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Winterizing: TLC for Your Boat

End-of-season care tips for a healthier, happier craft

By Dan Armitage
Published: October 1, 2005
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Top off the boat’s fuel tanks at the end of the season to reduce condensation, and treat the fuel with storage additives.
Photo by Dan Armitage
A sure sign of autumn for my family is pulling the boat from the lake and putting it under wraps behind the cabin for the winter. Actually, the annual fall ritual is a bit more complicated than that, but it can be accomplished in a short autumn afternoon and the effort expended in correctly storing the boat ensures the spring launch goes much smoother.
   
Here are eight tasks for boat owners to tackle before Old Man Winter takes over:

1.Top-off those tanks.

Fill your boat’s fuel tank(s) to capacity, allowing a little room for expansion, then add stabilizer. Failing to fill the tank allows air to condense on the tank’s sides as temperatures change, and failure to stabilize allows the fuel to break down. That combination spells corrosion and clogging over time.
   
Turn off any fuel valves on the boat, and use duct tape to seal off any through-hull exhaust ports. These steps also help prevent potentially harmful internal condensation.

2. Protect the motor.
   
Oil settles on the bottom of the block when a motor is not used for extended periods, exposing the pistons and valves to air, humidity and other corrosive influences. To guard against corrosion, remove the spark plugs, spray fogging oil inside the carburetor and down the spark plug holes, and replace the plugs (without reconnecting the wires). Performing these tasks provides a long-lasting protective coating for essential engine parts.
   
It’s also important to replace your motor’s old gear lube with fresh oil. This will eliminate water from the system and provide better overall protection for key internal parts. Also replace oil filters on inboard and outdrive engines. Dispose of any used oil at an authorized recycling center (marina, county waste management site, etc.).

3. Add antifreeze.
   
If your boat’s engine uses coolant, drain the existing fluid from the engine block and manifolds and replace with a nontoxic, propylene glycol-based antifreeze. Many antifreeze products still feature an ethylene glycol base, which is known to release toxins into the water. Not only is the propylene glycol variety better for the environment, most manufacturers say this type of antifreeze is better for your engine.

4. Remove batteries, electronics and safety gear.
   
Disconnect the battery and store it inside for easier maintenance. Make sure it’s fully charged prior to stowing it. If possible, maintain the charge throughout the storage period – especially if it is to be stored in an area exposed to sub-freezing temperatures – and replenish the water level periodically. It’s also wise to remove all marine electronics and store them at home to prevent damage from shifts in temperature and humidity.
   
The winterization ritual also presents a perfect opportunity to remove items such as dock lines, flotation devices, flares and fire extinguishers from the boat for inspection and possible replacement.
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Take a good look at – and carefully feel – your prop to check for bent or nicked blades. Better to find and fix them now than next spring, when prop shops are backed up by boaters who didn’t tackle this task at the end of the season.
Photo by Dan Armitage
5. Check the prop.

When the boat is on the trailer or blocks for the winter, it’s a great time to check your boat’s propeller and hub. Your prop blades may have become bent or nicked during the boating season, or fishing line may have wound around the hub, which can diminish overall performance. The hub also may have sustained extensive wear and may even be close to being stripped. If damage has occurred, ask your local prop shop to repair or replace the propeller and make any necessary repairs to the hub and seal. Doing it now means you won’t have to worry about these things come springtime, when prop repair shops are likely to be backed up – with work from boaters who lacked your foresight!

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Outboards and stern drives should be cleaned and waxed before being put away for the season.
Photo by Dan Armitage
6. Fall cleaning.

Before putting the boat to bed for the winter, give it a good cleaning inside and out. Dirt, scum and algae on the exterior will be even harder to remove in the spring. Once the exterior is clean, apply wax as a protective barrier against dirt and dust. To help keep the boat free of mildew, you may want to install a dehumidifier or use one of the odor/moisture absorbers on the market. Turn any cushions up on edge so that air can circulate around them, or better yet, remove them from the boat for storage in a climate-controlled area. Also remember to clean any bilges and drain any existing water. Remove all drain plugs and put them in a place where they’ll be easy to find when you’re ready to bring your boat out of winter hibernation.

7. Up on blocks.

If you store your boat on a trailer, it’s a good idea to put the boat and trailer up on blocks to take pressure off the tires. You may even want to remove the trailer tires to help discourage theft while the boat is in long-term storage. This is a good time to inspect the trailer tires for wear and tear and to grease the wheel bearings, replacing them if necessary.

8. It’s a wrap.

Whether you’ll be storing your boat outside, or inside a garage or structure, it should be covered. Outdoors, you’ll need a storage cover to protect the interior of the boat from the winter environment. In dry storage, a cover of some kind is recommended to guard the interior against dirt, dust and pests.
 
For outdoor storage, a quality 8- to 10-ounce cotton canvas boat cover – properly sized and fitted for your particular boat model – is ideal. It should be supported so water will run off the cover and not accumulate in pockets.
   
If your boat will be kept in dry storage for the winter, the waterproof quality and strength of the cover is not so important. The main concern is keeping dust and other particulate matter from gathering on the boat. A fitted cover is preferred, however, because it will keep mice and other undesirables from seeking refuge in the boat and damaging the interior.
   
If conditions will be extreme, consider shrink-wrapping your boat. Properly installed, shrink wrap will not blow off and can withstand heavy loads of snow or rain. Shrink-wrapping can be a DIY job, but it requires proper tools, materials and instructions. Complete shrink-wrap kits are available through your local boat dealer, who probably offers installation as well. (For more on shrink-wrapping a boat, see “Under Wraps,” Cabin Life, Sept/Oct 2001.)

Dan Armitage is an outdoor writer and host of “The Buckeye Sportsman” radio show in Ohio, where he’s rehabbing a 1930s fishing cabin on the Kokosing River. Dan also conducts fishing and outdoor photography seminars at sport shows across the nation.


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Photo by Dan Armitage
Off-Season Tackle Storage

Rods, reels and lures deserve their share of care over the off-season as well. Here are a few post-season maintenance tasks to tackle:

•  Give each piece of your tackle a close visual inspection before putting it away for the season.

•  On rods, look for broken or missing tips and guides, which will need to be replaced.

•  With reels, it’s important to make sure working parts are well oiled and that they are properly lubricated internally.

•  Loosen the drag on the reels to keep the washers from being compressed and “seating” over the off-season.

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Fishing reels should be cleaned, oiled and the line changed before being put away for the winter; that way they are ready for you on opening day!
Photo by Dan Armitage
•  Loosen the drag on the reels to keep the washers from being compressed and “seating” over the off-season.

•  Replace the old line with new, and store the reel away from sunlight, which will cause monofilament to deteriorate.

•  Inspect your lures as well, replacing any rusted, broken or worn hooks or eye rings before putting them back in the tackle box.

•  Separate soft plastic baits from other lures and bobbers to eliminate a chemical reaction that causes them to “melt” over time when in contact with certain other rubber or plastic lures.

•  Oil those essential needle-nosed pliers. You’ll want them working come spring to remove hooks from fish – if not from fishermen who got rusty themselves over the long off-season!
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