Winterizing Your Boat: Storage

We all know winter is hard on people, and the same is true for boats. Even a small vessel needs some tender loving attention, if you don’t want water freezing in lines, a cracked engine block or any other damage that freezing water and harsh winter weather can cause. Old Man Winter is a rough guy who thinks it’s funny when your refrigeration system is ruined or the fiberglass cracks or the engine block cracks. Winterization is not just something people in cold climates should take care of because cold weather invades most climates at some point. Just one freeze is all it takes to cause thousands of dollars of damage, often not discovered until the spring. It is a tradeoff – take the time to winterize your boat, and you will save a lot of money.

Importance of Winterizing

Did you know that boat insurance typically doesn’t cover damage to a boat due to freezing weather? The reason is simple: you can prevent damage by winterizing the boat, whether you do it yourself or let a marine specialist do it. You can buy ice and freeze insurance, but it mostly covers the engine. You would need to make sure it also covers some or all of the fiberglass. Winter weather can cause a lot of damage to a boat, if it’s not properly weatherized and/or stored. Freezing water, snow and ice are top causes of damage, and here is a sample of the damages boats incur:

  • Freezing water cracks the engine block
  • Freezing water cracks the exhaust manifold
  • Water gets into fiberglass cracks and spiderwebs, freezes and expands, causing fiberglass damage
  • Refrigeration system is damaged due to freezing water
  • Snow or ice accumulates on the boat, causing it to sink lower in the water which then allows water to enter through a fitting above the waterline
  • Water left in hoses freezes and bursts one or more hose

Most cases of freeze-related boat damage happen in areas where the climate is mild, says BoatU.S. The boat owner’s assumption is there is no need to fully winterize a boat if there is not going to be a freeze or snow. Wrong! Every area has unusual cold spells that come out of nowhere. It snowed twice in Las Vegas in 2019! You simply can’t make assumptions about weather, no matter where you live.

Protecting Your Boat During Winter

If you are looking to find boat storage, there are three ways boat owners store boats:

  • Onshore
  • Indoors
  • In the water

Of course, the best option is to store the boat indoors where it can stay nice and comfortable in a climate-controlled facility. (Come to think of it, a boat isn’t much different than the boat owner!) Your boat will be happiest when it has a roof over its head, a building with a heater with a backup generator should the power go out, and a cover (more on that later). Let’s review support systems and the three boat storage options.

Storing the Boat Onshore

Sometimes boats are stored on land on supports. It could be at the marina or in a boatyard or at home. The supports must be adequate, or the boat will be damaged but not from weather. An inadequate support system can lead to hull distortion which, in a domino effect, can lead to a lot of other problems. They include broken stringers, broken bulkheads, poor engine alignment, fiberglass issues and broken lines, to name a few.

Before hauling the boat out of the water, lighten it up as much as possible and determine the types of supports you will use. They include:

  • Steel cradles
  • Wood cradles
  • Jack stands and blocks
  • Lifts
  • Trailers

The key to storing your boat without causing distortion is to ensure the supports are positioned correctly. Quite honestly, you should get professional marine assistance for boat storage because this process is part science and part expert knowledge. The boat manufacturer may have a blocking plan for your boat, especially if it’s a larger one. However, if you rely on an expert, you won’t have to worry about whether you got the science right.

Following are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Only use cradles made specifically for your boat model
  • Ensure wood cradles are solid and have no deterioration or damage
  • Check all fastenings for corrosion
  • Place jack stands as far out as possible to achieve the most stability and support during storms
  • Place jacks perpendicular to the hull
  • For sailboats on jacks, make sure the keel is supported by blocks or wide timbers
  • Only store the boat on land or plywood that will not allow the boat to sink if it gets wet
  • Always set the boat level to the ground to prevent the hull from warping
  • Add extra support wherever there is additional weight, like fuel tanks
  • Inspect the boat, looking for issues with bolts, cables, guides, the winch, the power unit and frame
  • Do not store your boat on a lift if your winters are subject to severe storms, high winds or rough high waves
  • Be careful where you store your boat on a trailer, avoiding trees, sloping roofs, inclines, etc.
  • Winterize your boat 100% no matter how you store it for the winter
  • If using a cover, make sure it fits securely (covers and shrink wrap are discussed in a succeeding section)
  • If you store the boat outside, brush snow off the cover when it snows and check regularly for pockets of water
  • Usually, fuel tanks are kept 95% filled to prevent condensation and corrosion, but check with the storage facility
  • Tie the boat down by attaching non-stretch line from mooring cleats to securely installed ground/dock hardware

Indoors

Storing your boat indoors is always one of the best options, if the size of the boat allows for it. If you have a yacht, it’s probably not possible. Indoor boat storage includes:

  • Dry storage racks inside a storage facility (note: racks may be outside too)
  • Garage
  • Storage building or shed
  • Enclosed rental storage facility

Make sure a dry storage rack where boats are stacked can properly support your boat, and don’t assume it’s adequate for your boat’s hull design. Also, no matter where you store your boat indoors, ideally the space is temperature controlled. If it isn’t, then ensure the garage door or storage space has a good seal on the door. Some other suggestions include:

  • The indoors boat storage options include jacks, cradles and trailers described earlier
  • Set mouse traps to keep the varmints from causing damage should they decide to take up residence
  • Even though the boat is inside, cover or shrink wrap the boat

On the Water

Some boats are kept in the water year round, either because they are too large to remove and store or because the boat owner wants access to the boat through the winter months. The goal is to keep water out of places where it doesn’t belong, either because openings get submerged or snow melts and the water runs into hull openings or sneaks in through fittings. Following are some guidelines for storing the boat on the water.

  • Close all thru-hull openings except for cockpit drains by closing gate valves and seacocks
  • After closing the seacock or gate valve, remove the hose and make sure all water is removed, and then reconnect the hose
  • Remove knot meter impellers and depth sound transducers and replace with dummy plugs
  • Make sure the nuts on the stuffing box (prevents sea water from entering the boat’s hull) are tight enough to stop all leaking
  • Clean the bilge of all debris and other accumulated materials, like oil, to ensure nothing stops the bilge pump from working
  • Wire the bilge pump (if not already) to the batteries, so it can work even when the main panel switches are turned off
  • Add nontoxic antifreeze to the bilge – enough to trigger the float switch
  • Plug exhaust ports so water or critters cannot get in
  • Place chafe guards on lines to protect them from deterioration due to chafing
  • Tie the boat centered in the slip using dock lines and spring lines
  • Ensure a boat tied to pilings is tied so it can move up and down with changes in the water level, like tides, surges or when a marina is impacted by dam operation
  • If the boat has thru-hull openings, it should be stored indoors and not on the water

Buy chafe guards, dummy plugs, dock lines, spring lines, cleaning solutions, non-toxic antifreeze, TideMinders (balls that keep the dock and mooring lines from rubbing against anything and helps lines roll up and down a piling as the tide comes and goes) - and all the other handy items that make winterizing a boat easy - at a marine supply business or boat dealer.

If you are storing your boat on a trailer, it is a good idea to remove the wheels and then block the hubs to keep them off the ground. Cover the hubs with plastic to prevent moisture.