It's Almost That Time Again
Winterizing Your Boat

As the summer rapidly draws to a close some people will be making plans to winterize their boat ashore and others will be looking forward to enjoying some winter cruising. After all the problems of last winter between the high flood water in November to the freezing tempetures in January it was really a testing time for the boat owner. The time and effort you spend now will have a definite effect on your boat's performance, or lack of it, and certainly save you time, effort and money come spring. Thankfully, most of the claims for frost damage where settled up by insurers as it was really unforeseen weather conditions that hit the country but we can only use that excuse once and if we experience similar weathers conditions this winter insurers will expect that you have winterized your boat correctly and will not be so lenient on the engine claims next year.

If you have planned to come ashore, it is important to prepare the boat thoroughly. Reduce windage and ensure your cradle or supports are properly secured to protect against high wind and gales. A canopy, dodgers split by the wind is a common exclusion on most insurance policies, so it is advisable to remove them to a safe dry environment.

Your first step in winterizing should be to make a checklist of all items that need to be accomplished. If you are a new boat owner, perhaps you should employ the assistance of a friend with experience in winterizing or hire a professional to do the job. Many of the boat yards offer this service, but don’t leave it too late.

If you are going down the line of winterizing the boat yourself, there are many resources on the internet with more detailed and specific information but to help built your checklist we have set out some of the important headings.

Out of Water Storage - pressure wash hull, clean off props and shafts, rudders, struts and trim tabs. Clean all thru-hulls and strainers.

Engine(s) - You should run the engine(s) to warm it up and change the oil while it is warm. This tends to allow impurities to be drained away with the oil. You should also change the oil filter(s). Drain down water systems and circulate antifreeze through the manifold by using a pickup hose from the water pump to a bucket of antifreeze. Start the engine and allow the antifreeze to circulate until water starts to exit the exhaust. This process will vary slightly depending on whether you have a Raw Water cooling system or an Enclosed Fresh Water cooling system. While you're in the engine room you should also change the fluid in the gearbox and check the fuel filters for any signs of water in the tanks.

If you have a Stern Drive, you should thoroughly inspect and remove any plant life or barnacles from the lower unit. Drain the gear case and check for excessive moisture in the oil. This could indicate leaking seals and should be repaired. Clean the lower unit with soap and water. If your stern drive has a rubber boot, check it for cracks or pinholes. Grease all fittings and check fluid levels in hydraulic steering or lift pumps. Check with your owner's manual for additional recommendations by the manufacturer.

Fuel - Fill your fuel tank(s) to avoid a build up of condensation over the winter months. Add a fuel stabilizer by following the instructions on the product. Change the fuel filter(s) and water separator(s).

Bilges - Make sure the bilges are clean and dry. Use soap, hot water and a stiff brush to clean up any oil spills. Once the bilges are clean, spray with a moisture displacing lubricant and add a little antifreeze to prevent any water from freezing.

Fresh Water System - Completely drain the fresh water tank and hot water heater. Isolate the hot water heater by disconnecting the in and out lines and connect them together. Pump a non-toxic antifreeze into the system and turn on all the facets including the shower and any wash-down areas until you see the antifreeze coming out. Also put non-toxic antifreeze in the water heater.

Head - Pump out the holding tank at an approved facility. While pumping, add fresh water to the bowl and flush several times. Use Vanish crystals or whatever your owner's manual recommends that will not harm your system and let sit for a few minutes. Again add fresh water and pump out again. Add antifreeze and pump through hoses, holding tank, y-valve, macerator and discharge hose. Again, check your owners manual to make sure that an alcohol-based antifreeze won't damage your system.

Interior - Once you have taken care of the messy jobs you should remove any valuables, electronics, lines, PFD, fire extinguishers, flares, fenders, etc. Over the winter these items can be cleaned, checked and replaced as necessary. Open all drawers and lockers and clean thoroughly. Turn cushions up on edge so that air is able to circulate around them or, better yet, bring them home. Open and clean the refrigerator and freezer. To keep your boat dry and mildew-free you might want to install a dehumidifier

Staying In for the winter.

Over the winter months you can get some fantastic weather for cruising but you must also remember that the weather changes quickly and you must have your boat prepared for the cold nights.

  • First of all make sure that your insurance policy covers you to stay in the water over the winter and your insurers knows where the boat is moored.
  • Check the shaft and stuffing boxes for leaks, tighten or repack as necessary.
  • Check bilge pumps to ensure they are working and that float switches properly activate the pumps and that they are not hindered by debris.
  • Be aware of leaks around windows and doors and that over the winter period these leeks can amount to a lot of water building up in your bilge. A very common claim over the winter is the boat sinking from a pure build up of rain water and most time these claims are denied by insurers.
  • Check your battery to make sure it is fully charged, clean terminals, add water if necessary and make sure your charging system is working.
  • When leaving the boat for any extended period close all seacocks including the heads.

Particular care should be taken if leaving battery chargers or de humidifiers running over the winter period. There have been a number of devastating fires on boats as a result of electrical faults on the shore powered devices. Keeping your boat dry through the winter is the right thing to do, but you need to be sure that any de humidifier being used is well secured and fit for the job. If you plan to have a heater running as well, be sure that you are not overloading the circuits and that you have the right sort of heater as this could significantly increase the risk of fire.