Winter is coming, and for boat owners that means it's time to start thinking about protecting your vessel from the harsh weather until it's time to hit the water again next season. Properly winterizing and storing your boat is crucial to maintaining it in peak condition and preventing costly damages that could keep you off the waves come spring.
The steps you'll need to take to store your boat for the winter months largely depend on the typical winter climate in your region, where you choose to keep the boat, and what type of boat you have. Some boaters in more temperate southern climates may even choose to keep boats in the water year-round if well protected. However, most locations require pulling boats and carefully storing them for the off-season.
In this complete guide, I'll walk through all the key steps and best practices boat owners should follow to properly store and protect their boat through the winter. Whether you keep your runabout, cabin cruiser, pontoon or fishing boat at home, in a storage yard, or with a marina, this guide will ensure you don't miss any critical maintenance tasks that could lead to issues down the road. Let's get into winterizing!
I. Assessing Your Regional Winter Severity
The first factor to think about as you plan for winter storage is just how harsh the coming months are likely to be based on your location. If you boat in a northern state that sees heavy snowfall, thick ice, and freezing temps, you'll need to take more precautions than a boater along the southern U.S. coast. Consider the following:
- Typical winter temperatures - Regions with average lows below freezing will require more protection.
- Chance of snow or ice - Precipitation can stress and damage exterior areas.
- Wind and storm risk - High winds can damage protective covers.
- Average winter sunlight - More sun exposure risks exterior fade.
- Humidity levels - Damp climates increase likelihood of mildew.
In general, the harsher and more volatile your winters are, the more effort you'll need to put into storage prep. Think about your area's winter personality and how exposed your storage location is when planning.
II. Choosing the Best Storage Option
Your winter storage location options typically include:
- At your home - In driveway or garage
- At a marina - In slip or dry stack
- Outdoors - At a storage yard
- Indoors - In a storage unit
Consider the following pros and cons when deciding where to keep your boat:
- Pros: Convenience, regular access, no added costs
- Cons: Limited protection, HOA restrictions, space
- Pros: Convenience, amenities, easy launch
- Cons: Added costs, safety risks, potential ice damage
Marina dry stack:
- Pros: Protection, security, expedited launch
- Cons: Costs, scheduling required to access
- Pros: Low cost, security, easy access
- Cons: Less protection, uncovered risks
- Pros: Climate control, enhanced security
- Cons: Higher cost, less access
Choosing the right storage facility involves balancing your budget, convenience, and the level of protection needed in your climate. Think about proximity to spring launch sites, costs per foot, any contracts or commitments, and accessibility throughout winter.
III. Winterizing the Engine and Systems
One of the most important steps in off-season boat storage is properly winterizing the engine and systems. The following processes are critical:
Flushing the Engine - Run antifreeze through the engine and exhaust to prevent condensation buildup and corrosion. Disconnect hoses.
Fuel Stabilizers - Add stabilizers to prevent fuel breakdown and residue during months of non-use. This keeps injectors clean.
Change Oil - Old oil left over winter can cause sludge and poor performance in spring. Replace with fresh oil.
Disconnect Batteries - Fully charge batteries, then disconnect and store in cool interior location if possible. Slowly recharge monthly.
Drain Systems - Freshwater tanks, livewells, sinks, showers, and any other water systems must be completely drained and dried to prevent freezing cracks or mold.
Add Antifreeze - For ballast tanks, livewells, and especially waste systems, add RV-grade antifreeze.
Grease Fittings - Lubricate any grease fittings, joints, or pivots to prevent rust and stiffness.
The extent of your winterization prep depends on your individual boat and how thoroughly it's equipped. Consult your owner's manual for model-specific steps. Consider having a marine technician handle this maintenance if you're unsure.
IV. Protecting and Preserving the Exterior
Since the exterior of your boat will take the brunt of exposure to the elements, properly protecting and treating the hull, deck, rails, canvas and components before storage is key. Here are some tips:
Thoroughly wash, wax and buff the entire boat to protect the gelcoat or paint. Repair any chips or scratches.
Clean and waterproof canvas accessories and covers. Remove bimini tops and other detachables and store properly below decks.
Lubricate and protect rails, snaps, zippers and any exterior metal fittings.
Shrink wrapping the entire boat will provide maximum winter protection for fiberglass hulls, especially in precipitation-heavy climates.
Tarps secured over the deck and hardware can also protect from precipitation and dust. Ensure canvas or tarps are tightly secured.
Consider investing in a winter frame storage system that elevates and shields the boat if storing outdoors.
For center console models, ensure all openings like rod holders are sealed so no water can enter the interior helm space.
Finding the best cover solution for your specific boat and local climate will require some research. Investing in quality materials always pays off.
V. Caring for the Interior
You'll also need to take some key steps to have your boat's cabin, compartments, and cockpit ready for off-season storage:
Remove all loose items like electronics, cushions, and removable gear and store it at home to prevent fabric decay or moisture damage.
Thoroughly clean all interior spaces, compartments, storage areas, galley, head, woodwork, etc. Vacuum, wipe and allow all to fully air dry.
Open cabinets and interior spaces as much as possible to allow ventilation and discourage mildew growth. Consider placing desiccant packs in closed spaces.
Clean upholstery and fabrics with protectants. Remove canvas and store properly when possible.
Check bilges for any oil or debris left behind. Pump out and clean any standing water or moisture.
Cover helm station with a moisture-absorbing cloth. Avoid plastic tarps that can scratch.
Find a safe interior location protected from moisture to store batteries, electronics, cushions and other components.
Taking time to properly clean and air out the interior before sealing things up for winter will keep things fresh and dry season to season.
VI. Schedule Regular Checkups
One mistake some boaters make when storing boats is "setting it and forgetting it" all winter long. While you don't need to access your stored boat weekly, you should schedule regular monthly check-ins to ensure everything stays secured. Quickly check for:
- Covers or tarps coming loose from winds
- Any tearing, holes or loosening of materials
- Pests like mice or birds trying to enter and nest
- Leaks, seeps or moisture accumulations
- Issues with stands/jackets or tie-downs
This is also a good time to recharge batteries on maintenance chargers if they remain on the boat. Frequently monitoring your stored boat can help prevent more serious issues from developing unchecked for months on end.
Preparing your boat properly for winter storage requires time, diligence, and focus on details. But taking all of these crucial steps to winterize systems, protect the boat inside and out from the elements, and control moisture and pests will pay off greatly in preserving your boat for seasons to come.
Always use winter as a chance to complete needed repairs, updates and improvements so your boat is in prime condition for launching day. Maintain your investment diligently during the off-season, and you’ll be rewarded with more seasons of smooth, stress-free boating ahead.
If you need any help preparing your specific boat for winter storage, feel free to get in touch. We can walk through an action plan and to-do list to have your boat storage ready. Here’s to a safe, successful boating season next spring!
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