If you live above the Mason-Dixon Line, November is pretty much the end of the line when it comes to recreational boating season. There just comes a point where it’s generally too cold, too snotty and not safe enough to make venturing out on the water a fun and reasonable venture. That means it’s time to close-up shop by winterizing your boat and motor and stowing it until spring finally rolls back round.
For those living in warmer climates boating season may not have to come to an end, of course, but it’s still a good idea to do a full winter review on your vessel. Those who boat throughout the year put added miles, stress, wear and tear on their boats simply by continuing to use them on a regular basis. While winterization may not be needed, it’s always a good idea to set a few hours aside and give your craft a full once-over as if you are ready start a brand new season so you can nip potential problems in the bud before they grow into full-scale inconveniences or worse. If you trailer, now is a good time to perform a trailer check as well.
Following are some thoughts on full winterization, as well as a mid-season check for those who are year-round boaters. Note that these are basic starting points. If you discover any unexpected or potentially serious problems, a visit to a boat shop for a more complete inspection is probably in order.
Really, what this boils down to is giving your vessel a serious deep cleaning and removing any remaining water so it will not corrode engine parts or freeze and expand, damaging the motor in the process. Because different types of motors require different materials and methods to be fully winterized, it’s best to check your operator’s manual for details.
As a rule, you’ll want to start with a thorough cleaning of the cabin, heads, kitchen and helm. Scrub the topsides with a non-skid deck cleaner to get the dirt out of all the crevices – it’s only going to be tougher to clean if you wait until the spring. Next, clean all teak, plastic, glass and vinyl, plus your canvas. Apply a fresh coat of waterproofing to the canvas if necessary. Be sure to wax the topside and all exposed fiberglass as well. Use an acid-based hull or bottom cleaner to remove any fouling and ensure you have a clean surface in the spring to repaint if necessary.
Next, check all fluid levels including the oil, coolant, steering fluid, transmission/lower unit fluid and outdrive oil. Visually inspect all fuel lines for cracking and flexibility and replace any that show wear or stiffness. Grease any hardware as per your operation manual. You’ll also want to top-off your fuel tank and add a fuel stabilizer to prevent water from forming in the bottom of your fuel tank or varnish from building up in the lines, fuel injector or carburetor.
Finally, drain any remaining water from the engine, fuel system, plumbing system or any other system that can hold water before fully winterizing the motor per manufacturer instructions.
If you’ll be boating year-round, consider now to be just like starting a new season. Begin with a battery check to see if it is fully charged. If it isn’t, to bring it up to full charge using a battery charger. Take a minute or two to clean the terminals and cable ends with a stiff wire brush, too, and replace wing nuts with stainless steel lock nuts to prevent the cables from loosening up if you haven’t already done so. Note that the Coast Guard requires batteries be properly secured with the battery posts covered, so make sure the cover caps are still in place.
Next, check all switches and knobs – every single one. Turn on all lights, blow your horn and run the livewell and wash-down to ensure all switches are working. Check all helm and cabin switches and note for repair any that aren’t working properly. If you have an automatic bilge, ensure the pump float switch is working, along with the switch for manual operation which is usually located at the helm.
You’ll also want to check all engine fluid levels (refer to your operation manual for gage locations, indicators and fluid types or specifications) including the oil, coolant, steering fluid, transmission/lower unit or outdrive oil. Visually inspect all fuel lines for cracking and flexibility and replace any that show wear or stiffness. Grease any hardware as per your operation manual.
If all is good at this point, turn the engine on and listen carefully for loose belts. Double-check all hose connections and make sure the steering wheel turns freely and smoothly in all directions. Check to ensure everyone and everything is clear of the engine and then shift it into forward gear, reverse, and back to neutral.
Lastly, confirm your safety/kill switch actually works. Turn off the engine by removing the lanyard to prove the switch is operating properly, and then remove the key. If all seems in working order at this point, take a short shake-down cruise just to be sure everything is indeed in perfect working order. Once satisfied, it’s time to cruise.