How To Winterize Your Boat

The transition from fall to winter marks the end of the boating season.  The time has come to shift your attention to storing your vessel.  Store your boat the right way and you'll reduce the chances of ensuing maintenance and repairs.

The subtleties of boat winterization strategy matter a great deal.  Pay attention to detail when preparing your boat for the winter and you’ll facilitate a quick and easy return to the water once spring arrives.  Here’s the inside scoop on how to winterize a boat.

How to Winterize Your Boat

Boat Winterization Basics

When it comes to winterizing a boat, your thoughts might immediately turn to things such as fuel stabilizer, shrink wrap, tarps, garages, etc.  Each of these boat winterization essentials is important yet truly comprehensive winterization requires an orderly approach.  Print out this how to winterize a boat guide, laminate it and keep it easily accessible as the boating season winds down.

Begin the winterization process by draining the water from the boat engine.  The last thing you want is for water remaining in the engine to freeze, expand and compromise the internal components.  The drainage of water from the engine requires a unique approach specific to your boat so be sure to reference the owner’s manual.

1. Flush/Drain the Boat’s Water Lines

Take some time to review the entirety of the boat’s systems.  Make a mental note of each system that drains water.  If your boat is like most, it will require water draining from the plumbing system and cooling system.  Even the engine coolant requires draining for the winter.  Flush the engine with water muffs prior to the start of the seasonal transition.

2. Stabilize the Fuel

Fuel will gradually deteriorate, leading to the accumulation of gunk within the boat engine.  If fuel deterioration occurs throughout the winter, the boat will be difficult to start, perform poorly and have a shorter lifespan.  Add fuel stabilizer to the boat before the start of winter and you’ll rest easy knowing you’ve done your part to prevent the accumulation of varnish within the fuel line, carburetor and fuel injector.

3. Mind the Lower Unit and Outboards

Change the lower unit along with the outboard powerhead oil.  The timing of the last oil change doesn’t change the fact that it is possible for water to have moved into the lower unit.  Such water can freeze.  There is also the chance of a buildup of acid along the powerhead oil.

Change the oil before putting the boat away for winter storage.  If you plan on letting the boat remain idle in storage for a month or longer, use fogging fluid or EFI fogging oil treatment.  If the boat has an inboard or a stern-drive, use antifreeze before storing the boat for the next couple months.

4. Safeguard the Internal Components

The internal components of your boat are essential for functionality yet they are almost always out of mind as they are out of sight.  In particular, the components within boat engines matter a great deal, especially in the brutally cold winter months when lack of use can cause problems.

There is the potential for engine oil to drain while in storage, potentially leading to corrosion and scuffing of the engine.  You can prevent such an outcome by spraying a fogging spray to coat the boat engine’s internal components.  Such spray consists of a compound that is anti-corrosive, serving to protect the boat engine internal parts for the duration of the winter.

5. Lubricate the Boat’s Grease Fittings

Grease fittings have the potential to corrode and rust.  You can prevent such unsightly wear during the winter months by applying marine lubricant.  Generously apply the anti-corrosive lubricant to the grease fittings and you won’t be greeted by any unexpected rust or corrosion in the spring or summer when it’s time to hit the water.  If you don’t know where your boat’s grease fittings are, reference the owner’s manual for guidance.

6. Add new Gear Oil

Change the gear oil in addition to changing the boat’s engine oil.  Drain the current oil out of its compartment.  The addition of fresh gear oil will help safeguard the boat’s transmission, preventing the development of moisture and corrosion.

7. Clean the Boat Before Storing It

You put your boat to the test in the summer so be sure to give it a good cleaning before storing it for the winter.  Every boat benefits from a thorough cleaning and waxing.  Ideally, you’ll use a pressure washer along with a specialized boat bottom cleaner to eliminate fouling.  A comprehensive boat cleaning for the winter includes a cleaning of the following:

  • Helm
  • Kitchen
  • Cabin
  • Heads

Perform a thorough scrubbing of the topsides with a deck cleaning solution, eliminating all dirt and other grime from crevices.  Clean canvas, vinyl, plastic and glass.  Don’t forget to add a new coating of waterproofing to the canvas.  The final piece of the wintertime boat cleaning puzzle is a waxing of the fiberglass topsides.

If you are on the fence as to whether a thorough cleaning is worth the time and effort, be proactive.  Cleaning the boat in the fall or early winter presents a golden opportunity to repaint in the spring.

8. Cover the Boat

A basic tarp can be used to cover your boat for the winter season yet a custom-fit cover is ideal.  Though shrink wrapping is also an option, you won’t be able to use the boat in the event of an unexpected warm winter day.  If you choose a fitted boat cover, shop the market instead of immediately buying the cheapest option.  In general, covers made of cotton and nylon do not stand the test of time.  Acrylic or polyester are the best boat cover materials.

Be sure to check the cover’s ounce rating to find out the weight in terms of the number of ounces per square yard.  If the ounce rating is a mere two ounces, the cloth cover probably won’t last more than a couple seasons of storage.  If possible, get a cover that has an ounce rating of 6 to 10 ounces.  The best boat covers are also reinforced along the stress points including the corners and frames.

9. Perform One Last Check of the Boat Before Storing It

Can you imagine shrink wrapping a boat only to find you left your keys, wallet, phone or other another valuable on board?  Perform a once-over of the boat before putting it in storage for the winter.  Examine all remaining sundries, moving valuables and electronics inside your home for the duration of the winter.  Once all your personal belongings are removed, you will be able to store the vessel for the duration of the winter with a truly invaluable peace of mind.

10. Perform Wintertime Boat Checks

Harsh winds and storms have the potential to cause the formation of ice dams, roof leaks and worse.  There is also the potential for the wind, rodents or vandals to remove the boat’s cover and get inside.  Moreover, boat shrink wrap has the potential to stretch out or get pierced.  Check on your boat a couple times during the winter, address any problems that arise and you’ll seamlessly transition to the spring and summer boating seasons.

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