For many boat owners, October is the end of the boating season. While some lucky folks spend winters in warm weather ports, the rest of us must plan for harsh conditions. This means it's time to prepare your boat for the winter season. We suggest that you make a winterizing to-do list, which should include:
- Storage location
- Engine, gear train and fuel systems
- Stuffing boxes
- Bilge areas and pumps
- Steering and hydraulic systems
- Interior accommodations and cabin areas
- Electronics and electrical circuits, generators, electric motors, and air- conditioning systems
- Stoves and other appliances
- Marine sanitation devices
- Freshwater systems, potable water system
- Exterior hull including wood, composite and alloy items
- Running rigging, spars and standing rigging
- Winches, windlasses and deck hardware, and roller reefing gear
- Sacrificial anodes (zincs)
If possible, keep your boat in an indoor, fully-covered, climate-controlled storage area. Some winterizing procedures are only possible to achieve when the boat is out of the water. Dry storage also gives you the opportunity to thoroughly inspect your boat's hull and underwater components for any maintenance needs.
To lift your boat from the water, hire an experienced professional with the proper equipment and trained to lift yachts. Properly support the boat's hull during the lifting operation to avoid serious and permanent hull deformation. Use approved lifting straps.
Be sure to properly block the boat’s hull to avoid damage in dry storage. Use a cradle or blocking supports with the forward end of the boat elevated slightly to position the boat in a bow-high attitude. This allows any water in the bilges to flow aft and drain through the hull drain. All of the blocking supports should prevent the boat from shifting while in storage.
Have your marina shrink wrap the boat or have a winter storage cover made. Do not secure the cover to the boat too tightly. Allow adequate ventilation to protect against dry rot, corrosion and electrical problems.
Pressure-wash the hull and remove marine life from props and shafts, rudders, struts and trim tabs. Check the hull for blisters; turn to a professional to drain them. Clean all thru-hulls, strainers and open seacocks to drain any water. Remove the batteries from the boat and take them home or put them on a trickle charger or recharge every two to three months.
If you must store your boat in the water, make sure your marina or dock has a de-icing device or bubbling system around your boat in the event the water freezes. Close all seacocks and check rudder shafts and stuffing boxes for leaks. Tighten or repack if necessary. Check bilge pumps to make sure they are working and activated by float switches. Check the battery to ensure a full charge. Also, clean the terminals and make sure your charging system is working.
For boats kept in the water, a prudent care schedule during the winter months includes regular security and systems checks. We suggest that you check your boat periodically or have marina personnel check the condition of shore power connections, mooring lines, fenders, and canvas or covers. Run the engine for an hour every month. Take time to check fuses and any operating electrical equipment. Also, open the bilges and cycle the bilge pumps to ensure operability.
Read the operating instructions for your boat, engine, and other systems to learn manufacturer recommendations. Proper winterizing provides another good excuse to apply TLC to your vessel. A little work before you close the cover could prevent damage, saving money and time later.