Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ready Your Boat for the Offseason

October 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

offseason title

As autumn’s colors put on a show and temperatures drop, boaters know it’s time for the winter layup. It may seem like an arduous task — especially since we rarely want to put our vessels away — but preparation and checklists help.

#1Begin by cleaning the boat thoroughly. Be fastidious, as that leaf laying on the fiberglass will be a brown ugly stain come spring, and any remaining moisture poses a freezing-expansion hazard. Dry accumulated water in storage areas, deck boxes, in the head, and under the sink, and then prop open the windows and hatches to allow for evaporation. If the boat is going to be dry docked, seacocks for thru-hull fittings should be left open for drainage.

Remove electronics and clean plugs and cables with WD-40 and spray them with a light machine oil. Remove the battery and treat the cables in the same manner. Avoid a frozen steering cable come spring by disconnecting it at the engine, turning the wheel to extend it fully, cleaning it with WD-40, coating liberally with machine oil, working the wheel fully left and right several times and then retracting it to the midway point.

Procedures such as engine fogging, engine flushing, clearing fuel lines, and changing filters are necessary steps to take to care for your outboard, inboard, or I/O engine. Consult your owner’s manuals for engine winterization and follow the steps exactly. Boaters disagree about the benefit of full fuel tanks over the winter. One group recommends filling up completely to avoid condensation while others advocate against storing a vessel full of fuel. Both camps may add a fuel stabilizer to prevent expanding ice causing cracked exhaust manifolds and engine blocks.

Consult your vessel’s owner’s manual for specific winter recommendations. If there are no specific advisories, your options include bringing your boat home, keeping it in the water, or having the boat hauled for inside or outside storage at a marina or boatyard.

#2If your boat will spend the winter outside, choose a location away from overhanging tree limbs that may break and fall. I find a professional shrink wrap offers the best outside protection, but a quality canvas cover serves the DIY’er well (I say forget the poly tarps as they usually shred with winter’s first wind). With canvas, build a peaked or rounded-at-the-top frame out of treated wood, metal, or plastic and extend it to just over the gunwales. Drape your winter canvas so that it extends well below gunwales. I like parachute cord as a tie down — snug the tie downs well so that wind cannot get it, but not to the point where the canvas can tear or a grommet can pull out. At any point where the canvas comes into contact with a sharp edge, cushion that edge with a pillow of cloth covered with duct tape. Some boaters tie plastic bottles (filled with water or sand) to the grommets to hold the canvas down, allowing for easier access if need be. I use them at the stern so I can enter to do a little offseason work on the boat.

For those who store a boat inside, it’s still wise to follow the guidelines for engine winterization — consider it part of periodic maintenance for an engine that will not be started nor run for a period of time. Batteries shouldn’t be placed on a trickle charger as they shorten battery life; opt for a newer “smart charger.” When doing inside work involving fuel or a battery, be sure to have adequate ventilation.

Wintering in water includes all the previously discussed preparation plus a bubble system to send a steady stream of air bubbles from under the hull upward. This prevents ice from forming around the hull and causing damage. Dock line set up is also important. Take into account variations in maximum and minimum tide heights and wind as well as the proximity of the boat to other vessels, docks, pilings, and other structures that could chafe. All-weather fenders should be placed at every point where the hull might make contact because of tide, wind, and wave action.

#3Vessels that winter in the water or are otherwise in the way of Mother Nature need some babysitting. Either check your boat periodically yourself or have the marina or yard report to you on a regular basis. I prefer to visit my boat a few times, especially after a big wind or snow event or an extended deep freeze. Walk around and check that everything on the boat and surrounding (underneath) it is secure and stable. Examine all lines and examine carefully for even the smallest crack, leak, or water accumulation. If you see a problem, attend to it immediately. Nothing on a boat ever heals itself.

Some further tips:

If you’re doing your own winterizing work, avoid using products that are toxic to the environment, including antifreeze, motor oil, filters, and cleansers. Use the mildest, most natural items and never rinse anything off your boat into storm drains or the water.

Be careful of everything you toss away. Use your marina or boatyard’s prescribed disposal programs, and if the manner of disposal isn’t mandated, be considerate. Products that may have technically expired can still ignite, so don’t toss flares or toxic materials into a trash can where they may harm sanitation workers or animals. There are heavy metals in obsolete marine electronics and radioactive components in radar equipment. Donate working equipment to non-profit boating organizations or contact the manufacturers for further disposal advice.

Take detailed photos of your boat both in and out before and after you cover or store it. Should you sustain damage these photos are useful for insurance claims. I find that they are also nice to gaze at on a frigid wintry night.

By Paul Knieste

General Winterizing Tips

No matter where your vessel spends its winter vacation, proper winterizing prevents deterioration and makes it easier to get going in the spring. Consult with a mechanic or marina manager for their winterizing tips. We also offer some of our own:

  • Pump out the head’s holding tank at an approved facility.
  • Remove all valuables.
  • Wash thoroughly.
  • Clean interior carpets and floors.
  • Remove items that attract mildew, like life jackets and cushions.
  • Leave absorbent pads in the bilge to keep free of oil.
  • Drain lines containing water; use propylene glycol to treat lines that may not drain completely.
  • Remove lead-acid storage batteries. Store fully charged batteries in a well-ventilated, warm location on a nonconductive surface.
  • Leave refrigerator and freezer doors open and place boxes of baking soda inside.
  • Place moisture-absorbing products about the cabin. If the product comes in a bucket that could overflow, make a few small holes in the bottom and place in the sink.

Tips for Boats Spending Offseason in Water

  • Close all seacocks and check rudder shafts and stuffing boxes for leaks; tighten or repack as necessary.
  • Remove hose connected to each seacock. While the hoses are disconnected, blow out each seacock with an air compressor — turn on the compressor, hold the hose in the seacock, cup one hand over the seacock to create a seal and open the seacock with the other hand. Depending on how close or loud the compressor, you can hear water bubbling under the boat. After five seconds, close the seacock and un-cup your hand. Wait a few minutes and then check each seacock for leaks. If none exist, securely tighten each hose.
  • Ensure the battery is fully charged. Clean the terminals, add water if necessary, and test that the charging system is working.
  • Clear out debris and ensure float switches properly activate on the bilge pump.
  • If the marina or boatyard does not offer a de-icing device or bubbling system for stored vessels, install your own.
is an R.N. in psychiatry and a professional photographer. He is an avid boater and fisherman in the waters of East Rockaway Inlet and Montauk Point, and loves cooking. Contact him at

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