Winterizing Your Boat
Salty sailors love their superstitions. History is filled with stories where life-changing decisions hinged on signs interpreted from the sea. Like many things in life that are mysterious, superstitions have their grounding in reality. Back in the day, sharks following a vessel meant that someone was about to die. Well, it makes some sort of sense, doesn’t it. When you toss a body overboard, who is most likely to benefit but a hungry shark? Dolphins nearby brought good luck. Well, we know now that sharks are unlikely to hang out with dolphins, so that’s good fortune if you’re worried about being on the shark menu.
Other seemingly nonsensical things resonate with us. Does a clean boat seem to run better? Absolutely, and there is a logical reason for it. The more time you spend tending to your boat (and cleaning is time well spent!), the more engaged you are with its workings and the better you will be at operating it.
Most boaters are aware that winterizing their boats is an important step in keeping them in good working order over time. In colder climates, especially where it freezes, this is a necessity because freezing water will expand and possibly cause whatever is holding it to stretch or break. Fresh and salt water have different properties as well. And let’s not forget the other fluids that need tending to: gasoline, engine oil, anti-freeze, hydraulic fluid and other lubricants. While the theory remains the same, there are varying processes for winterizing your boat, depending on the boat. The key, however, is engagement.
Much of this comes down to understanding your boat as a system. The various components of this system interact with each other using mechanisms like electrical wiring, hoses, belts and cables, as well as those fluids it needs to operate smoothly. If you are going to own a boat, you should really allocate some time to understanding the system. Your boat may be old, with jerry-rigged components or after-market modifications. Or it may be brand new, with detailed instruction manuals that make sense. Either way, learning how to care for it, knowing which areas are prone to problems, and what happens to parts and fluids when exposed to the elements are essential to boat ownership. Winterizing your boat is a great opportunity to do just this. It forces you to physically inspect your boat and take precautionary steps to protect it. Take advantage of this time. Make the boat your temple and Zen out for a while, you will not be sorry.
We won’t go into any details here that may be model-specific, nor any deep dives on maintaining anodes, but we have provided a good general understanding of the overall process and links for deeper dives, should you need it. The most important factor impacting your boat in the winter is the presence of water. Removing and inhibiting it is your foremost goal during winterization.
If you have one, the owner’s manual is a great starting place. It may even have a section for winterizing. Failing that:
Key Steps to Winterizing your Boat
- Clean the Boat Inside and Out: This is a good first step. This includes removing any dirt and grime from the hull, deck, interior and engine. Apply any protective coatings necessary to withstand the elements.
- Drain Water: Drain water from all of the boat’s systems. This includes the engine, water tanks, bilge and livewells. All pumps should also be drained. For hoses, pipes or other enclosed areas, you can use compressed air to force the water out. Take a sponge to any place where residual water is pooling. For water cooled engines, you should flush them with clean water then run antifreeze through them and cap them off. Water can pillage your systems through condensation so any hoses, pipes or ports where moisture can enter should also be sealed.
- Change the Oil: Change the engine oil and replace the oil filter. Though it seems like a closed compartment, water invades here as well. Changing the oil and running the engine for a bit is important to prevent any water or condensation that has built up over time from remaining in the engine and causing damage.
- Fuel Stabilizer: Add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tank to prevent the fuel from deteriorating and causing problems with the engine when you start it up again in the spring. Run the engine with this newly treated gas for a bit.
- Corrosion Protection: Make sure to fog your engine and use corrosion inhibitors on the various components of your engine.
- Battery Care: Remove the boat’s batteries and put them in a warm, dry place. Check the water level in the batteries and charge them fully before storing them.
- Cover the Boat: Cover the boat with a high-quality, breathable cover to protect it from the elements. Make sure the cover fits snugly to prevent any moisture from getting in.
- Store the Boat: Store the boat in a dry, protected area, such as a garage or storage facility. If possible, keep it somewhere where it won’t be exposed to freezing temperatures. This avoids many of the problems discussed in this article.
Discover Boating: Winterization Guide: Specific Engine Types & Other Systems
An interesting article from BoatUS on the important topic of sacrificial anodes, or “zincs”, can be found here
And of course, if you are winterizing your boat, De-winterizing is also an important topic