Fellow boaters who know me will probably accuse me of sounding like a broken record, but that’s fine because this is worth mentioning over and over. There is much more to laying a boat up for the winter than switching off the batteries, locking her up and walking away.A boat that is correctly put to bed at the end of the season will suffer less during the off-season — maintenance costs will be reduced, the boat will better maintain its appearance, and as a consequence its residual value will be enhanced.
Start your winter layup by making a checklist of anything that needs to be addressed and follow through with fixes during the winter months. Don’t wait until the last few weeks before the boat goes back into the water next year.
It’s best to service the engine and other mechanicals before the boat is laid up. You’ll save time next year and, more important, the engine will have fresh oil in it, which will protect the inner workings better than that old oil, which may contain sulfur and other potentially harmful chemicals that can damage parts.
Wipe the inside of your cabinetry with a light bleach solution to remove any mold that may have accumulated. It will also leave the boat smelling fresh. Some folks swear by leaving dryer sheets in strategic places throughout the boat to keep it smelling sweet, but I prefer open trays of baking soda, which is environmentally friendly, effective and inexpensive. Or you can use a product such as Canberra gel to maintain a healthy atmosphere on board during the winter. You can also wipe a little lemon oil inside drawers and cupboards to keep them smelling fresh.
Adequate ventilation is essential during winter storage. Open drawers and lockers, and the fridge and freezer lids and doors. If the boat is going be stored inside or shrink-wrapped, crack open the hatches and doors to allow air to circulate. Also, make sure vents are installed in the shrink wrap to allow air movement.
Air conditioners and water-cooled refrigeration units are often forgotten but require attention. Remove the intake pipe from the seacock and stick the end into a bucket of antifreeze. Turn on the pump and let it run until you see the antifreeze come out of the discharge line. Another method is to remove the top of the sea strainer, if your boat is so equipped, and with the seacock closed pour antifreeze into the strainer, again waiting until it flows from the outlet.
If your boat has painted topsides, only shrink wrap to the toe rail. If you must cover the boat to the waterline, add foam blocks around the skirt line to keep the plastic off the paint. Moisture trapped between the plastic and the boat can cause blisters and lift the paint.
It is a good idea to give the outside of the boat a good washdown, using plenty of clean water and a good boat soap. Waxing the hull and deck will protect your investment, too.
If the boat lives in a slip or on a mooring, there’s a good chance that the bottom will be fouled. Pressure-washing is the best method to remove weeds, slime and critters, which will set like concrete if you wait until spring. Bottom-washing usually has to be done by a yard, as there are strict guidelines for collecting and recycling the runoff. If you haul out before the weather gets too cold, consider getting a jump on next season by reapplying antifouling paint in the fall. Some bottom paints have to be immersed within 24 hours of application, but most do not.
It should go without saying that the boat should be dry before it is stored. Bilge pumps do a good job of getting much of the water out of the boat, but they rarely remove all of it. Use a sponge to get as much water out of the boat as possible; water left behind will promote the growth of mold and mildew during the off-season. If your boat is equipped with a bilge drain plug, remove it once the boat is out of the water. Any water that finds its way into the bilge will drain, provided the boat is stored in a bow-up position. I like to tape the plug to the steering column so it’s not forgotten in the excitement to launch, come spring.
The size of your boat, personal preference and your budget all come into play when deciding how and where to store your boat in the off-season. Trailerable boats can often be stored at home, where you can keep a close eye on them. Larger boats are usually stored at the boatyard or marina.
Boats stored on the hard must be adequately supported, which usually involves using jackstands. Boats should also be adequately supported under their keels with blocks of wood. In fact, this is where the majority of the weight is transferred to the ground, with the jackstands supporting the bilges and preventing the boat from tipping over. Jackstands should have chains between them to prevent them from shaking free during winter storms, but never tie off tarps or other covers to them.
The best place to store your boat is inside — better yet, use temperature-controlled inside storage. However, this is often not available, and if it is, it typically costs two or three times the price of outside storage.
Some boaters prefer to keep their boats on a mooring or in a slip during the winter. Systems still must be winterized, and boats should be periodically checked to ensure lines are not chafing and that other problems are not developing.
Plug exhaust ports to prevent mice and small animals from making their winter home in them. Muskrats have sunk boats by chewing through exhaust hoses.
Anchor rodes and mooring lines get encrusted with dirt and salt during the season, which makes them stiff to handle and causes them to wear out faster. Wash them with a mild detergent in a bucket of water, rinse them well and hang them out to dry. Coil them loosely and store them away from direct sun.
As a surveyor, I see many boat owners who have to replace their batteries sooner than normal because they have been neglected during the winter. Remove the batteries from the boat, if possible, and store them at home. If they are large and heavy and not easily removed, be sure they are fully charged before layup, and top off the charge once per month. All batteries self-discharge to some extent, but flooded-cell lead acid batteries will lose their charge faster than AGM or gel cells and can freeze and burst if not sufficiently charged.
If you own a sailboat, you have additional work to do. Remove the sails and bring them to your sail loft for cleaning and repairs. Most lofts will service sails and store them for you until next year. If you need additional or replacement sails, order them now. Sailmakers usually have less work during the winter months and may offer you a better deal than at the beginning of the season, when they are busy.
Make sure your insurance is up to date. Many companies specify a layup period, and you may not be covered if you keep the boat in the water. Check your policy and alter your coverage, if necessary.
Paradoxically, many insurance claims for freezing damage come not from parts of the country where temperatures in the single digits can be expected but from boat owners farther south. Georgia and parts of Florida were hit with unseasonably cold weather last winter, and many boats sustained damage because of the extreme temperatures.
Now, about that checklist. If you’re like me, you’ll have a good number of jobs to complete during the off-season. Get started as soon as possible if you are doing them yourself. If you plan on having the yard take care of them, hand over the list early; don’t wait until a couple of weeks before you want to launch.
Preparing your boat for the winter won’t be difficult if you approach it methodically. As you work through your checklist, take note of what you did so you know you haven’t missed anything when spring rolls around and you’re itching to get back out on the water. You did put the drain plug back in, didn’t you?
1. With the boat hauled, winter is the best time to service the stuffing box.
2. Change the oil at the end of the season, not next spring. Fresh oil offers the best protection for internal engine parts.
3. There are many opinions about ethanol and fuel additives for winter storage, but I say using an additive can’t hurt. Follow the manufacturer-recommended doses.
4. Leaving seawater in heat exchangers, exhaust risers and mufflers is courting disaster. Flush the engine with fresh water and run antifreeze through it.
5. Inspect the bilge, engine room and other “unseen” parts of the boat, and take note of problems that have to be addressed.
6. Wash, wax and polish the boat before putting it to bed. The wax will protect the surface, and you’ll be on the water faster next season.
November 2014 issue