First published in several Maryland newspapers, 11/4/88
by Tom Dove
The air is turning colder, the days are getting short, and the chevrons of Canada geese are honking their way around the Bay. For most of us, these signals mean that it is time to put our boats to bed for the winter.
Decommisioning the boat is an easy, if melancholy, procedure. Your vessel’s health in the spring depends on how carefully you treat it this fall, so pay careful attention to how you winterize the hull and engine.
A small boat should be stored on its trailer in a safe sheltered place during the cold months. If you have space in your yard, that is ideal, as you can check up on it easily from time to time.
If you can’t keep it at home, try to park your floating investment someplace where it will be watched regularly. Every spring, the newspaper is filled with reports of theft, storm damage and vandalism to boats that have been unattended during the winter.
If your yacht will be stored afloat, be sure there is no danger of damage from ice. In general, the only threat is from moving ice; stationary ice will lock the boat in a vise grip but will not harm it.
An exception is a wooden hull which may be scratched along the waterline if it is allowed to freeze in. Store wooden boats afloat so the seams do not open, but use a circulator to keep the surrounding water thawed.
Choose a winter slip that is protected from northerly winds and is enclosed so the ice will not drift around with currents and storms. A small harbor with a narrow entrance is best.
Some skippers leave their boats on moorings for the cold months, but I don’t recommend it. A slip at a pier is much safer, as you can go aboard the boat easily even when the water is frozen.
Covering the boat is a good idea if you can still get aboard it easily and there is enough ventilation to prevent mildew. The newest approach to covering boats for the winter is shrink-wrap, like the material that covers small items you buy at the hardware store.
Follow the directions in the owner’s manual to winterize your engine. There are four systems to remember: fuel, cooling, lubrication, and electrical.
Just before decommissioning the engine, add a can of fuel stabilizer to the tank and fill it to the top. This will keep the gasoline or diesel fuel fresh until spring and will prevent condensation from collecting in the tank.
The cooling system should be flushed with fresh water, then filled with a 50-50 mixture of automotive antifreeze and water. Be sure the engine is at normal operating temperature when you do this so the thermostat is open and the antifreeze reaches all parts of the system.
Change the engine oil at layup time, then spray a storage lubricant into the carburetor intake as the engine runs to coat the inside surfaces and protect them. Several brands of these lubricants are available at marine supply stores.
With planning, you can coordinate these steps into one by running the engine until it reaches normal temperature, stopping it and changing the oil, putting the water intake hose into a bucket of fresh water and running the engine for a short time, filling the bucket with antifreeze, and spraying storage lubricant into the carburetor as the engine takes up the antifreeze. When you can do all of that easily, you are ready to take up professional juggling.
Finally, check all the wires and electrical connections you can reach and spray them with silicone spray to keep away the dampness. Store the batteries in a dry place and keep them charged; I rely on my boat’s solar panel to keep the batteries up so there is always plenty of electricity to run the bilge pump and lights.
Treat your vessel kindly now and it will repay you in the spring.
— The End —