The time and energy you spend now will have a definite effect on your boat's performance, and will certainly save you time, effort and money come spring. You should remember that your insurance policy might not cover damage from lack of maintenance or neglect. The best place for your boat to be during the winter is out of the water, under cover, in a climate-controlled boat storage area. If this isn't an option, consider shrink-wrapping your boat. This can be a little expensive, but provides a great protective cover. Short of these two options, make sure that your boat is well covered with a tarp or some other sturdy material. Your first step in winterizing should be to make a checklist of all items that need to be accomplished. BoatU.S. provides a handy Winter Worksheet (PDF) that can be a great start.
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Check the owner's manual for your boat and motor for manufacturer's recommendations on winterization. The following is a general outline of areas that should be of concern to you.
Run the engine to warm it up and change the oil while it is warm. This tends to allow impurities to be drained away with the oil. You should also change the oil filter. Flush the engine with fresh water. Then circulate antifreeze through the manifold by using a pickup hose from the water pump to a bucket of antifreeze. Start the engine and allow the antifreeze to circulate until water starts to exit the exhaust. This process will vary slightly depending on whether you have a raw water cooling system or an enclosed fresh water cooling system. You should also change the fluid in your transmission. Remove spark plugs and use fogging oil to spray into each cylinder. Wipe down the engine with a shop towel sprayed with a little fogging oil or WD-40.
You should thoroughly inspect the stern drive and remove any from the lower unit. Drain the gear case and check for excessive moisture in the oil. This could indicate leaking seals that should be repaired. Clean the lower unit with soap and water. If your stern drive has a rubber boot, check it for cracks or pinholes. Grease all fittings and check fluid levels in hydraulic steering or lift pumps. Check your owner's manual for additional recommendations by the manufacturer.
Flush engine with clean water using flush muffs or a similar device attached to the raw water pickup. Let all water drain from the engine. Wash engine down with soap and water and rinse thoroughly. Disconnect fuel hose and run the engine until it stops. It is important to follow a step-by-step process to make sure that all fuel is drained from the carburetor to prevent buildup of deposits from evaporated fuel. Use fogging oil in the cylinders to lubricate the cylinder walls and pistons. Apply water-resistant grease to the propeller shaft and threads. Change the gear oil in the lower unit. Lightly lubricate the exterior of the engine or polish it with a good wax.
Fill your fuel tank to avoid a buildup of condensation over the winter months. Add a fuel stabilizer by following the instructions on the product. Change the fuel filter and water separator.
Make sure the are clean and dry. Use soap, hot water and a stiff brush to clean up any oil spills. Once the bilges are clean, spray them with a moisture-displacing lubricant and add a little antifreeze to prevent any water from freezing.
Completely drain the fresh water tank and hot water heater. Isolate the hot water heater by disconnecting the in and out lines and connect them together. Pump nontoxic antifreeze into the system and turn on all the faucets, including the shower and any wash-down areas, until you see the antifreeze coming out. Also put nontoxic antifreeze in the water heater.
Pump out the holding tank at an approved facility. While pumping, add fresh water to the bowl and flush several times. Use toilet cleaner crystals or whatever your owner's manual recommends that will not harm your system, and let sit for a few minutes. Add fresh water and pump out again. Add antifreeze and pump it through the hoses, holding tank, y-valve, macerator and discharge hose. Again, check your owner's manual to make sure that an alcohol-based antifreeze won't damage your system.
Once you have taken care of the system, you should remove any valuables, electronics, lines, , fire extinguishers, flares, fenders, etc. Over the winter, these items can be cleaned, checked and replaced, as necessary. Open all drawers and lockers and clean thoroughly. Turn cushions up on edge so that air is able to circulate around them or, better yet, bring them home to a climate-controlled area. Open and clean the refrigerator and freezer. To keep your boat dry and mildew-free, you might want to install a dehumidifier or use some of the commercially available odor and moisture absorber products.
Pressure wash the hull; clean barnacles off props and shafts, rudders, struts, and trim tabs. Clean all thru-hulls and strainers. Open seacocks to allow any water to drain. Check the hull for blisters and if you find any that should be attended to you might want to open them to drain over the winter. While you're at it, why not give the hull a good wax job? It is probably best to remove the batteries from the boat and take them home and either put them on a trickle charger or charge them every 30 to 60 days.
Close all seacocks and check rudder shafts and stuffing boxes for leaks; tighten or repack as necessary. Check your battery to make sure it is fully charged, clean the terminals, add water if necessary and make sure your charging system is working. Check bilge pumps to ensure they are working and that float switches properly activate the pumps and are not hindered by debris. Check your boat periodically or have the check it and report to you. If in an area where the water you are docked or moored in actually freezes, you should have a de-icing device or bubbling system around your boat.
Remember to consult your owner's manuals for manufacturer's recommendations on winterizing your boat and other systems. If you have not done a winterization job before or don't have an experienced friend to rely on, find a professional to do the job for you.
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