Recreational Boating Safety – Winterizing Your Boat

Bob CurrieBy Bob Currie, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
U. S. Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
Time of the Season
For many recreational boaters, the first cool spell signals the end of their boating season. Many boaters pull their boat out of the water, park it in the back yard, and cover it with a tarp and let it sit until the next spring. But winterizing your boat is an important job that should be done, or the boat stands a good chance of undergoing damage as it sits through the winter. This column will cover recommendations for winterizing your boat so that it will survive the winter and be ready for next boating season.

Hauling Out
Hauling out time is one of the most important times to ensure the proper maintenance of your boat. If your boat stays in a wet slip during the boating season, then you will have marine growth on the hull. Immediately after hauling out you should clean the hull of all marine growths such as barnacles and algae. Marine growth cleans more easily when it is still saturated with water. If you wait until it dries, it will harden like cement and be very difficult to clean off. A pressure washer will make short work of getting most of the growth off, but it is important to clean the hull thoroughly. Marine growth can destroy your hull over time, and it will certainly reduce the performance of the boat. At the same time wash the entire hull down with fresh water, including the decks and superstructure. This is especially important if you plan to store your boat under a cover, as the rains will not be able to wash away any salt that is encrusted on your boat and fittings. The salt that remains will corrode any metal fittings.

Laying Up
When laying up the boat, there are several important steps that need to be taken. These steps help to ensure that the boat will not deteriorate during storage.

Water System
First, drain, and if necessary, winterize your water system with non-toxic RV antifreeze, especially if the boat will be exposed to freezing temperatures during the laying up period. Any marine store can help you decide what type of antifreeze you need.

Fuel Tanks
Fill the fuel tanks and use a fuel stabilizing compound. Fuel tanks that are not full tend to develop moisture inside, and that is bad news for any engine. A fuel stabilizer will aid in preventing the formation of varnish in the fuel system and aid in reducing water condensation inside the tanks. If you use fuel that has any alcohol in it, then the stabilizer will prevent the damage to fuel lines and carburetors that ethanol-gasoline mixes are famous for.

Drain the bilge. Leave the drain plug out, but stow it where you can find it in the spring. As a longtime pontoon boat owner, I had to get used to using that drain plug again when I got my new boat. It is so easy to forget when launching, especially on a boat where the drain plug is designed to be inserted from inside the boat, as mine is. Once you have drained as much water as possible, soak up any remaining water with a sponge. Any dampness that remains can lead to the formation of dry rot, which is a misnomer. Dry rot can only take hold in the presence of wetness and dampness. It is a fungus that thrives in fresh water. Usually the first sign of dry rot is its smell. It has a musty moldy odor. Dry rot is especially damaging to wood, and will ruin any life jackets you have stored in a damp place.

Change your engine oil and filter, as well as your fuel filters and water separators. Each manufacturer has instructions you should follow to winterize the engine. This may involve a “fogging” procedure to coat the cylinder walls with oil to prevent corrosion. In many cases your engine costs more than your boat, so this is a very important step.

Remove your batteries and store them in a location that is not subject to freezing. Check the batteries periodically, and maintain them in a fully charged state during storage. Your boat battery manufacturer may also have instructions for storing the battery during the winter down time. A high quality trickle charger will keep the battery in good condition.

Go through the boat and remove all perishables that you can find. Don’t be faced with returning to the boat in the spring and discovering a lingering odor that won’t go away. Insects have a way of finding perishables and making your boat their new home. They also attract rodents, which also are attracted to some electrical wiring harnesses.

Holding Tank
If you have a holding tank, flush it out with fresh water and add appropriate RV antifreeze. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for winterizing the tank. In addition to the holding tank, remove all liquids that can freeze. When sodas freeze, they rupture their container, and then when they thaw you will end up with a sticky liquid in a place you don’t want it, and the insects will find this meal and make your boat their new home.

Life Jackets
Remove your life jackets, clean them according to the manufacturer’s instructions printed on the life jacket, and store them in a clean, ventilated, dry place. Remove all clothes, bedding and mattresses as well. Any dampness that finds its way into your boat will also find those items and ruin them.

I know, it says it is waterproof, but all electronics such as your GPS, compass, marine radio, etc., should be removed as well. Stored boats are targets for thieves, and if you don’t check your boat regularly, those items could be long gone when spring comes around. Take those ice coolers, fishing rods and expensive reels out too.

Before you cover your boat, remove the floorboards, if any, and let the bilge dry completely out before covering the boat. Leave them off, but be aware in the spring that you may have some tenants that have moved in during the winter. I had a family of squirrels move into the bilge of one of my boats. Snakes also like bilges.

Covering the Boat
Your boat is now ready to be covered. If the boat is going to be stored in a shed, so much the better. Many large marinas have climate controlled boat storage, and that is something to think about if you have a large, expensive boat. But, if you are going to store it yourself, then the best bet is to cover it with a tarp or plastic. I have usually been able to find a cover that is made specifically for my boat, and I highly recommend that you use that option if available. You want the tarp or plastic cover to completely and tightly cover your boat, and one that is specifically made for your boat is the best option. Bungee cords are good for maintaining tension on the cover. Be sure to check your boat periodically during the layup period, especially after storms if the boat is stored outside. Look for signs of animal invasion (squirrels, skunks, possums) as they can wreak havoc with your wiring and hoses.

A boat is a substantial investment, so taking care to winterize it for storage should be a top priority for all boat owners. For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at SAFE BOATING!

[BC: Nov-22-2022]

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