Winter Comes Again: Is Your Boat Ready?

By Michael Vatalaro

Cold weather will be here before you know it. (Sorry!) Here's what you should be thinking about before putting your boat to bed for its long winter's nap.

Photo of boats stored for winter Photo: Thinkstock

Taking a few moments now to think about how you'll put your boat to bed for the off season, as the days grow shorter and the ducks fly south, will pay dividends later. Whether this is your first or your 51st year winterizing your boat, all the know-how you need is available to you at www.BoatUS.com/Winterizing, including "The Boater's Guide To Winterizing," a downloadable checklist to bring along to the boat with you. But before you go online, ask yourself a few questions:

Where (And How) Do I Want To Store The Boat This Winter?

This is the starting point for any winterizing plan. Options include everything from indoor heated storage, to in the water, or out back on the trailer under a tarp. Or perhaps you'd prefer to tow or ship your boat to Florida to use during a winter getaway? Other considerations include:

  • How secure is the location, be it a boatyard, storage lot, or private property? How accessible will it be? Who will transport the boat there?
  • How hard is it for you to personally check on the boat?
  • Who will perform any needed labor to winterize the boat? Does the yard place limits on DIY maintenance or outside contractors?
  • Will you cover the boat? If not, a first-rate wax job — and cleaning and polishing the stainless steel — will help protect it, but you need to add the time and cost to your plan. A good cover or shrink-wrap eliminates many of the issues with leaves or snow clogging cockpit drains, and other hazards of winter. Consider investing in a custom winter storage cover rather than paying for shrink-wrap each season.

What Systems Need To Be Addressed?

Generally, anything that uses water for cooling or carries water for use on board, needs to be winterized. Fall is also the perfect time to do your annual oil change and transmission fluid, or lower-unit gear-lube change on your engines. Make sure your to-do list includes: Oil change and cylinder fogging for engines and generators.

  • Lower-unit gear-lube change for outboards or sterndrives.
  • Topping off the fuel tank, adding stabilizer or biocides as needed.
  • Draining or flushing/filling any raw-water cooling systems with nontoxic antifreeze. Don't forget the air-conditioning system.
  • Water system winterization, which can be draining or flushing or filling, depending on your preference. This includes tanks, heads, pumps, shower sumps, sinks, and even seacocks, if the hose runs don't drain entirely.
  • Inspection of anodes and running gear.
  • Washing the exterior of the boat to remove salt and dirt, and getting the cockpit or other exterior drains cleared.
  • Make sure batteries are fully charged, or better yet, remove them where they can be stored indoors and given a booster charge from time to time to keep them topped up.

What's Left To Do?

Your boating gear, and all the stuff a boat tends to accumulate over the season, will be more likely to stay clean, dry, and mildew free if you take it home and store it there. Additionally, gear that's not on the boat is gear that's not there to be stolen during those quiet months when the boatyard is largely empty. Consider:

  • Removing bracket-mounted electronics, even if they're in the cabin or pilothouse.
  • Taking big-ticket items, like the dinghy, outboard, or kicker off the boat. Same goes for paddleboards and large water toys you might store aboard.
  • Removing rods, reels, and tackle, which are a favorite target for thieves.
  • Taking home spare clothes, cushions, canvas awnings, bedding, life jackets, and anything else likely to mildew. Wash it all and make sure it's all salt-free and dry before storing. Put a lubricant on snaps and zippers, so they don't seize up over the storage season.
  • Adding a GPS tracker to your trailerable boat for remote monitoring. For as little as $99, it can keep an electronic eye on your boat when you can't.
  • Blocking your trailer up off the ground and removing the tires. This will not only deter thieves but also make trailer tires last longer.

How you answer these questions will dictate how much time, energy, and money you spend, and many of us gladly trade the latter for more of the former. Having a plan and preparing your boat well will mean getting back on the water sooner come spring. 

— Published: October/November 2015


BoatUS Magazine Is A Benefit Of BoatUS Membership

Membership Also Provides:

  • Subscription to the print version of BoatUS Magazine
  • 4% back on purchases from West Marine stores or online at WestMarine.com
  • Discounts on fuel, transient slips, repairs and more at over 1,000 businesses
  • Deals on cruises, charters, car rentals, hotel stays and more ...
  • All For Only $24 A Year!

Join Today!