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Winterization: Time to get out that checklist

It's just about that time again.

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If you live in a region of the country with real winter, the season of haulout and winterization is upon us. When? Next week? Two weeks from now? It's that close.

A good rule of thumb is to do as much as you can in the fall when you're putting the boat on the hard. It's going to be that much less you have to deal with come spring. If a yard is doing the work, make sure you're on the same page as to exactly what will be done. Some marinas have winterization work sheets outlining the process and costs, which is a good idea. This also is a good time to talk with the yard about other projects you'd like done by spring. Don't wait until April or May - crunch time - and expect to have everything ready by Memorial Day.

Whether you're a do-it-yourselfer or paying a yard, make a list of things you want to accomplish. That lets you better organize projects in ways that work with schedules, your wallet and other concerns. And it makes it more difficult to conveniently "forget" an item that should be taken care of before the boat goes back in.

During these tough economic times, some folks understandably chose to defer maintenance on their boats. That's a double-edged sword. Some things can wait; others can't. Putting off repairs and regular maintenance eventually will come back and bite you. Not changing filters and fluids. Ignoring a worn hose. A hot smell or that "funny" noise coming from the engine. Little problems have a way of becoming larger if you turn a blind eye to them. It's the old cliché: You can pay me now - or pay me more later.

Lax maintenance - or not addressing a problem in timely fashion - also can have an impact on safety. It's just not prudent to leave the dock in a boat that's not mechanically sound. If you've got boat or mechanical "issues" you've been meaning to get to but haven't, the offseason is the time for corrective action.

Boats like to be used. That's one of those truisms. They're not happy sitting for long periods of time on jackstands or in a slip. Things can simply break or fail or freeze up as a boat lies idle month after month. Corrosion sets in and goes to work, creeping up a wire splice that wasn't properly sealed or causing a steering system to lock up tight. If the boat has to hibernate for an extended period, it's imperative that it be properly prepared.

With all the problems associated with ethanol-based gasoline today, make sure you treat and stabilize your fuel when putting the boat to bed, and then run the engines long enough to ensure that the treated fuel reaches the injectors or carburetors.

And finally, don't skimp when it comes to covering your boat. Protect your investment. Repeated freezing and thawing can cause more damage than you think. That's one lesson you don't want to learn the hard way.