winter conditions in forest

Once per year, it’s essential that boat owners take the proper steps to winterize their vessel. In order to prepare a boat for the next warm weather boating season, the winterization process commences at the end of the previous season, typically September or October if you’re in the Pacific Northwest. Even if you’re a year-round boater, scheduling a maintenance check-up before winter should be on your mind.

Winterization is possible to do yourself if you have the right facility, tools and know-how, but the easiest way to tackle the winterizing of your boat is by taking advantage of boat maintenance and storage facilities at your local marina.

In this article, we’ll break down the complete winterization process for boat owners – everything from why it’s mandatory to procedures, products, tools and maintenance services you’ll need.

Why Winterize Your Boat?

If you live in a part of the world where temperatures drop below freezing, winterization is absolutely mandatory for boat owners. Regardless of whether your boat is parked on a lake, ocean or driveway, it will be prone to danger once the temperature sinks.

The biggest risk that comes with freezing temperatures is water being trapped in different components of your boat. Most seriously, if water is trapped and frozen in your boat’s engine block, water tank or other on-board plumbing, you could be in for some very expensive repairs.

That’s why a little winterization maintenance is always worth the price tag, which dwarfs the cost of replacing parts and expensive repairs.

Prep the Engine

closeup view of boat engine

The engine is a critical component of your boat that’s susceptible to damage over the winter when temperatures drop, making it a great place to start. If you can, inspect your engine for any wear and tear, which should be addressed before long-term storage. If you notice cracks or stiffness in the fuel lines, they should be looked at and potentially replaced before you store your boat.

Once you’ve checked the engine for damage, a great place to start is flushing the engine, because any excess fluid left in your engine will be left vulnerable to freezing or corrosion. Using water muffs, flush your engine until it reaches the ideal operating temperature specific to your boat’s make and model. You’ll also want to do you best to clean the engine components of dust and debris.

After that, one of the best tools you have to winterize your engine is a fogging spray. When applied to the engine’s powerhead and rubber components, this type of product layers a defensive compound on top of your engine that protects against harmful rust and corrosion.

Aside from the fogging spray, you’ll also want to make sure you’re armed with engine grease. All parts of your boat’s engine should be greased in preparation for winter, including all pivot points, seals, and the prop shaft. Then be sure to replace your oil filter, we should be replaced at least once per year.

When you’re completely finished with the boat winterization process, your engine should then be covered with a tarp or canvas sheet for the winter.

Winterizing the Fuel Tank

Your fuel tank is extremely vulnerable to winter conditions. To start, you’ll want to make sure you’ve used up all (or nearly all) of the fuel on your last boat trip of the season, and drain it of any leftover water. Then it’s time to refill your engine with oil and prep it for winter, starting with running your engine and flushing it out.

When refilling your boat engine with fuel, be sure to make sure it’s ethanol-free, and not quite filled to the top. It’s important to leave a little room in the tank in case the fuel expands during the winter. As you’re filling your tank, you’ll also want to add in some type of fuel-stabilizer while following the brand-specific guidelines. Having your tank full (almost) will eliminate excess air in the tank and eradicate the opportunity for condensation to form.

Once the fresh fuel is in, you’ll be safe from acid build-up, and the fuel will be nicely stabilized for your first ride of the new boating season. Adding a fuel stabilizer to your fuel tank is extra important if your boat has a carburetor instead of fuel injection, because untreated fuel left in a carburetor can oxidize quickly and cause problems down the road. Just make sure to run your boat for a while to distribute the fuel before you store it for the winter.

Flush, Drain & Refill Fluids

Similar to your fuel tank, your engine cooling system, plumbing system, and any other system holding water needs to be winterized to prevent freezing, expanding water, rust and corrosion. First flush your systems, then ensure everything has been completely drained. After everything has been drained, your fluid should be replenished to normal levels. That includes oil, coolant, steering fluid, transmission fluid, and outdrive oil.

To address your water system, you’ll also want to flush it filling the tank with clean water, opening all the taps, and pumping the fresh water through the system until the tanks are drained and the anti-freeze is removed. After that, it doesn’t hurt to mix some bleach to a gallon of water (about an eighth of a cup of bleach for each 10 gallons in the system), mix it and pour it in. But if your boat has aluminum water tanks, you’ll want to go with a non-chlorine sanitizing product and flush the water through repetitively until you don’t smell any chlorine. Once the flushing of the water system is complete, re-fill the tank with clean water and you’re good to do.

Pre-Winter Cleaning

Once the vital components of your boat have been prepped for winter, it’s time to give your boat a clean to finish the season. The boat cleaning phase is for aesthetics, but it can also prevent headaches down the road. Doing a proper clean, wax and waterproofing will prevent dirt and buildup to make spring painting easier and prevent long-term damage to the hull.

Dirt, stains and other build-up will only worsen if you leave them during the winter. A pressure washing along with an acid-based hull cleaner will not only deal with dirt and grime but barnacles and other marine life.

When you’re finished cleaning, it’s time to apply a fresh layer of waterproofing and a coat of wax to the exposed fiberglass some extra protection.

Prep for Storage

Once your boat has been full winterized, it’s time to find a safe place for boat storage to complete the process. To start, you’ll need a durable boat cover like a canvas sheet or even a waterproof tarp. When the boat is covered, you’re ready to store your boat for the winter. The main goal is to shield your boat from moisture and precipitation, so a dry storage situation will be best while you wait for the Spring.

If you’re ready to store your boat for the season, contact us today to inquire. Although our crew does not winterize boats, we are able to recommend a variety of specialized trades who regularly work in our yard and would be happy to take care of the winterization process for you.