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Decomissioning - The yard approach to winterizing

Boatyards decommission hundreds of vessels and offer a level of experience beyond most do-it-yourselfers

Boatyards decommission hundreds of vessels and offer a level of experience beyond most do-it-yourselfers

Talk around the docks this time of year starts to shift from cruising destinations to decommissioning, with boaters discussing the merits of either the DIY approach or whether to use professional services. Some may not be certain what professional winterization should include, or what they may be missing by going the DIY route.

One obvious benefit of the professional route is that marina staffmembers should be able to answer any of your questions and offer their experience as a guide. We all have our own thoughts and varying experience levels when it comes to decommissioning, but marina personnel deal with hundreds of boats each year and should be able to provide qualified professional advice.

I contacted marinas in Connecticut and New York for their professional approaches to winterizing, and then compared philosophies. To that I’ve added what I consider to be the basic requirements for winterization. (For trailerable and other boats that are stored at home, additional options for professional service are available from mobile marine mechanics.)

Winterizing should be considered the “beginning of preparation for the following season,” says Doug Domenie, general manager of the Brewer Dauntless Shipyard ( in Essex, Conn. Domenie explains that this is the time to discuss with marina personnel any issues or concerns you may have regarding your boat, not just “put it away for the winter.” Depending on staff size, you may be addressing these issues with the marina owner, service manager or a technician. Marinas should generate service tickets for each vessel, and it is important that your concerns be noted on the ticket. Casual requests or assumptions can lead to disaster for all involved.

While some facilities take a more passive approach than others, Jeff Strong of Strong’s Marine ( in Mattituck, N.Y., makes certain that every boat stored on the premises goes through a sea trial with a technician on board prior to haulout. This allows his staff to evaluate each boat’s operation and performance, identify potential problem areas, and schedule work to be done during the off season.

Sea trial service is offered by most marinas, but you’ll need to make arrangements early. Domenie recommends the owner be on board for the sea trial, if scheduling allows.

The marina needs to hear from you early in the fall if it is to do its job economically and as scheduled. Remember, fall decommissioning delays often lead to spring launching delays. Be prepared in advance of your decommission date with a list of performance issues, such as failure to reach wide-open throttle, engine temperature above or below normal, sluggish steering response, abnormal noise in the running gear, or varying fuel consumption. Is the air conditioning still blowing cold? Does the generator cut out when under load? Is the anchor windlass slipping? These and many other items can be looked into, but only if you bring them to the attention of marina staff. The sea trial before haulout is a great time for additional diagnosis by a technician.

Most marinas provide a fall work list/winterization form of varying detail. Bill Leverich of Brick Cove Marina ( ) in Southold, N.Y., gives clients a work planner that lists many of the winterizing services offered. He suggests using the planner as a guide, then discussing individual needs with the marina staff. Due to the variety of boats and various configurations even among similar vessels, neither Leverich nor most of the other marina operators I spoke with provide all-inclusive packages but rather work with individuals to accomplish the best job possible.

You should be able to provide a list of your boat’s onboard equipment, such as engine type, manufacturer and size. The same goes for the generator, air conditioning units, hot water heater, bilge pumps, water pumps, and any additional accessories that might require attention. The marina will be able to order the necessary filters and parts to properly service your boat in a timely manner. This information also should be included in your permanent file.

Leverich also uses the customer equipment list as a guide for stocking the ship’s store and parts department. Many older boats use parts that are no longer readily available, so he attempts to keep a few on hand for that occasional emergency repair.

Although you won’t be performing the winterizing yourself, there are several things you can do to help the process. Aside from early scheduling, be sure your boat is ready for the marina to do its work. For example, it should be free of personal items, clothing and accessories that can be removed. The refrigerator should be empty and all lockers, cabinets and drawers left open. Take linens home, and send sails out to be washed and inspected.

There are certain constants that should be observed when winterizing, regardless of who performs the job. But keep in mind that marinas differ on what is included with each specific decommissioning task — for example, winterizing the engines. And although some tasks might not be part of the winterizing process, it would be prudent to discuss these and consider paying the additional charges they may carry. Prepare now and avoid disappointment in the spring.


Properly winterizing an inboard engine should include, but isn’t limited to, the following tasks (these also would apply to generator engines):

• add fuel stabilizer and change fuel filters/water separators

• purge diesel fuel systems of air

• flush raw-water engine cooling system, fill system with non-toxic antifreeze

• flush scale from closed engine cooling system, drain and replenish with permanent-type antifreeze

• change engine and transmission oil and filters

• check all fluid levels, as leaks can be repaired over the layup period

• lubricate linkages

• inspect all hoses and belts

• replace engine zincs as needed

• service seawater pump

• run the engine with fogging oil (based on engine manufacturer’s recommendations)


Boats with outdrives should follow the same procedures for inboards, with the following additional care for the drive unit:

• remove the outdrive

• lubricate the gimble housing, universal and tail shaft

• lubricate shift and throttle cables

• drain and refill the gearcase oil and pressure check

• replace outdrive zincs as required

• inspect bellows and hoses

• service water pump


There are a number of outboard engine configurations — 2-stroke, 4-stroke, direct injection, etc. — with many having specific procedures and requirements pertaining to fuel system maintenance and fogging. There are, however, generic procedures that should be attended to:

• change fuel filters/water separators, including the engine’s internal filter

• change engine crankcase oil (4-stroke)

• add fuel stabilizer

• drain and refill gearcase oil, pressure check

• lubricate prop shaft, linkages, pivot points

• lubricate control cables and linkages

• replace zincs as needed

• service water pump


Depending on your boat’s equipment, the following items also may need to be addressed:

• operate and lubricate seacocks

• drain domestic water system and purge each outlet with non-toxic antifreeze

• flush saltwater washdowns and bait well systems to remove scale and run with non-toxic antifreeze

• discharge heads, empty holding tank, flush system with fresh water and then flush with antifreeze

• flush and run air conditioners with non-toxic antifreeze

• remove batteries or make arrangements to have them periodically recharged

Many of the items above pertain to sailboats as well, depending on how the boat is outfitted. In addition, many professionals recommend that the mast be unstepped if the boat will be stored on the hard. This has the additional benefit of allowing convenient inspection of the mast, rigging and wiring.

I’ve included some of the more obvious items here, but the list can easily grow. Sorting through the “I have to” and the “it would be nice if I could” options is best left up to you and your marina. When considering the cost of professional winterizing as compared to the DIY approach, Leverich says people often create many of their own issues that add to the cost. For example, the simple trick of bypassing the hot water heater when running the non-toxic antifreeze through is often overlooked.

Here is a sampling of approximate labor charges for some of the more common winterizing services. Keep in mind that pricing varies depending on location, level of service and specific inclusions.

• Winterizing a 2-stroke outboard ranges from $100 to $250 depending on engine displacement.

• Inboard gas engines range from $150 for a 4-cylinder to $250 for an 8-cylinder.

• Diesels start at $300.

• Generators range from $125 to $200.

• Water systems average around $100, with some marinas charging “by the fixture.”

• Seacocks cost around $35 each to service.

• Heads are between $45 and $75.

• Air conditioning systems range from $45 to $75.

• Unstepping a mast varies from $5 to $15 per foot.

Winterizing a boat isn’t necessarily difficult for do-it-yourselfers, but there are benefits to leaving the job with a professional marina operator or mobile mechanic.