Boat Winter ChecklistBy 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.
Make sure the boat is well-ventilated. Air circulation prevents mold and mildew from forming down below and keeps the boat smelling fresh. Covers should have ventilation ports to allow air to circulate; leaving a hatch or portlight in the head compartment cracked open a tiny bit will bring that air inside the boat. If your topsides are painted, air also needs to be able to circulate between the cover or shrinkwrap and the boat to avoid blistering. If you don't have a cover, take the opportunity to open several hatches and ports while you're visiting to circulate fresh air below.
If you encounter mold or mildew, ignoring it can result in serious damage to the interior. Wipe down mildewed surfaces with any one of several commercial products or a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water. (If the problem recurs frequently, add a solar ventilator when the weather breaks.)
Open lockers to circulate air and leave them open. Tilt cushions up or, better yet, take them home. Cushions tend to retain moisture, which makes them smell funky and creates mildew problems.
Check portlights and hatches for leaks and look for water stains. Green corrosion, dirt streaks, black caulk, or water trails around a portlight or hatch are all early warning signs to be taken seriously. If you're lucky, the hatch or portlight wasn't dogged down properly, but it's more likely you'll be replacing the gasket or recaulking the opening come spring. In the meantime, duct tape will help to keep water out (use paint thinner to remove tape residue in the spring). Canvas or a heavy plastic tarp can also be rigged to cover the opening and keep the boat drier.
Inspect your bilge. No good ever comes from water in the bilge, and any water means a leak. Hopefully you've already found the source of the water during your walk-through, but if not, try to figure it out and put a stop to it before leaving your boat again. If your boat's on the hard and you're in a cold climate, you may well be looking at ice in the bilge. Use rock salt and nontoxic antifreeze to break it up, dry the bilge completely, and, to keep it from refreezing, add a few cups of nontoxic antifreeze.
Check the operation of the bilge pump and float switch. If you've left a battery onboard, make sure the bilge pump works with the battery master switch in the OFF position.
Open and close each seacock a couple of times to keep them from seizing. If your boat is in the water, make sure that all seacocks are closed (with the exception of cockpit drains); many a cracked or slipped hose has sunk a boat. If your boat is on the hard, now's a good time to take sticky seacocks apart for servicing.
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Working your way through this checklist will help make sure your boat's ready to go when you are