Boat winterization protects a boat’s systems from freeze damage, and also helps to safeguard batteries as well as inboard or outboard engines. It only takes a weekend to do a good job of preparing your boat for the idle months of winter, but if you run into anything that’s a little beyond your skillset, don’t be bashful about calling in a professional. If you get something wrong, your boat could sustain some serious damage while you’re waiting for warm weather to return.

Should you leave it in the water?

Generally, only the bigger boats are left in the water, but even so, it will require periodic checking to make sure ice doesn’t form around the boat, and that corrosion isn’t getting the best of your boat. You’ll still need to winterize the freshwater system and holding tanks, and you may also need to install a heating system of some kind for those ultra-cold nights. If you own a trailer and a smaller sized boat, it’s a no-brainer – you should take the boat out of the water, and store it somewhere where you can keep an eye on it all winter long.

Covering your boat

There are three basic types of covers used when winterizing a boat, and you’ll need to choose one to protect it against snow and ice, as well as ultraviolet rays from the winter sun. Plastic tarpaulins are an inexpensive option, but they will only last for one or two seasons, and since they rarely fit well, they’re often flapping in the wind whenever a strong wind comes up.

A canvas tarpaulin is much heavier than plastic so it flaps around less, and it will also last a lot longer. Since it weighs more than plastic though, you’ll also probably have to build a solid framework which can provide support for it. The best option is usually to purchase a fitted cover which is an exact match for the type of boat you have. This will be the most expensive option, but you’ll get the most for it because it will last the longest, and it will also be the best fit for your boat.

Winterizing freshwater systems

Any boat which is equipped with a shower head or faucet, or any other type of fixture which delivers raw water or freshwater, will require anti-freeze preparation. If you don’t do this, you can almost count on hoses, pumps, and fixtures cracking or breaking when ice forms inside them and causes them to expand. When you get around to purchasing your anti-freeze, make sure it’s made with propylene glycol and not ethylene glycol, which is extremely toxic, and is meant for use in automobiles.

Raw water systems like livewells and wash-downs can be dealt with by removing the raw water hose from the closed supply seacock, and submerging it in a bucket filled with anti-freeze. Then you just have to run each of the pumps until you see pink anti-freeze flowing out of every fixture. When dealing with freshwater systems, you’ll have to drain out all the water from the lines in the tank by opening up the each of the fixtures. Then you’ll have to remove the primary feed hose, and place it into a bucket filled with anti-freeze. Then you just have to open all fixtures until you see pink anti-freeze flowing out, and when you’re done, you just have to re-attach the freshwater tank feed hose.

Winterizing your sanitation system

Marine sanitation systems are an important part of winterizing a boat, so it can survive the frigid temperatures of winter. After running freshwater through all the heads to eliminate smelly residue, you’ll have to empty the holding tank at a pumpout facility, and then flush it with freshwater. Next, you’ll need to remove the raw water inlet hose associated with each head, and submerge it in a bucket filled with anti-freeze. Then you need to pump each of those heads unto you’re sure anti-freeze has run through all of the lines, right through to the holding tank.

Winterizing your outboard engine

Regardless of whether you have a two-stroke or four-stroke outboard engine, your most important boat winterization task is to change the lower-unit oil. If you neglect to do this, and residual water becomes suspended in the gear lube, freezing temperatures could trigger extreme damage to your engine. Next you will have to thoroughly flush out the cooling system using some freshwater, while the engine is tilted downward.

Changing the engine oil filter will be necessary, and if your manufacturer recommends changing fuel filters or air filters, you should do that as well. If you anticipate a long layup for your boat, you should fog the engine using some good fogging oil. Preparing your engine is one of the most important winterization steps, so if you don’t feel comfortable with any part of this procedure, make sure to enlist the services of a professional.

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