Winter Boating and Cruising Checklist

How to Keep Boating Throughout Winter

Winter boating is a growing hobby here on Vancouver Island. While many boaters choose to winterize their yachts, tuck them up on dry land and wait longingly for spring, it’s entirely possible to stay on the water throughout the winter months.

Boaters in the Pacific Northwest benefit from milder winters, which means we can take advantage of the quieter off-season. By boating in the winter months, you can enjoy visiting destinations like the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound even more when there are fewer people around.

Weather and water conditions can be quite different in winter. To ensure you and your vessel stay safe and secure, please read through this winter boating and cruising checklist.

You may also want to read our Winter on the Boat – Tips and Tricks post for even more useful information.

Preparing Your Yacht for Winter Use

Before you start planning a boating trip this winter, make sure your yacht has been prepared to perform well in wintery conditions. 

Mechanical preparation

  • Add antifreeze to engine coolant and make sure it is fully topped up.
  • Charge batteries. Engines need more charge to start when it is cold. Dead batteries are more susceptible to freezing which destroys them.
  • Fill the gas tank and add an ice-preventing stabilizer. 

Heating equipment

Engine-based heating will not be enough since it doesn’t provide heat when the engine is off. For winter boating, add an additional heat source such as:

  • Electric space heater (use only if moored with electrical hookups to prevent battery drainage)
  • Diesel space heater
  • Diesel furnace
  • Propane fireplace or heater


  • Install hull insulation
  • Make or purchase window coverings with foam or extra insulation. Use when moored or anchored
  • Add a cockpit tent to protect the topside from the elements. This also creates a space to hang wet clothing and towels

Equipment check 

Make sure you have the following equipment on board at all times, especially when enjoying winter boating.

  • First aid kit
  • Personal flotation devices and buoyancy aids
  • Noise and light makers – whistle, bell, flares, flashlights
  • A plastic snow shovel and a long handled brush for sweeping ice from decks
  • Ice-breaker in case your vessel gets iced in at dock

What Should I Bring on a Winter Boat Trip?

In order to stay warm and comfortable on a winter boating or winter yacht trip, bring the following with you:

  • Warm clothing (always bring spares)
  • Long underwear
  • Thick wool socks
  • Shirts
  • Warm or lined pants
  • Fleece vest or hoodie
  • Waterproof hooded jacket
  • Knitted cap
  • Gloves – full and fingerless sailing gloves
  • Insulated boots or sturdy shoes with good non-slip grip

Food and Drink

  • Plenty of warm drink options – coffee, tea, hot chocolate, broths
  • Easy hot food, such as soups
  • Granola bars and snacks in case heating food is not possible. Dehydrated and fresh fruits and vegetables are always good to have on hand, even for short trips

Linens (any linens not in use should be vacuum packed to save space and prevent damp and mildew)

  • Plenty of warm blankets 
  • Bath and hand sized towels
  • Bedding, incl. pillow cases and extra sheets

What To Do Before Heading Out For a Winter Boating Trip

Do these things before every winter boating trip.

  • Winter Boating – What To Do if Bad Weather Hits When You’re On The Water

    In winter, conditions can change extremely quickly out on the water. Be aware and be prepared.

    • Keep track of weather
      • If you are in the path of an incoming storm or low pressure system, get to the closest protected moorage. Either a dock, marina or sheltered bay and ride out the storm
      • Secure loose items above and below deck
    • Watch for ice on the water
      • Most fibreglass boats are able to push through up to 1 inch of ice without significant damage
      • Use ice pick or ice breaker if necessary
      • Aluminum hulls should not be taken through ice
    • Keep your deck ice free
      • Use seawater and brush to scrub ice from the deck
      • Use seawater to melt ice on railings, lines and hoses
    • Keep an eye on gas, water and battery levels – be aware of the location of your nearest, open service facility

    When You Return From a Winter Boating Trip

    Prepping your boat as soon as you get back to dock will protect your yacht between journeys and ensure it will be ready for your next trip.

    For boats hauled out of the water:

    • Drain water from engine – run engine for a few seconds then move to down position
    • Drain water tanks and water pumps
    • Add antifreeze to engine
    • Add fuel stabilizer to gas tank
    • If stored outside, cover with a breathable cover
    • Charge batteries

    For boats kept in the water:

    • Keep fuel and water tanks topped up
    • Turn off water pump and clear lines to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting
    • Close all thru-hull valves to prevent water from entering the hull
    • Tilt outboard engine up and out of water
    • Use desiccant material or a dehumidifier to prevent damp
    • Use an engine compartment heater if weather predicted to drop below freezing
    • Cover boat with a breathable cover to prevent mildew build up
    • Charge batteries

    Dock Your Yacht at Van Isle Marina This Winter

    Want to boat more this winter? Van Isle Marina’s full service marina is open year round so you can find all the services, equipment and assistance you need to keep boating through the winter.

    Our marina is conveniently located in Sidney, BC and we have water and electrical hook-ups available with moorage. Our fuel dock and pump out facilities remain open seven days a week throughout the winter.. Looking for a new yacht to go cruising with this winter and many years to come? Our experienced sales team here at Van Isle Marina can help you find what you are looking for and get you out on the water. Contact us for information on sales, moorage rates, dry storage and our marina facilities.