems weren’t given the attention they deserved. While everybody knows that the engine and freshwater system must be winterized, there are many small but critical jobs that should be done that tend to go begging.


Seaworthy looked through the BoatU.S. claim files to find the various winterizing chores that are most likely to have been overlooked.


Did you drain the engine intake sea strainer? Everyone knows to winterize the engine, but not everyone knows to drain the sea strainer. Water left in the strainer can freeze and break the watertight seal. When that happens, water is free to enter the boat in the spring when the ice thaws and the intake seacock is opened.


Have biminis and dodgers been stored inside? There is a common misconception that a cover that protects the crew from sunlight and spray will also protect the boat from freezing rain and snow. Quite the contrary, biminis and dodgers tend to be ripped apart or, more likely, aged prematurely by the effects of winter weather while doing almost nothing to protect the boat. Aluminum support frames are frequently bent by the weight of accumulated snow. Biminis and dodgers should be taken home for the winter and, if necessary, re-stitched and repaired.


If the boat is stored in the water, did you close all of the seacocks? If you leave your boat in the water over the winter, it is absolutely essential that you close the seacocks. Leaving a boat’s seacocks open is like going on an extended vacation and leaving the doors to your house unlocked. Neglecting to “lock” even one door is a significant risk. If a thru-hull below the waterline can’t be closed, either because it is broken or mechanically frozen, the boat should be stored ashore for the winter. The sole exception is cockpit drains, which must be left open to prevent water accumulation in the cockpit. These should be inspected to ensure that the hose and the hose clamps (two at each connection) are in good shape.


How about the thru-hull fittings above the waterline? While boats with low freeboard are more likely to be overcome by rainwater or a slow leak, a boat is often much “closer” to the water than its freeboard would indicate. A cracked plastic thru-hull at the boot stripe means that the boat only has to sink an inch or two before it floods and heads to the bottom. Boats have sunk because cracked thru-hulls near the water-line were submerged by the weight of snow and ice in the cockpit.


Plastic thru-hull fittings deteriorate in sunlight and should be replaced with bronze if they’re cracked or broken. If this can’t be done immediately, the boat should be stored ashore.


Did you add extra lines and chafe protection? Blustery winter winds should never be confused with gentle summer breezes. All it takes is one good winter storm to abrade a dock line and maybe bash a hole in the hull. If the boat is left in the water, double up on docklines and -- this is a good idea all year -- add chafe protection.


Is the boat covered properly? A bona fide winter cover is terrific protection if it is adequately ventilated. With most boats, a lack of ventilation beneath the cover causes mildew or even rot problems down below. If the boat has been painted with two-part polyurethane paint (Imron, Awlgrip, etc.) a lack of ventilation can cause tiny blisters in the paint. The problem occurs most often when shrink wrap covers aren’t ventilated, but the blisters have also appeared when a poly tarp sagged against the paint, trapping moisture against the surface.


Any cover that isn’t well supported will accumulate snow and water, which add considerable weight to the boat. Finally, never secure the boat’s winter cover to the jack stands or support blocks.


Are cockpit drains clear? Many boats are damaged and even sunk by nothing more than a few leaves blocking cockpit drains. Water trickles through the companionway, stains the interior woodwork, delaminates the cabin sole, and soaks into bulkheads, leaving open the possibility that rot will rear its ugly head sometime later. In one claim, water trickled through the keel bolts, froze, and pulled the keel away from the boat’s hull.


Were electronics and other valuables taken home for the winter? Most marinas are like ghost towns in winter, with little or no security, which makes the stored boats an easy target for thieves. Electronics and other valuables (tools are a popular theft item) should be taken home for safekeeping. Finally, no matter how well it is secured at the marina, a dinghy will always be safer in your garage or backyard.


If the boat is stored ashore, is it supported properly? Lysle Gray, boating sage and the retired president of the American Boat and Yacht Council, noted that there are almost as many boats that are damaged ashore by improper blocking as are damaged in the water. A few of the boats are toppled over by wind, but many more are damaged slowly, plagued with problems like broken stringers and loose tabbing at the bulkheads. Most boatyards do a competent job of positioning the supports, but it never hurts to discuss technique with the yard manager. With jack stands, the stand should be perpendicular to the hull so it directs the boat’s weight toward the ground. Misalignment of the stand will force it out as the load is applied. Even if the stand is aligned perfectly, safety chains must be used between the stands on each side to keep them from slipping out from under the hull. The jack stands should be placed as far out from the boat as practical to support the boat in high winds, with at least three per side for boats over 26’ and additional supports at long overhangs. Plywood should be placed under each base to prevent it from sinking into mud, sand or asphalt. Even when stands rest on clay that seems brick hard, they can be loosened by heavy spring rains, shift, and spill the boat.


While jack stands should be placed near bulkheads and beneath the engine, most of the boat’s weight rests on its keel. Some boats have specific requirements for support of the keel, but at least one manufacturer warns against putting weight on the keel. If the marina manager isn’t familiar with your boat, check your manual or contact the manufacturer. Keels must be supported by wide, thick timbers -- the wider the better to distribute the load. Cinder blocks are prone to breaking and should not be used. On powerboats, additional support is sometimes recommended for inboard engines, fuel tanks, and heavy machinery. With outboard and outdrive boats, weight should be taken off the transom by lowering the drive units onto a block. After the boat is blocked, sight along the hull and keel to make sure the jack stands aren’t depressing the hull. (Check again in two weeks, after the boat has had time to settle.) The deck must also be level, or water could pool and cause stains, mildew, and/or gelcoat crazing.


Is the boat stored on a trailer? According to the BoatU.S. Marine Insurance claim files, a boat on a trailer is twice as likely to be stolen as a boat in the water. Thieves are partial to personal watercraft, which are five times more likely to be stolen than other types of boats. If the boat is in your driveway, make sure the tongue is facing away from the street. Another suggestion: Take the wheels off. Besides discouraging theft, storing tires indoors protects them from sunlight and extends their useful life.


A few other reminders: Outriggers stored at a 45 degree angle are prone to bending in ice storms. Outriggers should be disassembled or if that’s not possible, stored vertically. Take home cushions, rugs, clothing, and anything else that retains moisture and encourages mildew. Open up locker doors to circulate air down below. Unless you’ll need to leave one aboard to operate a bilge pump, all batteries should be taken home, recharged and stored for winter.


Plan on visiting your boat regularly at least once or twice a month. All too often, skippers rely on bilge pumps to bail them out when they are away. The pump fails; the boat sinks. If you can’t visit your boat frequently, consider using a buddy system with other boat owners. Another alternative is to ask your marina manager to keep an eye on the boat. Many marinas will inspect boats, although usually for a fee.  


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