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Winterization

By Scott Smith, Director of Communications

Ah, autumn! A time of harvest, falling leaves and shortening days. For some, it’s a favorite season with its display of color and promise of no more mosquitoes. For boaters, it only means one thing: storing their beloved boat and being in a grumpy mood till spring. But putting a boat up for storage is a lot more than dragging the trailer around to the back of the garage and propping the tongue up on cinder blocks. It’s called winterization.  

During my years in the service department, I heard it all. “I might forget something on the engine and block will crack,” or “I might not completely clear the freshwater system,” etc, etc. I realize that there are a lot of things to remember to do, but if you look at the project as a list of smaller systems, you won’t get as discouraged. There are two basic ways to get the job done without losing your mind:

  1. Drop your boat off at the marina, tell the service manager to send you a bill, grab your clubs and play a round of golf before the leaves cover the course, or –
  2. Decide what needs to be done to your boat, system by system, make a checklist and go for it!

If you opt for the first strategy, more power to you. Please consider adopting me. If you go for the second, perhaps the following tips and guidelines can help. They are broken down into subsystems and, I hope, are presented in an easy-to-follow fashion. Keep in mind one of the most important things about doing your own winterization: Freeze damage is not covered by you warranties. If you are going to do it yourself, make sure that you completely read and understand all instructions for winterizing every component and system on your boat.

Even if you don’t do it yourself, you may gain a more intimate knowledge of your boat and its systems-and all those charges on your marina’s winterization bill.

PROTECT YOUR ENGINES AND DRIVETRAINS

The most expensive piece or pieces of equipment on your boat other than the fiberglass hull  and deck would probably be the engine or engines. It is therefore necessary that you do all you can to prepare them to survive the harsh winter months. The first thing you should do is to purchase a maintenance manual from your engine dealer for explicit details concerning winterization. Then, you can refer to the following for a general idea of-what lies before you:

Drain each engine block, exhaust manifold and heat exchanger (if applicable) of water. It is absolutely imperative that you get the water out of all constrained spaces and cavities in the engine before the onset of freezing weather. Remember, water has a peculiar habit of actually expanding-as it freezes. Once the water decides that it’s gonna freeze, a little cast metal certainly won’t deter its course. It will expand until it literally cracks your engine block, your manifolds or whatever else happens to have too much H2O left in it. For winter storage, I would suggest first flushing the engine with fresh water, then draining the block, manifold, heat exchanger, etc. If _you are then certain everything is drained properly, just leave it alone until you’re ready to drop the boat in the water come springtime. However, if you still have that unsure feeling about any remaining water, you can always run a few gallons of nontoxic RV antifreeze through the engine-that’s what we do when we pull our Formulas from the test tank. Once you see the pink fluid coming out of the exhaust, you should be covered.

Your raw water pump. Assuming you have an engine­mounted pump (as opposed to one mounted inside the drive), open the pump up and check to be sure that it, too, is drained of water, and while you’re in there, inspect the impeller. If the rubber blades, or legs, are becoming stiff or cracked, or if any are missing, replace the impeller immediately. You’ll save yourself a headache for the coming season.

Lower unit attention. Per your manufacturer’s maintenance manual, drain the drive’s lower unit gearcase back up per the manual’s instructions.

Tranny trouble? If you have an inboard­ powered boat or a vintage sterndrive with an actual tranny bolted to the back of the engine (yes, there really was such a thing, whippersnapper!), inspect and check fluid levels as per manufacturer instructions.

Is your closed water cool? If your boat has a closed (or “fresh”) water cooling system-that is, raw water cools the fluid running through the block by means of a heat exchanger (kind of like your car’s radiator)- check your antifreeze with a hydrometer, which will measure its specific gravity. If it doesn’t test OK or if you haven’t changed your coolant in more than two years, do it now. Otherwise, top off. Safe for the winter, ready for summer.

Spark’em up! Inspect your spark plugs for fouling. They can sometimes tell you if you’re having problems elsewhere   (Some browning is OK. Black ‘n’ greasy isn’t good). If they pass muster, OK. If not, you may have to replace them and have your mechanic look for the root of the problem.

Filters ‘n’ fluids. Although this is a no brainer for most do-it-yourselfers, it doesn’t hurt to remind everyone to change the motor oil and the oil filter. While you’re at it, change the engine’s fuel/water separator, too.

Breathe easy. Your engine won’t work if it can’t breathe, and it won’t get the air it needs for combustion if the flame arrestor works in much the same way as the air filter does on your car, but the flame arrestor is designed to diffuse flame created in an engine backfire. Soak the arrestor in kerosene or spray with a carburetor cleaner, then blow it out with compressed air.

Complete the engine manufacturer’s regularly scheduled maintenance. Perform the balance of the recommended 100-hour/ seasonal maintenance. This will include such things as checking engine alignment,  lubricating outdrive U-joints, regreasing any zerk fittings and inspecting belts, hoses and clamps for proper tightness and wear.

Inboard exhaust ports. If you have an inboard-power vessel, you’ll want to plug or cover the exhaust ports before putting the boat away for the winter. This will not only keep airborne garbage and moisture out, but it will also discourage any neighborhood critters from attempting to set up housekeeping in your boat.

Clean and rust-proof! When your boat sits idle for extended periods, the oil coating the engine cylinders and other engine components can drip off and expose the unprotected metal to moisture in the air, allowing corrosion to settle in. To prevent this from ruining your spring, get quality engine cleaner and shoot it down the carb or throttle-body throat while the engine still running and fuel flow shut down, fog it using a quality fogging oil. Fogging coats the internal parts of the engine with a very viscous, sticky oil that will not easily run off and thus presents a barrier to corrosive moisture. Follow specific manufacturer’s instructions.

Remember Other Important Systems And Components!

The drivetrain isn’t the only item for consideration when you winterize. Don’t forget to take care of the rest of your boat!

Fuel. There’s not much worse than trying to start an engine with old fuel in the carburetor or fuel injectors- it usually ends up as a kind of viscous or dried up varnish that clogs your fuel delivery system. Prevent this by adding fuel stabilizer to your fuel tank and running the engine long enough to run the stabilized gas through (before fogging, of course).

Fresh water systems. Most Formulas have a pretty extensive fresh water system, and not winterizing it could wreak havoc from stem to stern. It’s easy to protect: simply pour five to ten gallons of non-toxic RV antifreeze into your fresh water tank. Check the antifreeze label, but usually you can add water up to a 50/50 ratio. Open up each faucet, both cold and hot sides (this will also protect your hot water heater’s tank while winterizing the engine will protect the heater’s exchanger coil), until you can see the pink stuff coming out of the tap. Include showers and wet bars while running enough antifreeze down each drain to ensure that it fill each trap. Be sure enough antifreeze runs through the shower sump pump so it will kick on. This will winterize it also. Flush the head until you see the antifreeze in the bowl, then pump out the holding tank. Once the tank is empty, flush a few more times to get some antifreeze into the holding tank. If you have a macerator, open up the discharge seacock, turn on the macerator and run until antifreeze comes out of the thru-hull. If you have a portapottie, make sure it is empty of all liquid, or add antifreeze to its internal holding and freshwater tanks.

Electrical fun. Remove your batteries from the bilge. Check the water level on non-maintenance-free batteries and add distilled water as necessary. Ensure that all batteries are fully charged, clean and grease the terminals and store above freezing in a dry environment. Check the water level and charge every month or two and maintain as necessary. Crawl into the bilge and spray terminal blocks and battery cable terminals (such as on the starter) with a moisture resistant “penetrating oil” like CRC or WD-40, as well as other metal components you don’t want rusting.

While you’re in the bilge…Check the steering and throttle/shifter linage and cables. Lube as needed. Open up the reservoirs on the trim tab and drive trim pumps. Top off per manufacturers’ instructions. Use only recommended fluids.

The air down there. You must also get the water out of the air conditioning system. Either purge the water lines with compressed air or turn on the unit and pour antifreeze into the intake strainer as the pump runs until you see antifreeze running out of the proper thru hull. Be sure that the seacock ball valve does not have water in it, and make certain that the condensation drain pan is empty and the drain line is not trapping water.

Refrigerator/Ice maker. Pretty simple stuff here. Shut off the ‘frige and allow any ice build-up to defrost. Dry up any moisture and leave the door cracked open for ventilation. As for the ice maker, you will need to first shut off its water supply. Ordinarily, you can find and turn off the supply line from the unit’s solenoid valve, dump any remaining ice in the tray and allow the unit to run for at least an hour to purge any remaining water. Defrost, dry and leave the door propped open.

Keep it pretty. You’ll water to protect the exterior of the boat as well. Was the gelcoat, Imron®, Stainless steel and upholstery with soap and water. Inspect the stainless for an corrosion and remove with a good metal cleaner such as Flitz®. Don’t try using sandpaper or steel wool, as that will only worsen the problem. Give the gelcoat, Imron® and stainless a coat of marine wax with a nice, hard surface (trying using something with a carnauba in it) and make sure that the cushions are dry. Shrink wrap the boat if you’ll be storying it outside, ensuring proper ventilating to prevent mildew.

Canvas. Wash all canvas (Bimini top, cockpit and storage covers) surfaces with soap and warm water, then thoroughly dry. I do not recommend using canvas for winter storage unless the boat kept indoors, and then only using a full storage cover. Shrinkwrapping your boat is an investment! Winters are hard on canvas and a new Sunbrella cover every few years will cost more than shrinkwrapping. Store the canvas in a dry place off of the boat where rodents can’t chew it up. Inspect and clean Bimini frames as necessary before storage.

Go aft, young man! Walk back to transom and take a good look around. How to sacrificial zincs look? If they are more than a third gone, you should change them now and be ready for the first of the season next year. If they look to be in good shape, make sure that they are free of any paint or growth that might cover them and prevent them from doing their job. Look at the props. If there are any nicks, dings or marine growth on them, you might as well remove them and get them worked on over the winter. If you have Silent Thunder™, remove the expansion plugs beneath each chamber (there will be two per engine) and let the water drain. Finally, make sure that the transom drain plug is removed and the boat is stored in a bow-up attitude to facilitate drainage of any remaining water or moisture that might accumulate over the winter.

There. That was easy, wasn’t it? Well, it takes a bit of time and attention, but this is an investment in your enjoyment of boating seasons to come. Properly winterizing your boat ensures that you’ll have a boat to be proud of once spring finally rolls around again. Prepare now and start dreaming of next year’s Formula memories!