It is inevitable: the fun-filled days of summer give way to the harsh days of winter. Though that sinking, cold-weather feeling of leaving those glorious boating ventures behind may not be enough to make you cry, not properly winterizing your boat just might. It is, vitally, important to follow boat-friendly procedures to ensure your prized water-vessel remains in tip-top shape throughout the cold season, ready to combat the elements, no matter how merciless.
Though not exhaustive, here are a few tips for winterizing your boat that you, simply, cannot overlook:
Storing your boat on land is the ideal option during winter months, via, the use of cradles, jack-stands, dry-stack storage and trailers. If your boat is stored on a trailer, you can extend the life of your boat’s tires by taking the load off of them, with blocks – this will prevent dry-rot and flattening. If the boat will remain in water throughout the winter months, you must prevent thru-hulls from permitting water from coming in – close all but the cockpit drains. Additionally, make sure your boat is tied down, securely, to prevent strong winds from pushing the boat against the dock.
Your boat’s exterior will appreciate a protective wax cover to enable the dirt and grime of the fall and winter to keep their distance. Also, covering your boat with a canvas or synthetic boat-cover provides an extra layer of protection; and choosing to have your boat shrink-wrapped is an alternative. It should be noted that shrink wrap can trap moisture inside and create a mildew problem if vents are not used along the entire length of the cover. Vents should be built into any cover to encourage ventilation and reduce mildew issues. Though shrink wrapping can be done on one’s own, it is best to allow that procedure to be performed by a pro. A well-supported cover offers a barrier between your boat and the snow, leaves, and other debris which could, otherwise, clog scuppers.
As mentioned, mold and mildew can become unwanted guests. To combat the spread of these invaders, allow hatches, doors and lids to remain open. Chemical desiccants should be utilized as part of a moisture-control system. Chemical desiccants remove moisture in air-drying systems and other applications, and come in the form of silica gel (you are familiar with those silica gel packets in packages of food and vitamin bottles), activated alumina and molecular sieve. Silica gel, for example will remove siloxanes and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). When Chemical desiccants are utilized, mold, corrosion, rust, fungus and mildew are forced to take a hike.
The Engine and Out-drive
Feeling the excitement and anticipation of a new boating season would be quickly damped if you were to discover a cracked block or gear casing. If not properly maintained for the winter months, freezing temps will show no mercy for your engine which is why performing an oil change and lower-unit oil change are so vital. An oil change will ensure contaminants, including acids, do not invade internal components and will remove water that has, possibly, made its way into the lower unit. Also, water in the cooling passages should be replaced with antifreeze. Overlooking this part of winterizing boats has, historically, led to the vast majority of BoatUS Marine Insurance claims. An analysis of 10 years of freeze claims revealed more than 75% were directly related to cracked engine blocks or exhaust manifolds that took place due to water that remained and froze in the engines or cooling systems. In some of these cases, boat owners relied on heaters to keep engines warmer, but heaters are a fire hazard and will no serve no purpose if the electricity goes out.
When fresh water freezes, it will expand by nearly 10%. Though that may sound fairly insignificant, expansion due to freezing can push outward with a force of tens of thousands of pounds per square inch resulting in, as mentioned, destroyed manifolds and cracked engine blocks, as well as damaged fiberglass, split hoses, annihilated refrigeration systems – all, overnight! Remove water where it shouldn’t be, is key.
The Electrical System and Battery
Batteries don’t like very cold weather; so, if possible, bring your batteries indoors as well as any electronics. If batteries must remain on board, always make sure the electrolyte is topped off using distilled water; and make sure, also, that the batteries are fully charged and that the terminals are cleaned. If possible, leave batteries on a marine charger that has a float setting or leave them unplugged yet charge them completely on a monthly basis, during the off-season. Batteries left on an automotive trickle charger for long periods of time can run the risk of boiling off the electrolyte. It is best to use a marine ‘smart charger’ which can vary the charge based on differences in battery chemistry.
Winterizing your water vessel demands insight and proper planning. It will maximize your boat’s chances of making in through the winter, undamaged; and you will thank yourself when you can hit the water, once again!