In the Northern United States, chilly weather, freezing temperatures, and icy waters spell the end of boating season. To protect your vessel from the elements, you’ll need to understand the winterization process and prepare your craft for cold weather. In warmer climates, even if it doesn’t freeze or snow, following similar steps keeps boats safe during long-term storage.
Whether you take your yacht to a boatyard or self-store it on a trailer at home, winterization involves multiple critical tasks. From preserving the quality of the hull to filling your boat with enough fuel, following proper preparation steps using a checklist is the best way to keep track. Winterizing your boat gets you back out on the water faster when boating season returns, too.
There are several crucial steps to properly preparing a boat for winter or any lengthy period when your vessel is not in use. This article addresses helpful storage tips about:
Even if you live in a climate without drastic seasonal changes or cold, snowy winters, winterizing your boat or at least prepping it before storage is essential to your vessel’s longevity. Properly winterizing a boat protects your investment, ensuring all systems work efficiently when boating season returns.
Without winterization, boats and their various systems can deteriorate. Changes in temperature and humidity can cause irreparable engine damage. And the last thing you want to discover at spring launch is a compromised water, engine, or electrical system that delays your boating adventures due to costly repairs.
You should prep and secure your boat if it will go unused for several weeks or if you are leaving town. However, getting your bay cruiser ready to sit idle for a month is a simpler process than preparing it for winter boat storage. Most recreational boaters store their vessels from the end of boating season in September or October until spring.
If temperatures drop to or below freezing where you live, your boat needs protection from the elements. The same advice goes for areas of the country affected by hurricanes. Ensure safe storage for your boat by considering where you live and the types of facilities available in the area.
As long as you follow the proper winterization steps, you should be able to prepare your boat and keep it in storage for at least a year. If you plan on storing the boat longer than 12 months, make sure to check on your vessel periodically to make sure all is well.
While your yacht is in storage, inspect all rubber components such as hoses, impellers, or engine belts for signs of dry rot. Also, consider applying a lubrication spray on all metal working parts and purging the gas tank to refill it with new fuel.
The need to winterize your boat yourself depends on where and how you plan to store the vessel. In most full-service boatyards and marinas, space is at a premium. Fortunately, as long as you follow your winterization checklist carefully, you can service your own boat, so it’s ready to go back on the water when you are. Below, you’ll find seven crucial steps to follow when properly prepping your boat for storage.
Boatyards and marinas fill up fast when winter boat storage time comes around. Many yacht owners are quick to take advantage of the different types of storage and services these facilities offer. Securing storage capable of accommodating your craft is an essential part of the boat buying process.
“Preparing ahead of time is important because there’s a lot of logistics that go into storing in a building. Everybody has a different schedule,” says William Morong, CEO of Yachting Solutions. “The sooner you notify the yard or storage facility what your intentions are, the better experience you will have.”
If you like the storage facility’s services, chances are you’ll want to store your vessel there next year, too. “Storing at a boatyard or marina can become an annual relationship,” says Morong. To start building that connection, choose a storage facility that delivers the services your boat needs with pricing that fits your budget.
Boatyards and marinas provide different types of storage, and some offer more benefits than others. Ultimately, the kind of storage you choose depends on availability, budget, and personal preference. Indoor, heated facilities fill up fast, but they offer enhanced climate control during cold winter months compared to covered outdoor storage or leaving your boat in a reserved slip.
Many facilities have package deals that include preparing and servicing your yacht while it is in storage. If you keep your vessel at a full-service facility, there’s little to no preparation on your part. Speak to a marina or boatyard about their storage packages and the services they include to get a general cost estimate.
The cost of winterizing a boat varies by storage method and whether you plan to winterize the vessel yourself or hire a professional. Indoor heated facilities are pricier than cold indoor or outdoor storage. Additional benefits, such as shrink-wrapping or service for multiple engines, may also lead to higher costs.
Talk to the facility about pricing options for storing your boat and match them up with your budget. DIY winterization costs less than services at a storage facility, but the convenience of professional preparation may be well worth the price.
If you plan to store your boat yourself either in the water, a garage, or outside in your yard, you must prepare your boat accordingly. Self-storage can lead to costly mistakes unless you have experience with boat storage or do plenty of research beforehand. Follow your owner’s manual for the most accurate steps.
When self-storing outside, make sure the boat is on level ground with plenty of clearance above and below. Your storage area should be free from overhanging tree limbs that could fall and damage your craft. Place blocks behind the trailer wheels to prevent it from rolling backward.
Washing down all surfaces on your boat, tidying up the inside, and draining water systems are all part of getting your boat ready for winter storage. Removing salt, barnacles, dirt, and other debris now is easier than waiting to clean in the spring. Inspecting your boat for damage also helps you decide what repairs or renovations you’ll want to schedule in the future.
You may not have access to the inside of your vessel for weeks or months at a time, so be sure to remove all your personal belongings before storing the boat. “The fewer soft goods on the boat, the less chance that mold and mildew might happen,” says Morong.
Mildew is more common in a cold storage environment or outdoor storage, and temperature and humidity are less likely to affect items left on board in heated storage. However, as a general rule of thumb, removing all perishables is a good idea regardless of storage type. Items you may want to take off the boat include:
Winter air can change from dry to humid throughout the season, which encourages mold and mildew to form on moist surfaces, including carpets, vinyl walls, and teak finishes. Installing a dehumidifier or using desiccants like open boxes of baking soda or silica gel packs inside the vessel can help.
Sealing your boat completely allows moisture to build up inside, so your boat cover should include vents for air circulation. You can put aftermarket vents in yourself or have a professional install them in your existing cover.
If your boat has a head, cleaning the system out is a critical step in preparation. Water left in the plumbing system can freeze when temperatures drop and cause pipes to burst, which can damage the toilet and harm other parts of your vessel. To properly prep the head for storage:
Be sure to use a non-toxic propylene glycol antifreeze in your boat’s water systems and as an engine coolant if needed. Most manufacturers recommend glycol-based antifreeze because it protects your vessel’s water tanks, pipes, and hoses, and it’s better for your engine and less harmful to the environment.
When water freezes, it can expand with enough force to damage or break steel parts. If you’re not securing your yacht in a heated facility, you’ll need to drain all the water from the engine block, exhaust system, sea pump, hoses, and coolers, in addition to cleaning and emptying the bilges. As you remove drain plugs, keep track of each one and put them in a safe, accessible place.
Giving the hull a good cleaning helps prevent problems as the boat ages over time. “Pressure washing the bottom is a big deal,” says Morong. “It gets the growth off the bottom, so the boat is stored clean and ready for bottom paint in the spring.”
Choose biodegradable cleaners with chelating agents that separate dirt and salt from surfaces and use a stain remover to get rid of any organic or mineral streaks on the hull. Then, apply polish to remove oxidation and smooth the surface of your gelcoat. For the final step, use a carnauba polymer blend wax with UV inhibitors to seal and protect your sparkling clean hull’s glossy shine.
As you clean, inspect the hull carefully and look for any dents, stress cracks, scrapes, or gouges. Taking note of any damage can clear you of liability after winter storage. Plus, inspecting a boat for necessary repairs lets the facility’s technicians know what services your boat may need while in storage.
Whether or not to fill your fuel tank when preparing a boat for winter storage is a decision you’ll need to make. Is it better to empty it, so it’s ready for fresh fuel in the spring? Or, should you top off the tank before storing your boat? Filling your tank to roughly 90% is the right answer. By reducing the tanks’ exposed surface area, you can avoid getting water in your tank due to condensation.
Filling your tank and adding a fuel stabilizer helps prevent phase separation, which often occurs during months-long boat storage. When water mixes with the fuel in your tank, it can separate into a gasoline-only layer at the top and a sticky mix of water and ethanol at the bottom. Stabilizers for ethanol gas stop phase separation from stalling out the motor or damaging your engine and fuel system.
When filling your tank, leave enough room for a winterizing solution to stabilize the fuel. Once you add it, run the boat to the correct temperature and check for leaks. After treating the fuel, you can change the oil and oil filter.
Generally speaking, boaters should replace fuel filters after the average boating season, or 50 hours of operation, whichever comes first. Leaving old fuel filters on increases the risk of aluminum oxide building up on carburetors and fuel injectors, which can affect your boat’s performance in the spring.
When preparing a boat for winter, you’ll need to protect your motor from freezing temperatures and rust. When an engine is not in use, oil can sink to the bottom of the block, exposing pistons and valves to the corrosive effects of air and humidity. Fogging the motor and changing the oil are crucial measures during the winterization process.
During long-term storage, metal parts like valves and pistons can rust due to air and moisture. Fogging solutions prevent corrosion by creating a thin, protective film on metal surfaces that stays in place even when oil settles at the bottom of an engine block.
Use fogging spray on the engine and outdrive, then take out the spark plugs so you can oil fog the cylinders and carburetor. Once you’ve finished, replace the spark plugs but don’t connect the wires.
There are many different types of engines, and it’s always best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when winterizing an engine. Depending on the motor you have, there are several general winterization tasks you’ll need to perform:
New engine oil holds up better over the winter months, or any time your boat sits idle in storage. Moisture buildup can also cause wear, which affects power and fuel economy, and may even result in engine failure. Changing the oil and filter using manufacturer-recommended products helps you avoid potential damage and maintain peak performance.
When performing an oil change, take the old oil to an authorized recycling center for disposal. Then, flush and change the lower unit gearcase lubricant if you have an outboard or inboard/outdrive engine. Sterndrives often require more preventative maintenance, so having your boat serviced at a facility with factory-trained technicians may be a better option.
If your engine requires coolant, drain the existing fluid from the engine block and manifolds. Then refill it with the same propylene glycol-based antifreeze used in your water systems or a similar non-toxic product.
When storing your boat in the water during the winter, you’ll need a connected battery to power the bilge pumps if water levels rise. If you’re keeping your boat on dry land, disconnect your battery and store it at home so you can bring it to a full charge before boating season begins.
Whether you store your boat inside a facility, outdoors, or in the water, covers safeguard interiors from pests and debris. A well-ventilated tarp or waterproof canvas cover works well outdoors. Use support poles or a frame to keep rain and snow from pooling on the cover, and make sure the tarp fits the width and length of your vessel with the framing in place.
Covered storage, such as under a roof, carport, or inside a building, is a slightly better alternative, especially in facilities that offer amenities like security and climate control. In covered storage, you can use any well-secured tarp to keep pests from ruining cushions or chewing on wiring.
In more extreme outdoor conditions, having your boat professionally shrink wrapped is a worthwhile investment. Made from resin with UV inhibitors, shrink wrap is 100% waterproof, and proper application prevents water and snow from collecting on the surface. Installers also use strategically placed vents to circulate air and stave off mold and mildew.
Obtain insurance for your yacht before starting the winterization process and placing the vessel in storage. There’s no standard marine insurance policy, so check your current plan to see what it includes. Having proper coverage before storing your vessel protects your investment should damage or accidents occur during winterization or storage.
All-risk insurance policies often exclude ice and freeze damage unless specifically requested. Most insurers stop offering policies as soon as temperatures drop, so be sure to get coverage well before you need it.
“Most insurance policies have a layup period already contemplated when you get the insurance,” says Morong. “For example, they know it’s in the Northeast, and that boats may be in storage between September and May of the next year.”
Insurance companies offer different rates and may discount your insurance premium based on safe storage, so be sure to factor this into your budget. According to Morong, insurers may ask you to describe the facility or environment you store the boat in. If you keep your yacht in a heated indoor environment with sprinklers, providers may offer you a more favorable policy.
If you plan on winterizing your own yacht, attention to detail is essential. Covering all your bases during winterization takes the stress out of storage and gets you back on the water faster. Use this easy-to-follow checklist to cover all the key steps involved in winterizing a boat for storage:
Preparing your boat for storage makes the de-winterizing process simple. After removing your cover:
Refer to your winterization checklist to ensure you inspect every part of your vessel carefully. Once you’re satisfied that everything is in order, make sure all your essentials and safety gear are on board before heading out for your first boating adventure of the season.