Seaworthy | From The BoatUS Insurance Files


Boat Winter Checklist

By Beth Leonard
Published: February/March 2013

Fight the winter blues by paying your boat a visit and making sure all is well. Whether it's stored on the hard or in the water, you may just forestall some spring problems.

The Walk-Around, If Your Boat's Stored Ashore

To minimize theft if your boat is stored on a trailer, make sure the tongue is facing away from the road. Ideally, the wheels should be removed, and the trailer should be up on blocks. Not only will that discourage thieves, but your tires will last a lot longer.

Check the jackstands, cradle, or trailer to make sure the boat hasn't shifted. Boats over 26 feet in length should have at least three jackstands per side. The boat should be level so that water drains properly out the scuppers and doesn't cause stains, or worse, leaks down below. Verify that jackstands have been properly positioned and chained together to prevent them from being pushed away from the boat. There should be jackstands at the boat's bulkheads and supporting the bow. Look down the hull and make sure that there is no deformation at the jackstands.

Make sure the cover hasn't been tied off to the jackstands — a strong wind could get underneath the cover and yank the jackstand out from under the boat. If the boat is stored on dirt or gravel, the jackstands should have plywood under them to keep them from sinking into the ground. If you see any problems with a jackstand, don't try to adjust it yourself; contact marina personnel.

The Walk Through

Once you're satisfied that the boat is well secured in its slip or on the hard, get aboard and stroll from one end of the boat to the other, on deck and below. Here's what to look for:

Examine your boat cover. Look for the beginnings of tears, loose fittings, and chafe, and make sure the wind hasn't broken a tie-down line. Verify that all supports for the cover are still in place and in no danger of shifting; any cover that isn't well-supported will accumulate snow and water, which add considerable weight to the boat. If the boat is shrinkwrapped, even relatively large tears can be fixed with duct tape.

Look for any pooling water on the deck or in the cockpit, which can stain the boat, damage gelcoat, and seep under fittings to cause delamination problems. If your boat doesn't have a cover and is stored on the hard, get rid of the water as soon as possible (use rock salt if the water is frozen). Ask marina personnel to level the boat by adjusting the jackstands.

Photo of leaves clogging the scupper
Leaves can block scuppers allowing water to collect in the cockpit.

Check cockpit scuppers and drains for blockage. Boats stored in the water are sunk each year because leaves or snow prevented water from draining. Boats stored ashore can flood when pooled water pours from the cockpit into the interior. If your boat's on a trailer, make sure your hull drain plug is out, the drain hole isn't clogged, and the bow is up so any water that finds its way below will get out again.

Sailors, check that halyards have been securely tied off if the mast was not unstepped. Slapping halyards leave scars on the mast and drive anyone in the vicinity crazy. If you haven't done so already, remove roller-furling headsails to reduce windage. If your sails need cleaning, send them off to the sailmaker.

Does the boat smell moldy? There could be a portlight or hatch leak. Other smells, such as gasoline, propane, or vermin, need to be investigated right away. If you leave your 12-volt or AC electrical system on (the only things that should be on over the winter are the battery charger, bilge pump/highwater alarm, and smoke alarms), sniff for any electrical odors. It's possible that a circuit could be overloaded or shorted, or the battery is being overcharged. Find the source.

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