A Head Start

When your boat spends the winter on the hard, relaunching in the spring will go easier, and perhaps happen sooner, if you tackle a few of your pre-launch tasks during the fall and winter months. Some of these are jobs you might otherwise neglect or skip in the rush to launch. And the nice part is you get to mess about doing boat things during the off-season.

When your boat spends the winter on the hard, relaunching in the spring will go easier, and perhaps happen sooner, if you tackle a few of your pre-launch tasks during the fall and winter months. Some of these are jobs you might otherwise neglect or skip in the rush to launch. And the nice part is you get to mess about doing boat things during the off-season.

The very first task is to physically and/or mentally take a stem-to-stern tour of your boat and list everything you need or want to get done before it goes back into the water. Doing this before or shortly after you haul out ensures that some things you plan to do will not be lost to faulty memory. A written list also gives you the opportunity to strike off a few items before spring.

Put a star beside every item that can be done completely or partially away from the boat. If mild weather provides you the opportunity to do work at the yard, fine, but the starred items can be dealt with regardless of the weather. Here, in no particular order, are a few possibilities:


Whether you plan to upgrade a radio, add a fan, rebuild a pump, change a filter, freshen the varnish or paint or replace a bulb, acquiring the parts and supplies you need to do so is something you can do well ahead of time. Make your shopping list in October and you’ll have plenty of time to research choices, buy products on sale, or order from a discount supplier. You might even drop a Christmas hint or two.

Sail Repair

Sending sails off to be cleaned, repaired and perhaps stored has long been a fall ritual for competitive sailors, but even lazy cruisers should take advantage of the off-season to prepare their sails for the coming year. By moving a little furniture around at home , you can generally create sufficient floor space to spread out even a large sail in small sections. Load a needle with brightly-colored thread and trace a finger over every seam, looking for worn or broken stitching. Mark everything you find with a short length of the colored thread punched through the cloth and knotted on both ends. Minor problems may be restitched by hand. Problems requiring a sailmaker can be dealt with in plenty of time for you to have healthy sails by spring. If you need a new sail, you might be able to negotiate a more favorable price during winter months.


Canvaswork is far easier in the broad spaces of a room ashore, and winter is the best time to tackle many of your canvas projects. Covers and awnings should be unrigged for the winter, so take them all home and do all needed repairs. Items that have spent several years in the sun will benefit from a total restitching. So will you, as Ben Franklin observed. If you have covered space where you can fully spread out your exterior canvas, winter is also the ideal time to renew the waterproofing.

Winter is also a good time to construct new canvas items. Make that set of hatch and companionway screens you wished for in August. Organize your tools in convenient and easy-to-stow canvas rolls. Build a rain hood for the forward hatch. Re-cover the settee cushions. You are almost certain to do these projects at home anyway, so you should do them when it doesn’t cost you sailing time.


This is a pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later choice. If you leave towels and linens (and clothes) aboard your boat during the dark, damp months of winter, mold and mildew are likely to grow on them. A more prudent course is to take all these items home in the fall to be laundered and stowed in a climate-controlled space, where they will be mildew-free and ready to load back aboard in a flash in the spring.

If you have the space at home, you can protect and preserve your bunk and settee cushions by taking them off the boat. If that is not practical, at least remove and launder all zippered covers in the fall and stow them with the boat’s clean linens.


The concept of varnishing in the winter can take some getting used to. Is your dinghy seat made out of wood? The oars? Take them home and varnish them on the dining room table. Plan to re-bed your grabrails in the spring? Take them off in the fall, fill the fastener holes in the deck with a generous dollop of sealant, and bring the rails back in May with a Bristol finish. Are your cabin sole panels loose? They can be refinished at home. So can lids, drawer faces, and locker and cabin doors if you just remove half a dozen screws. You might even take home the top of a saloon table showing its age. Varnishing can be a tranquil and pleasant pastime if you don’t have weather to worry about, and the results are sure to give you pleasure throughout the sailing season. Varnish work is usually the first job postponed in the rush to launch, so doing it in the winter can be the difference between its getting done or not.


If you have a power saw of almost any type in your garage, you can make shelf and locker partitions. All you need from the boat are dimensions. You may have to trim these items to fit in the spring, but the bulk of the job will already be done. If your woodworking skills are up to it, winter is also the time to fabricate a cockpit grate, a rear enclosure for through-bulkhead electronics, or a new inlaid saloon table.


Replacing sheets or halyards? Don’t wait until spring. Rig messengers and bring the old lines home. Now you can shop for the right line at the right price, cut it to the proper length and fuse the ends. If your lines need spliced eyes, doing these as evening projects is less stressful and you’ll likely achieve a better result.

Rebuild Toilet

If you limped along the last half of the season with a weeping or smelling head, winter is the time to fix it. With the boat out of the water, you can safely remove the toilet without risk of it flooding. Typically four bolts and a couple of hose clamps release the toilet from the boat. Get it safely to the ground (watch out for water trapped in the pump), hose it clean, and transport it home. Now you can disassemble and rebuild it at your leisure.

Prop Servicing

For better performance under power and to reduce fouling next season your boat’s prop should be cleaned and polished to a high shine. You can do this with the prop in place, but you can do a better job with it off. A removed prop is also protected from damage and theft, and it eliminates the risk of a spinning prop when you run the engine in the yard to flush salt from the raw-water circuit. Pulling the prop also gives you the opportunity to have it trued and tuned. European props must meet an ISO standard—for example, blade pitch accurate to within 2 percent for a Class 2 prop—but American props, even new ones, can exhibit a blade-to-blade pitch varience of 10 percent or more. This is less critical for slow-turning sailboat propellers, but imagine a sagging blade on a wobbling ceiling fan and you get the idea of the potential effect. With the prop off the boat, you can deliver or ship it to a prop shop for computer measurement and reshaping.

Outboard Motor Servicing

Perhaps you leave outboard servicing to a repair facility, but if you do it yourself, taking the motor home can pay dividends. Of course you need to flush the engine, relubricate it and fog the cylinders before storing it, but having the motor at home gives you additional options, particularly if your outboard is getting long in the tooth. Search online for an exploded view of your engine with all of the parts listed and available for purchase. New jets and needles might be just what the engine needs to correct performance issues. Maybe the tilt rod or the friction screw has corroded away. Is it time for a new prop? Even if you do not replace parts, having the motor at home will allow you to recommission it early and more easily in the spring so that all you have to do is take it with you to the yard.

Dinghy Repairs

In a similar vein, if you have been struggling with a leaking inflatable dinghy, winter is a good time to identify the cause and make a repair.


Did you know that the Coast Guard estimates that 90 percent of the recreational boats equipped with DSC radios and GPS do not have them properly interfaced? That means a DSC-VHF call for assistance does not automatically include your position. The reason is that it is rarely clear what connections you must make to get the VHF and the GPS to communicate. With a simple pigtail, you can operate boat electronics in your garage or driveway via the lighter plug or some other 12-volt outlet in your car. This way, you can test a connection scheme found on the Internet for your VHF and your GPS. Taking your chartplotter home for the winter will also let you discover and practice using functions you never have time to learn about when the unit is actually in use. With a memory card and the necessary software, you can also plan a summer cruise and preload waypoints and routes. This is armchair cruising at its best.


Make a list of things you want to know and you can research them over the winter months. Buy a book. Read magazines. Browse the Internet. Keep a notebook at hand to write down useful discoveries as well as the answers to your questions. When you arrive at the yard in the spring already knowing what sealant to use for rebedding your portlights, how to tighten a loose gudgeon on your particular boat, or how to easily extract an old through-hull fitting, those jobs undoubtedly will go faster. If you also have in hand the sealant, the long socket extension and the length of threaded rod these three jobs require, you are that much farther along.

There is no revelation here. Things you get done over the long winter months will not need doing in the compressed time around spring launch. Make yourself a winter projects list and chip away at it. The result will be an easier launch and a longer sailing season.



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