Snow, Sleet and Storms: Winterizing the Boat

If you live in what some call temperate latitudes, there’s a good chance you are just about to take your last sail of the season and are well along with plans to haul your boat for the winter. This is an inevitable progression for most sailors who live in communities that budget for snow removal. Getting your boat ready for this kind of weather calls for some clear thinking and a well-developed checklist.

Start by going over the boat, stem to stern, and make a list of everything that needs attention before you relaunch next spring. You might break that list into must-do and nice-to-do, in case you find the extra time or additional funds to spend on the boat. Once you’ve made your lists, decide which jobs you’ll do yourself and which you’ll ask your yard to take on. If you have the yard do the work, the more written details you give them on each job, the more efficient and cost effective they will be.

First take all the sails, halyards and running rigging off the boat and inspect them. Either wash the sails yourself with a mild detergent and store them in a well-ventilated space or send them to your sailmaker. Run the engine to warm it up and then change the oil and the oil filter. Top off the fuel tanks and add stabilizer and biocide.

After your boat is hauled, the yard will pressure-wash the bottom and block it up on jack stands. It’s very important the boat is blocked up properly; winter winds can do a lot of damage in a very short time. Whether you leave the mast in or remove it is another important issue; some yards insist that masts come down, while others allow them to be left in place.

If your boat has a keel, it should be supported with at least two sets of blocks that will not move even if the frozen ground beneath them shifts slightly. Some manufacturers provide blocking plans for their boats, and a few include the best set to ensure maximum drainage. Usually, but not always, this means keeping the waterline at 90 degrees to vertical. You can check this alignment with a carpenter’s level.

In checking the jack stands, make sure the outer two are reasonably close to the forward and aft ends of the waterline. Stands supporting the bottom of the hull should be just below the chine or turn of the bilge with support tubes at a 90-degree angle to the surface of the hull. Most boats are most secure when weight is distributed evenly along the bottom of the keel. Make sure that opposing stands are tied together with at least 3/16in chain.

To finish putting the boat to bed, a good approach is to start from the bottom and work your way up. Clean the bilge with fresh water and check the pump strainers, hoses and hose clamps. If any need to be replaced, do it now or flag it as a priority on your spring commissioning list. Clean all through-hull valves and check that they are operating smoothly. Also check the keelbolts, rudder bearing and steering system. If something needs attention, put it on the priority list for next spring.
Next, move to the engine and examine all belts and fuel lines for signs of wear or leaks. Check your batteries and either have the yard store them in a dedicated location or take them home; make a note to top them up at least once a month. Remove the impeller from the water pump. Do the same with all electronic gear; remove what you can.

Drain all water tanks and the hot water heater. Disconnect all lines at their lowest point and then clear them with compressed air. Leave all faucets and fittings open.

Remove all gear from the deck and lazarette lockers. Make an inventory of these items so you know what you have and, more important, what you don’t have. Be sure all scuppers are clear and can drain properly.

Clean the galley stove, refrigerator and freezer, head, watermaker, water heater and holding tanks; follow the manufacturer’s instructions with regard to adding non-toxic antifreeze or other products. Put tags on all items showing the status of the equipment; i.e., valve open, fuse removed, etc.

Remove all food, including canned products that could be damaged if they freeze. Leave fridge and freezer doors open.

To avoid mildew belowdecks, clean everything possible with appropriate cleaning materials. For carpeting, use upholstery-cleaning solution, then vacuum it when it has dried.

Take all clothing, foul weather gear and linens off the boat. Don’t forget the swim gear.

Put a protective coating on all cleats, stanchions, and other metals on deck. Once the deck and hull have been cleaned, apply a coating of liquid polish designed for the marine environment. The polish will help protect gelcoat surfaces.

Finally, be sure the cover you install over your boat is properly sized and that its framing will not tear or chafe the cover material. Canvas covers are good because they breathe. A plastic shrink wrap cover will not breathe, so there should be at least one access door and one or two static vents to keep fresh air moving through the boat.

Whatever layup routine you follow, always document what you’ve done in detail. When the days finally start getting longer again, those notes give you a great head start on getting out on the water again.

Get Organized

Gather all materials needed to do the work

Warm engine and change oil and filter

Top up the freshwater system with 50/50 water and non-toxic antifreeze.

Clean or install new air-cleaner element

Drain raw water system and put 50/50 antifreeze system through to remove any untreated water

Remove raw water pump impeller and check condition

Check condition of alternator belt; if it needs replacement get one ready to install next spring

Coat cylinders with fogging oil and tape inlet manifold openings and breathers

Top off tanks and add stabilizer

Check stuffing box and shaft motion. Repack stuffing box if necessary

Spray all electrical connections, including fuse board, alternator and starter motor with WD-40

Remove fuses and clean contacts

Check battery levels and charge if necessary before removing; grease terminals with Vaseline

Drain the freshwater system; if possible disconnect at the lowest point in the system. If this is not possible blow out water and consider installing a drain tap and the low point

Check all zinc anodes for corrosion and replace if necessary

Check all clamps and hoses for damage and replace if necessary

Clean and dry all bilges

Open fridge, coolers, drawers and lockers to keep air flowing and prevent mildew

Check condition of all through-hulls and seacocks

Clean toilets and empty holding tanks; disinfect as necessary

Check paint and gelcoat surfaces and note what needs attention next spring

Remove all portable electronic gear

Remove all lines, halyards, inflatables, and moveable gear

Remove sails for cleaning

Check all deck hardware and lubricate with WD-40

Disassemble winches and clean according to manufacturer’s directions

Check all clevis pins and turnbuckles for wear and replace as necessary

Check all sail tracks for damage

Remove all furling gear, wash with fresh water and check for freedom of movement. Lubricate if necessary according to manufacturer’s instructions

Make sure the boat cover is well constructed and securely tied around the supporting structure. Check that there are no hard spots along the supports that could chafe the cover and perhaps destroy it prematurely. Also provide at least two openings for ventilation.

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