Boats are like hibernating animals; since they are not likely to be used over the winter, they need to be adequately prepared for storage over the colder months.
The way you prepare and store your boat over winter can affect its long-term health and the ease of the spring launch – which will come around sooner than you think.
Before checking out which storage options are best for you, make sure your boat is ready to drift off into a long and comfortable hibernation by taking the following steps to prepare it:
The bottom of the boat needs to be thoroughly cleaned with a power-wash and while you’re at it you might want to wash the topsides and deck as well. Boats live in a wet environment conducive to mould and mildew, but a good once-over now can prevent any unwelcome surprises in the spring.
Emptying the boat of all equipment and cleaning the interior really makes it sparkle. If you do not have the space to store things at home, plug a de-humidifier in over the winter, although you may want to look into electricity costs before doing so.
They are easily overlooked but sails need some TLC at the end of the season too. Salt crystals can be quite abrasive and cut into the sailcloth, so remove these with a thorough wash in fresh water and a mild detergent. Use mould spray for any relevant stains, rinse liberally with fresh water and then dry them before placing in a dry, dark spot at home.
The rigging should also be washed out of any salt and stored away from damaging UV rays. Check out useful sailing blogs for alternatives, such as replacing running rigging with mice (thin lines) that get fed up the mast and through the boom.
Leaving the engine sitting in old oil can cause big problems, as it is acidic and will eat at the engine parts. Make sure you change the oil at the end of the season and that the engine is coated in clean oil for the duration of the winter months.
For inboard and stern drive boats with raw water cooling systems, you should also flush the engine with fresh water to remove salt, dirt and corrosion. Run antifreeze into the cooling system if particularly low temperatures are expected over the winter.
Topping off your fuel tank helps to prevent a build-up of condensation during the months of storage. Change the fuel filter at the end of the season and add a marine fuel stabiliser to the fuel tank to lessen the build-up of gum and varnish, and to keep the entire system clean.
Run the engine for a few minutes after adding stabiliser to ensure it circulates through the system.
If there is any chance the battery will freeze over the winter, remove it from the boat and take it home, but remember not to put them on cold concrete floors. As you will be told on sailing training courses, keeping batteries clean and charged is the best way to prolong battery life. Look out for dust on the top surface which could contaminate the acid inside.
Ensure the electrolyte is covered in water/acid, using only distilled water if a top-up is required. Charge batteries for 24 hours or sufficiently long that they are fully topped up.
It may be worth releasing your anchor chain into the fresh air rather than leaving it to ‘sweat’ in the moist, salty confines of the anchor locker. Ensure that air can circulate all around it and that it will get a good fresh water soaking when it rains.
‘Time off’ in the winter can take its toll on your boat, with long periods of inactivity accelerating wear and tear. Left unchecked, rust can spread, lubrication can congeal and moisture can find its way into nooks and crannies, causing problems when it freezes. Make sure you have adequate insurance in place to cover you in this unforgiving time of year.
Deferring the maintenance required after a busy season can come back to haunt you when spring blossoms in the form of breakdowns and repair bills, so tend to your boat lovingly before winter really starts to bite!