Whether you keep your boat in the water or stored ashore, there are a number of things you MUST do over the winter season.
From the editors of BoatUS Magazine
Your boat is tucked in for the winter. You dutifully followed a boat winterization checklist or hired someone to do the critical tasks for you. So now you can just kick back in front of the fireplace until spring, right? Not so fast! Even though your pride and joy is in hibernation, you still need to check on your boat throughout the off season. Otherwise, you could be in for an expensive and unwanted surprise come next boating season.
An analysis of boat insurance claims files from the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program shows that the key to minimizing boat-winterization damage is to visit your boat periodically throughout the winter. That means that you should try to make a visit at least once every month. If that’s not convenient, work with other boat owners to check on one another’s boats throughout the season. This is especially important when freezing temperatures, snow, and ice can cause problems.
Here are 8 things to consider if your boat is stored ashore:
- Check the jackstands, cradle, or trailer to make sure the boat hasn’t shifted. The boat should be level so that water drains properly and doesn’t cause stains or, worse, leaks down below. Verify that the stands are chained together and, if you are storing on soft ground, plywood should be under the jackstands to keep them from sinking into the ground. If you see a problem with the jackstands, contact the yard. Never try to fix them yourself.
- Check scuppers and drains for blockages. Even boats stored ashore can “sink” when water enters the cockpit into the interior. If your boat is on a trailer, make sure your hull drain plug is out so any water that finds its way below can drain.
- Examine your boat cover if you have one. Look for the beginnings of tears, loose fittings, and chafe and make sure the wind hasn’t broken any tie-down lines. Verify that covers aren’t allowing water to accumulate or inadvertently funneling water below. Any cover that isn’t well supported will accumulate snow and water, which adds considerable weight to the boat. Covers should never be tied to jackstands; strong winds can catch the cover and pull a jackstand out from the hull, sending the boat toppling.
- Check that all doors, companionways, and hatches are locked, and any valuables are removed to discourage vandals.
- Take a sniff. Does the boat smell moldy? If so, there could be a portlight or hatch leak. Other smells, such as gasoline, propane, or vermin, need to be investigated right away. If you leave your 12-volt or AC electrical system on for the bilge pump/high water alarm, smoke alarms, and battery charger, sniff for any electrical odors. It’s possible that a circuit could be overloaded or shorted, or the battery is being overcharged.
- Check portlights and hatches for leaks, look for water stains, and fix what’s leaking.
- Look for signs of pests such as rodents and raccoons including scat, squeaking noises, or signs of forced entry from claws or teeth. Common areas to check include inside seat bases, hatches/lazarettes, and steering consoles. Boat insurance policies typically exclude damage caused by vermin.
- When using a ladder to climb aboard a frozen boat, be sure it is firmly planted. Secure it with a line to avoid shifting, and have someone hold the base. Never descend a ladder facing forward or with your arms full. If moving tools, supplies, or other objects to and from the deck, lower or raise them in a bucket using a rope. And remember that nonskid doesn’t work when it’s covered in snow or ice.
While the experts at the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program don’t recommend keeping your boat in the water over the winter due to increased hazards, there are additional tips if you choose to do so.