Storing Our Shiny Red Tug


By Jim Favors

If Lisa and I aren’t on the water boating, we’re talking and actively planning our next boating adventure. Last fall, we found ourselves in a new situation when we decided to take the winter off of boating, something we haven’t done, by choice, in several years. We made the decision to put our shiny red tug into storage for six months because we plan to head west, mid-summer, for a four-month cruising adventure. We felt we needed to focus on preparing for that trip and, at the same time, catch up on some house projects. The decision was especially hard on Lisa, who had a hard time looking toward a long, cold, northern Michigan winter.

Out with the old and in with the new, oil that is!

The weeks leading up to tucking Kismet away into a heated boat storage building kept us busy. We had just spent six weeks cruising the Tennessee River, that time away helped to not only extend our summer boating season into fall, but kept our minds off our storage chores and the thoughts of being off the water for six months. When we arrived back to northern Michigan, we gave ourselves a week to prepare Kismet for winter storage and the start of our six-month hiatus from boating.

The first thing we had to decide was where and how we would store our tug. Ultimately we chose to go with storing her inside a heated building vs. cold inside storage or shrink-wrapped outside. By the time I had compared winterizing the engine, generator, water system, holding tank and air/heat unit along with storing Kismet shrink wrapped outside or inside a non-heated storage building, I was at the same dollar amount as what it was going to cost us for inside heated storage, $1,150.00. This worked out to less than $200 per month and, in our opinion, worth every penny to keep Kismet out of the long, cold, and sometimes harsh elements of a Michigan winter.

This shows the battery locker with cables from each terminal zip tied together to help lesson my reinstall ordeal.

Once it was decided how and where we would store Kismet, I went through all of the standard maintenance routines we would have done under any storage situation. One of the most crucial winter maintenance chores is to change engine oil and filters before a boat is stored. The reason for this, I’ve learned, is that over a period of time the oil in your engine can possibly generate acids, water, and other contaminants. This is not healthy for the longevity of an engine because these contaminants are potentially corrosive to the inside mechanics of an engine, especially when left in storage for 6 months. A couple of days before we trailered the boat home from the Tennessee River, I warmed the engine and generator to operating temperature and proceeded to extract the old oils, ridding the engines of any possible contaminants. I continued by changing the oil filters, adding new oil, cleaning the air filter, and replacing the engine’s sacrificial pencil zincs.

The day before we trailered Kismet, in Alabama, for the ride back home, we stopped at the fuel dock to pump out our black water holding tank. Knowing the boat would be heading to storage shortly after we arrived home, I added holding tank chemicals through the toilet and the discharge fitting. We always add odor-eating, break down, chemicals after each pump out, but we add even more before the boat goes into long-term storage. Our hopes are that Kismet emerges from storage in the spring without any foul, black water tank, odors.

This is my reinstall list, a helpful reminder tool after 6 months in storage.

When we got back to Traverse City, we continued preparing Kismet for her hibernation. We spent the better part of a day clearing out and cleaning up the interior. I like to take as much off of the boat as possible and store everything in our basement. Tools, spare parts, cleaning supplies, canvas, and seat cushions are all stacked neatly, high and dry in our basement. I do this so when spring comes and its time to commission Kismet for the new boating season, I can start with an uncluttered boat, reorganizing everything as I prepare the boat for launch day. After we unloaded all of our clothes, food and personal items, we propped the mattress up for air circulation while in storage. We then defrosted and cleaned the refrigerator, cleaned the head/shower before a final touch up on the woodwork, counter tops and flooring. To make sure the refrigerator had plenty of time to dry out, and so that odors would not accumulate during the storage period, we left the door ajar during storage. While we were attending to the interior cleaning, I had turned all of the faucets on in order to completely drain the water tank.

With the boat unloaded and the interior cleaned, I emptied the anchor locker, cleaned it out, and let the line part of the rode completely dry before replacing it back into the locker. While the line was drying, I checked the prop, transom, and thruster zincs. None needed to be replaced, so I just snugged their fittings and moved on to the sea strainers. We have strainers for the engine, generator, and air/heat unit. After taking each strainer cover off, I removed the three strainer baskets that needed to be cleaned. Before reinstalling the cleaned baskets, I flushed each strainer out with clean water and closed each seacock. With the sea strainers reassembled, I then taped a note over the ignition to remind myself to open them all back up in the spring.

I used this battery tender on Kismet’s four batteries, on a rotating basis, to keep their charge up over the long winter.

Some boat owners take their impellers out when they store their boat, so it doesn’t take on a compromised condition from sitting in its smaller housing for an extended period of time. Because I plan on changing mine out in the spring I left mine alone. While in the engine compartment, with the drain plug removed and stowed for the winter, I cleaned and rinsed out the bilge.

Our tug has a total of four batteries, one for the engine, two for house batteries, and one for the thrusters. I had decided to disconnect them all and keep them at home so I could manage their charge with my Deltran Battery Tender. Pulling the batteries sounded like an easy enough task until I realized just how many cables and wires are connected to the battery bank. Thinking that my memory, on which cable went where, might be just a little fuzzy in the spring, the first thing I did was take a photo before I started dismantling things, now I would have something to refer to in the spring. I then turned off all the battery cutoff switches before I started unbolting all the cables and wires from each of the battery terminals. With a bag of zip ties at hand, I used one to secure the wires/cables together from each of the eight terminals. I marked each zip tie with a number that corresponded with a zip tie attached to the terminal they came from. This project turned into a lot of work, but I thought it was important to document everything so my re-install would go off without a hitch; besides, I wanted to make sure our batteries were properly maintained in my garage throughout the boat’s storage period. Hopefully it will all go back together without any problems with the help of my photos, zip ties and fairly keen sense of memory.

I ran RV antifreeze into the water systems as a precaution, even though Kismet was to be stored in a heated building.

I’ve made it a practice to always check for proper air pressure in the trailer tires while traveling; therefore storage should be no different. While crouching down to obtain the pressure of each tire with my digital tire gauge, I also checked the sight glass of each wheel’s oil bath lubrication level. I wanted to make sure each wheel bearing was properly filled with gear oil and that it was not contaminated. With everything in good shape there, I proceeded to clean and dry the dinghy, I then deflated it and stored it in our basement. Just like the boat’s engine, it’s also important to service the dinghy outboard motor, so I went ahead and changed the engine oil and lower unit fluid.

With everything completed, I moved on to the task of giving Kismet one last bath before we towed her off for her long winter’s nap. It’s my thinking that a boat going into storage should be cleaned from top to bottom. Some boat owners even wax their vessels at this time, but I prefer to do that chore in the spring, for no other reason than I like to start the season off with as fresh a coat of wax as possible. With the boat shiny and clean, I left to tow her 29 miles to her winter home. Along the way I stopped to add diesel to the fuel tank, so it would be 90% full, as recommended by the manufacturer.

The good news about storing our boat a little later in the season, as seen in this shot, is that since we were the last one in, we’ll be the first one out.

With Kismet finally tucked away, far enough from home, and not too convenient to visit, I wondered how Lisa and I would do without stepping foot on our boat and without cruising for half a year. As I am writing this now, I can honestly say that, not only did we did survive a really long winter, we maximized and enjoyed our time at home with family and friends. The household projects, ones gladly behind us now because of the time allotted to that task, needed to be done and will free up our lives to pursue more cruising opportunities.

This week we’ve scheduled a day to retrieve our tug, we’ll bring her home and begin this whole process once again, but in reverse this time. Everything we took out will be scrutinized by us both as to whether it is truly needed or not, the batteries will be installed and everything will be cleaned, top to bottom with a shiny coat of wax on the exterior. With little more than eight weeks to provision and pack, we feel the excitement already building as the call of the water beckons us back to her.