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Published: October 2013

Electric Heaters ≠ Winterizing

A heater is no substitute for properly winterizing a boat! Numerous freeze claims over the years have proven that point again and again. If you're tempted to leave your boat with a heater running this winter rather than winterizing, consider these examples:

Photo of cracked Bayliner engine

1. The owner of a 24-foot Bayliner in Portland, Oregon never got around to winterizing his twin gas engines and instead put a heater in the engine compartment. Like a lot of other people, the owner probably didn't realize that temperate states like Oregon often have nearly as many claims from freeze damage as frigid places like Minnesota. In fact, 40 percent of the ice/freezing claims in the past year came from nine states you wouldn't normally associate with freezing weather, including California, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee. He also probably thought that a heater would provide enough protection even if it did get really cold. Unfortunately, power outages most often occur right when you need electricity most — when the worst winter weather hits. An ice storm came through just before Christmas, downing power lines and cutting off power to the heater long enough to freeze water in the engines. The next spring, when the owner fired up the engines, instead of heading out for the first cruise of the season, he limped back to the dock with the manifolds from both engines cracked and spewing water. Because the marina was busy with launching and recommissioning boats for the season, the repairs couldn't be completed for weeks (Claim #0813453).

Photo of burn-damaged Rinker

2. This 27-foot Rinker was "winterized" by placing a space heater in the engine room. The boat, which was afloat in her slip in Alabama (another "no-freeze" state), caught fire when the extension cord used to power the heater shorted where it had been damaged at some point. The boat was destroyed and damaged another boat as well as the dock (Claim #0300330). Other boats have been lost when the heater itself has caught fire, when the heater has ignited something combustible inside the boat, or when the heater has been tipped over by a large wake that rocked the boat. Even light bulbs in the engine room have caused fires.

Don't rely on an electric heater to keep your boat safe this winter — it may not, and it might even destroy your pride and joy. Winterize your boat properly, even if you live in an area that seems safe from hard freezes. It only takes a couple of hours to prepare a boat properly — or to destroy an engine in a cold snap if the power goes out.

Earn Money By Chartering

Photo of boats on the water

Have you ever considered chartering your boat as a way to earn a bit of extra money? Whether you have a fishing boat up on the Great Lakes or a sailboat down in the Caribbean, chartering can be an attractive alternative to defray the costs of boat ownership. But beware — that little bit of extra money could turn into a big expense. Most recreational boat insurance policies do not cover the losses incurred while the boat is being chartered. So if something goes wrong with the boat or — even worse — someone gets injured, you might find yourself with a huge liability you hadn't anticipated. Check your policy over carefully, and, if in doubt, call and ask. The BoatUS Marine Insurance program can often find a way to meet your needs whether you're renting the boat out a few weekends during the summer or putting the boat into charter for an entire season.

Shrinkwrapping? Take Care

Photo of fire-damaged boats

Shrinkwrapping looks like a great way to protect your boat over winter, right? It is, as long as you don't ignite your boat while you're trying to wrap it. Last year there were several fires caused by owners trying to shrinkwrap their boats, and all the fires were serious. In one claim in Michigan, the owner of a 34-foot Sea Ray used a roofing flame torch to tighten the wrap. After seeing smoke coming from inside the cockpit, he cut the wrap open and found flames, which quickly got out of control. Before the fire department could put out the fire, two boats were destroyed and three others were damaged (Claim #1216496). Fire and flammable shrinkwrap (and equally flammable fiberglass) don't mix. All it takes is a moment of inattention to ignite shrinkwrap, and sometimes the flames aren't even visible right away. Shrinkwrap is one job best left to the pros.

Drain Plugs In Or Out?

Photo of a submerged boat

It's that time of year again, time to tuck in the boat for another season. It's also the time of year when Seaworthy reminds you to make sure to take your drain plug out. But this year, our message is a bit more complicated than in the past.

You can thank Superstorm Sandy for that. Last year, many boats had already been winterized when Sandy came calling. Most of those boats ended up as total losses — because the drain plugs were out. The surge filled the boats with saltwater and sank them on land, destroying the engines in the process. Dante Grover at Al Grover's High and Dry in Freeport, New York, had already winterized some of the boats when he saw Sandy coming. But for those that had not been winterized, he decided to leave drain plugs in, make sure bilge pumps were working, add extra bilge pumps, and top off batteries. All of the boats floated off their jackstands or dry stacks, but the boats with drain plugs out were almost all destroyed, while those with drain plugs in were not inundated by the surge and most survived. BoatUS Catastrophe Team surveyor Ron Alcus, who worked at the marina after the storm, told Seaworthy he found "half the engine damage of any other marina in the area."

So, yes, drain plugs must be out for the winter to prevent freeze damage, and if you don't have to worry about hurricanes, that's all that needs to be said. But if you're in a hurricane-prone area, there are a couple of alternatives. If you shrinkwrap the boat before hurricane season is over, purchase a one-way drain plug (such as the CR Marine Automatic Drain Plug), leave that in, and cover the boat. That way, water would only get into the boat if the cover were ripped off, and then the drain plug would allow water out but not in.

Those plugs do clog easily, though, so the best solution might be to wait until after hurricane season to cover or shrinkwrap your boat, and to leave the drain plug out until then. But, if you see a hurricane approaching, you'll need to go to the marina and put the drain plug in. Then make sure the bilge pumps are working and the battery is topped up!End of story marker


To comment on this article, please contact Seaworthy@BoatUS.com