Skip to main content

Know-how – Decommissioning

This was a sad article to write. The season is ending in northern climes, and shovels and snow blowers will have to be uncovered.

Every time we have had the privilege of living near and boating on salt water, we have laid up our boat for winter afloat. I truly believe that any boat is better off in the water. I say this even though the last boat I owned sank at the dock during winter. The fault was mine; I failed to perform my winter layup preparation properly. So I write this based upon many years of successful — and one spectacularly unsuccessful — experiences. There are endless articles about winterizing a boat. I’ll cover just a few aspects of the subject.

1. I realize this isn’t always an option, but I believe larger boats should spend the winter in the water. With boats that are stored on the hard there is a greater potential for damage due to stresses on virtually every part of the boat. Compare how smoothly locker doors, drawers and slides function when the boat is floating rather than resting on land, regardless of how carefully the poppets have been placed and how level the keel is blocked. The weight of the boat is still pressing on the keel to some extent, and it in turn is being forced up into the hull.

2. If you must dry-store your boat, leave the seacocks open so that any water on deck or in the cockpit can drain. Make sure that the boatyard or marina uses enough poppets and places them so the entire hull is properly supported. Also, make sure the keel is resting on level ground and is adequately blocked.

3. The purpose of the hull is to keep water on the outside, so remove all water from inside the boat. You can blow out water lines with compressed air, but I prefer to use antifreeze. Clear the freshwater systems by running all faucets until water tanks are empty. Run non-toxic antifreeze through until it runs into all sinks and down their drains. Flush heads so they are clear of water and have antifreeze in their traps. When we had our boats on the Great Lakes we used minus-100-degree antifreeze. We still used it when our boat was home-ported on Long Island Sound. It costs a little more than the pink stuff (minus-50), but the peace of mind is worth it to me. When you read the fine print, note that minus-50 begins to slush well above zero degrees. Keep in mind that any water that remains in lines or tanks will dilute the antifreeze, so use one that will keep your plumbing safe even when diluted.

4. As for engines, again I opt for piece of mind: I let the yard do it. They’re insured if there’s a screw-up. I certainly can winterize my engines — it’s a fairly simple procedure — but I’d rather let the pros do the work and pay for any incidental damage that may occur.

5. If you insist on using shrinkwrap to cocoon your boat, be sure there are several ventilation fittings installed (more is better). If you don’t, you may find some variety of penicillin growing on board come spring, and I don’t think you’ll be able to sell it to a pharmaceutical company. Air circulation is what keeps mold and mildew in check. Under whatever wrap you use, be sure to crack hatches, companionways, locker doors and drawers, as long as rain or snow can’t get through. Hang anti-mildew packets but maintain air circulation. There are heating elements that can be used to combat moisture, but most marinas and boatyards don’t like to leave on-board electrical devices active for the winter. If you don’t cover the entire boat, be sure that at least the cockpit is protected from snow and rain.

6. Batteries — whether left on board or removed — must be periodically charged according to manufacturer specifications during winter layup. Leaving batteries in a discharged state will shorten their life. Flooded-cell batteries self-discharge at a much faster rate than AGM and gel batteries, and keep in mind that temperature has an impact — the higher the temperature, the faster the rate of discharge.

7. Remove all bedding and cushions, if possible, and empty the fridge. Take home any electronics that aren’t permanently installed.

8. As of this writing, alas, I am without a boat. But I can relax and enjoy the theater of the seasons.