By Sarah Petrie
Canada’s four-season climate is a wonder in itself. There are not many countries that can boast hot summers, cold winters and everything in between. Though, a full range of seasons means each must come to an end, and sadly for Canadian boaters, it’s the summer season that’s never long enough.
Typically the boating season can last from late May into September or even October (weather dependent of course). Any serious boater isn’t looking to waste one second of that golden sunshine and warm weather.
While you’re out on the boat, take note of anything that doesn’t need immediate repair, but does require replacing or updating. You can tackle those projects while your boat is sitting in storage over the winter (or better yet, have someone tackle them for you). Obviously repairs that require immediate attention have to be dealt with more urgently, but if you can avoid putting your boat on layup during the boating season, you’ll be much happier.
Before you get started with the winter prep routine consult your owner’s manual. Often manufacturers provide specific instructions on how to care for your boat during the winterization process. Obviously, how you prepare your vessel for winter depends on the size, type and storage location, but here are a few basic steps to follow when it comes time to haul out.
All powerboats have engines that require seasonal maintenance. Beginning with the engine itself, run the boat at idle speeds to warm it up. Then drain the old oil and change the oil filter. Flush the system and refill with new oil. Lubrication is important. Make sure to drain and refill the gear lube and transmission fluid to ensure everything is coated nicely to prevent any corrosion during the winter.
The coolant system needs upkeep too. For closed cooling systems drain and flush the system carefully capturing the coolant for proper disposal and (after consulting your manual) fill with the specified antifreeze. For raw water systems, flush with fresh water and drain then fill with environmentally safe plumbing antifreeze
While most steps can be done the day of haul out, winterizing your boat’s fuel supply might be best done in advance. This will help ensure that stabilized fuel reaches the tank, lines, filter and engine. Apart from completely draining your fuel supply, which can be difficult to do, the more fuel you have in your tanks, the less of a chance of condensation and ethanol phase separation.
Start by filling your tanks with premium fuel and adding a stabilizing treatment (your engine manufacturer may specify which product to use), then run your engine to ensure the stabilizer gets to all the places mentioned above. If done in advance, the stabilized fuel has more time to move through the system while you’re enjoying those last few rides on the boat—and it’s one less task to do on the day of winterization. Just make sure to top up the fuel supply with more stabilized fuel.
Ethanol attracts water and is a less stable fuel type. Using premium gasoline and treating it with stabilizer helps prevent the fuel from oxidizing during the long period of no use. When fuel breaks down it can clog up parts of your system translating into repairs and repair bills.
Once you’ve taken care of engine maintenance, move on to the bilge. It cannot be stressed enough, residual water can freeze and damage your boat so it’s imperative to get all the water out! Run the bilge pump to get out any water resting in the bilge. Clean the bilge with soap and water and remove the plugs. Spraying WD-40 or adding a bit of antifreeze will help keep any missed water from freezing.
Give your boat interior a good scrub. Washing away all the season’s spills and thrills is a great way to relive all those summer memories and to create a fresh start come spring. Cleaning away forgotten sticky messes behind cushions will also thwart off insects or critters. Take this opportunity to clear away items stored in ski lockers or dash consoles and give these spaces a sweep out and wipe down. You’ll appreciate having removed the clutter when you take your boat out of storage. Leave the hatches open for ventilation.
Also, check your lifejackets. Are they still buoyant? Are all straps and fasteners in good working order? If not, it’s time to replace them. If your lifejackets need to be cleaned before storing, it’s best to use mild soap and water to give them new life. Make sure to store them in a well-ventilated area away from moisture.
The boat’s exterior could also use a good cleaning. Many lakes leave a mark around the waterline when the boat is removed from the water. Using a scrub brush or mop and environmentally responsible cleaning product, give the hull a decent wash. While cleaning, if you notice any issues with the hull now is the time to arrange to have it repaired.
Giving your boat a good wax will protect it from the elements should you choose to store outside, plus, it helps keep the freshly cleaned boat looking shiny and new!
Take the battery out of the boat and keep indoors. Storing it in a cool, dry place like a basement or garage is perfect. Clean the terminals and be sure to either keep on a trickle charge set up, or check the voltage every few weeks and top up the charge.
If you’re planning to get help winterizing your boat, or making any repairs, make sure you book an appointment with your service technician early to avoid a long wait.
Steve Goddard, service manager at Wye Heritage Marina in Midland, Ont. advises, “Typically most people will have their boats winterized after Thanksgiving weekend with hopes of using their boats one last time. Rarely does that occur because of schedules or weather.” He recommends getting your boat in as soon as you think you’re done with it to “avoid the rush and have peace of mind that everything is completed.”
Before taking your boat in, clear away anything that would prevent the technician from accessing your engine easily. Don’t forget to double-check the storage compartments. Goddard says that removing perishable items is one thing that often gets over looked. Think drinks, pop, water, or snacks that may get left behind and could freeze, go bad or attract unwanted visitors.
Ultimately, how you plan to store your boat impacts the final steps of winterization. When shopping for storage options, “ensure the people or organizations are reputable and stand behind the work performed,” says Goddard. “Some may be cheaper, but if they can’t be held accountable [if things go wrong], it could get very expensive.”
An uncovered outdoor storage plan requires the most preparation, as your boat will spend months exposed to winter weather. A good shrink-wrapping will help to prevent any of the elements from harming your watercraft and provide a barrier between your boat and any animals looking for somewhere to make a home for the winter.
A more expensive option, a custom boat cover, will provide the snuggest fit and can be reused year over year and when trailering.
Some boaters opt for a good old-fashioned tarp cover. While this selection may be the least expensive, it also leaves the most to be desired. It’s tough to make a rectangular tarp fit snugly over an angular boat, possibly leaving openings for water and animals to enter. If you do choose to use a tarp, ensure it’s larger than the boat and that it can be tied down properly.
Without a custom cover, a frame may be required to support the cover or tarp and to slope snow and ice away from the boat.
If you’re storing your boat outdoors on a trailer, there are a few extra steps you need to consider. Changing air temperatures can result in different levels of tire pressure during the winter months, plus leaving your tires in one position for an extended period of time can put extra wear and tear on the wheels. Help support the weight of the trailer by blocking up your trailer. You can either remove the wheels or leave them on and cover to protect from sunlight. And, like your boat, it’s a good idea to inspect and make any repairs to your trailer before bidding farewell for the season.
When it comes to storing your boat, the options are only limited by availability and budget. An indoor, heated storage space is naturally the most expensive option, and can be difficult to lock down. You can always choose to rent a storage unit for your boat—if it’s small enough—to keep it from the elements, but that means it has to be on a trailer.
Many marinas offer some form of winter storage on site, or they may include haulage to their storage facility within the agreed upon price. If you keep your boat at a marina for the summer season, check out their storage options. They may offer discounts to slip holders who sign on for winter storage as well.
Storage options range from your yard, garage or neighbour’s property to indoor, heated storage at a marina or storage facility aforementioned. The in-between opportunities include outside dry land, outdoor stacked, indoor stacked and covered slip storage.Keeping your boat in the water can be an option too, but requires special considerations.
Dry land is an open storage area, typically fenced in and might be secured. Boaters are able to store their boat either on a trailer or on blocks and may be allowed access during winter months.
Outdoor stacked storage (also called rack storage) is a large stacking system where boats are rested on large metal supports several boats high. They are lifted into place with a forklift. Some stacking systems may be sheltered across the top and sides with canvas, but your boat will still need to be covered or shrink wrapped as it may be exposed to the elements in some way. This option makes it difficult to access your boat once it’s stacked for the season, though some facilities may make exceptions. You may also be limited by the size of your boat.
Indoor stacked is very similar, except that your boat is stored within a warehouse, protected from harsh weather. The same size and access limitations may apply.
Covered slip storage is another option. Some marinas that offer covered dock slips may also provide winter storage in the same space. You boat is simply lifted above the water, but remains outdoors under the shelter of the slip’s roof. Although it is covered on top, your boat may still be exposed to winter’s wrathon the sides.
Regardless of where you store your boat, you want to know it’s secure. Each storage option comes with its own set of pros and cons and security is a factor that should be heavily weighed. After all, the point of putting your boat away is to protect it from damage over the winter. The last thing you want is for it to be vandalized or stolen. Look for options that allow you to check on your boat regularly, have locked facilities, security cameras or patrols. Not only will your boat be safe, you’ll have peace of mind.
If it’s your rookie season winterizing and storing, Goddard recommends letting the professionals handle things. “It’s cheap insurance,” he says, so you know that it’s done right. The more care you take before putting your boat away for the season, the better it will be to you come spring. You’ll be all set to reap the rewards all summer long.