Winter Layup Tips for Your Boat
In many parts of the country, this is transition season, time to haul and winterize your boat. Fall haul-out nearly matches the urgency level of spring launch in your need to complete the task. Winter is coming, but don’t let that ticking clock make you miss some steps in putting your boat into hibernation that will affect the long-term health of the boat and the ease of spring commissioning. Here are a few straightforward layup tips to make your life easier come spring commissioning and beyond.
Winterizing engines and fuel systems is a top priority, especially with the ethanol demons ready to wreak havoc during the cold season.
Wash — and wax — the boat. Nearly every boatyard will power-wash the bottom of your boat and empty the water and holding tanks on haul-out, as a matter of course. If you haul the boat yourself, give the bottom (and the trailer) a thorough going-over. But don’t stop there – wash the topsides and deck too, especially if you boat in salt water. I take all my lines off the boat, put messengers in the mast, and soak the lot in my bathtub in a mild soap (Woolite) to get the salt out. You’ll be really surprised how dirty the water gets before the first rinse. I also empty the boat of equipment and wash the interior with a disinfectant solution like Pine Sol. Boats live in a wet environment conducive to mold and mildew, and if you don’t want to be overwhelmed in the spring with a ripe boat, I suggest getting more aggressive on haul-out, all the way to washing the bilge. Now that the boat is clean and all the equipment is hung out to dry, remove any standing water and air it out. Last, take the extra step and apply a coat of wax. You won’t believe how much easier a fall waxing makes the one in the spring.
Winterize engine and plumbing. After the boat is empty and clean, the job of winterizing the engine(s) and plumbing systems is at hand. First, add a fuel stabilizer and top off your fuel tank(s)completely. This helps prevent condensation from building in your fuel tank. Outboard engine owners should be familiar with coolant flushing kits available at most marine stores. A five-gallon bucket filled with fresh water from a garden hose will help flush the cooling system of salt in any inboard engines. Simply disconnect the intake hose from the thru-hull fitting and stick it in the bucket and let the engine run for 15-to 20 minutes. Next, fill the bucket with biodegradable anti-freeze (referred to as RV antifreeze) and let the engine run until the “pink stuff” starts spitting out the exhaust. Shut it down, reconnect the intake hose, and then change the oil and oil filter while the engine oil is still warm. Acids build up in oil and it is better to “sweeten” the engine with fresh oil prior to the long winter nap. Now your engine has fuel stabilizer in it, with antifreeze protecting the cooling system, and fresh oil. In the spring, it should be a simple matter to address the air filter, impellers, belts, hoses, and engine zincs.
The two choices for any plumbing/fresh water system are either to drain it completely or to fill the system with antifreeze. My rule of thumb here is if it has a motorized pump, such as a fresh water system or macerator, fill it with anti-freeze, so that the pump is protected. Again, you can disconnect the intake line, insert it directly into the anti-freeze container, and turn on the pump until it comes out the spigot or discharge. Many yards will recommend a one-time installation of a Service-T for this purpose, which is worth the investment. If it is a mechanical pump, such as a hand-pump toilet, it is OK to simply drain it. Water and holding tanks should be flushed with anti-bacterial solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) and drained.
Set up battery maintenance. Boat batteries are usually big, cumbersome, wedged securely into small places, and difficult and expensive to replace. Because of this, no item causes greater conflict between owners and boatyards. On average, a battery that is kept charged and seasonally serviced should last 3 to 5 years. The simplest solution is to make sure your batteries are fully charged and topped up with distilled water (if they are wet cells), then trickle-charge them either with a small solar panel or a “smart” battery charger-maintainer that will monitor charge level and shut off without overcharging. If you store the boat at home, simply run an extension cord to the boat and plug in the battery maintainer with the battery in place. (Again, check the fluid level prior to connecting.) Since most boatyards are not prepared to provide power to every customer in their yards, you might be better off with a small solar panel. Alternatively you could visit the batteries a couple of times over the winter and charge with your own extention cords. Finally, if the batteries are easy to remove for the winter, just take them home and maintain them there.
Cover the boat: Heated, inside boat storage is all the rage in cold zones like New England and the upper Midwest, but very expensive. If you do keep your boat outdoors, cover it. Protecting your boat from ice damage, dirt, debris, and UV exposure with a cover is a smart idea, but remember that boats need to breathe, so install your cover in such a way that there is airflow. For that reason, I’m not a fan of shrink-wrapping unless you also install a vent. An inexpensive stove vent duct-taped in the peak will do the trick. Otherwise, you will replicate a rain forest on the inside of your cover that only breeds more mold and mildew, never mind warping any wood with the temperature extremes your boat will undergo. If you store the boat in your yard and security is not a big issue, I suggest leaving the hatches open under the cover to promote ventilation. On sailboats, let the ends of the strong-back overhang the bow and stern so you can leave the cover open slightly for access and airflow—let it breathe.
Remember that storing your boat properly is a big part of your maintenance program. Do it conscientiously and you will protect your investment and make your next commissioning and boating season easier from a maintenance perspective. Having a clean, protected place to work may also lend itself to getting the jump on those winter improvement projects.