Boating 101: Preparing Your Craft for Winter Storage

By OceanGrafix.

Boaters in northern climates, particularly where the water freezes or storms rage, store their crafts for the season. But proper storage brings lots of questions. We’ll answer some here:

What’s better: wet storage vs. dry storage

Wet storage, or keeping your boat in the water, requires safe dockage away from storms that could gash your boat against the dock or, worse, throw the craft onshore. You have to be in a climate where the water can’t freeze, which would crack the hull. The hull needs to be impervious to water, so the hull material doesn’t blister. You’ll be paying dock fees all year, but you will avoid transport and storage fees.

Wet storage has its downsides. In saltwater, barnacles and seaweed can grow on the hull and damage the surface, but most marinas offer sophisticated cleaning services.

Most boaters prefer dry storage either in sheds, on racks or even in the open air on lots. Dry storage allows for inspection of the hull and gaskets, cleaning and repainting. Fees depend on the size of the boat, but many facilities can stack (one atop the other on racks) for boats up to 80 feet in length.

The critical issue in dry storage is structural support. Either custom cradles or boat stands should be crafted to support engines, bulkheads and the keel.

Make equipment inspection part of the annual storage process

End-of-season, before placing your boat in storage, check all your equipment. Replace fire extinguishers and flares that are past their expiration dates and dispose of them at hazardous-waste materials sites. Update the first-aid kit, throwable flotation devices and life jackets.

Replace worn or chafed docking lines and fenders. Replace dysfunctional VHF radios and navigation electronics. Inspect and replace all boat cushions that are worn, stained or mildewed.

Winterizing checklists mainly remove harmful water

Once your boat is out of the water, the challenge is to remove water still in the boat! The engine, electrical, interior and plumbing must be prepared for the freezing months. Here’s a top-level checklist in part from Discover Boating:

  1. Drain and remove water from your engine
  2. Replace spark plugs
  3. Apply corrosion protection to the engine
  4. Coat internal engine parts with fogging oil
  5. Add a fuel stabilizer
  6. Replace fuel filters and fuel/water separators
  7. Drain all freshwater plumbing from sinks, heads and tanks
  8. Remove water from raw water washdowns, live wells, and bilge pumps
  9. Add antifreeze to all plumbing systems
  10. Remove all drain plugs
  11. Keep hatches and drawers open for ventilation
  12. Lubricate door hinges and clasps
  13. Clean all limber holes and drainage pathways to prevent ponding
  14. Plug all exhaust outlets to keep critters out

Shrink-wrapping vs. custom cover: the choice depends

Boaters who cover their boats in the winter typically use either custom covers or shrink-wrap (plastic). The general argument about which is a better choice (shrink-wrap vs. custom cover) usually depends on how long you plan to own the boat. If you expect to own the boat over several years, the more expensive custom cover may be cheaper in the long run. If you are planning to own the boat from one to three years, shrink-wrapping each year is cheaper than a custom cover.

After the boat has been thoroughly cleaned and dried, the covering is put in place. Allow for vents or zippered access to allow moisture to continue to escape. Slow-release mold/mildew packs should be placed inside. At best they last three months and need to be replaced during longer storage.

The pros and cons of each storage option

Arguments can be made for the many benefits of professional storage, out of the water and in a closed building. Although you will be giving up ready access to the boat for use on a sudden, ideal weekend, dry storage in a secure building prevents theft, weather disasters and insurance issues. Often it is well worth the costs.

Storing your craft on your driveway at home (where practical) may seem more economical, but opens the craft to weather damage, hull damage, theft, vandalism and pests. Storing your boat in the water (where the water doesn’t freeze) offers the best possible hull support, but can involve year-round dock fees, cleaning costs, potential theft and vandalism.

Ultimately, the decision of how to store a boat off season depends on the climate, whether you are boating in fresh or saltwater, how much of the work you want to do yourself, the distance from your home to the water access and the fee structure of marina services.