Winterizing a boat: Part I

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 1, 2005

In the past few days the Hampton Roads region have experienced some major changes in temperatures, with lows hitting 40 degrees. With the wind, dew point and other factors combined, the Web site proudly proclaims that it feels like 38 degrees – 38 degrees and it’s only Nov. 1. Oh well, at least we didn’t get snow like West Virginia did last week!

This drop in temperatures is not unexpected. But the recent dive does provide an opportunity to review some ideas with all recreational boaters, who have decided to winterize their boat and prepare for the chill of December and January.

After commanding a Coast Guard cutter in Maine for two years, and experiencing &uot;horizontal snow,&uot; ice rinks for decks and a wind chill like none I have felt before, I have a certain passion for getting the word out on this subject.

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In fact, I am going to spend the next two columns on this subject. I have covered this subject for the last four years and the response has always been pretty positive.

The tradition will continue!

Before writing this column I did an extensive data base search to see what has been written. I was happy to see that the Internet is flooded with different recommendations on how to approach winterization. This is great. Prudent boaters can find a ton of information on Web sites including,, and This column looks at winterization from the 10,000-foot level perspective – big picture issues.

Every boat will have requirements specific to their make and model.

First and foremost, like with the hurricanes our nation has just experienced, boaters need to respect winter and all the challenges it brings. Granted this is not upstate New York and we probably are not going to receive three feet of snow in the next storm but the temperatures still drop and the challenges are great.

To approach winterization you need to develop a plan that addresses six primary issues. I’ll address three in this column, and the other three next week. The subjects this week include:

Whatever Is Not Nailed Down…Take Off!

This is perhaps the most demanding part of any winterization process. The boat owner needs to start at the bow and work their way to the stern ensuring that every piece of portable equipment is taken off the boat and stored. For the sake of this article we will assume that the boat is being taken out of the water.

Some common concerns would include; (1) removal of the GPS System, (2) radios, (3) flare guns, (4) personal flotation devices, (5) cushions, (6) EPIRBs (without activating it!) and other similar equipment. Perhaps the most important piece of equipment, if the boat is being removed is the battery. I can’t tell you the number of folks I have spoken to in the past that don’t remove their battery, or fail to fully charge it before winter sets in.

Included in your removal should also be all foods and liquids. Soda cans explode when the soda inside freezes, while foods can become biological experiments. Either way, get a good multi-purpose cleaner and clean all the food storage spaces.

Prepping The Engine For Winter Hibernation

This second step in prepping a boat for the winter is one I personally believe should be left to professionals, especially with regards to anti-freeze. Key issues for getting an engine ready for the winter include such tasks as removing spark plugs, removing used oil and ensuring all filters are replaced. Again, I believe this should be done by a professional. It is your call. The other big area that should be addressed are the bilges. There is little doubt that the bilge on a vessel, regardless of its size, is one of the dirtiest locations on the vessel. Unfortunately this is one area that needs to be as clean as possible.

The Boaterworld provides a great winterization checklist which looks at every aspect of the engine. If you get a chance look at the following:

Why is a full gas tank better than an empty one? Last Saturday I was chatting with one of my favorite local boat owners and the subject got around to winterization and the fuel tanks. My friend stated that he believed that draining the tank was the best way to go. I begged to differ. Apparently agrees with me. Here is a blurb from their Web site: &uot;Be sure to fill your boat’s fuel tank to capacity (allowing just a little bit of room for expansion) and add stabilizer, prior to stowing it away for the winter. Failing to do so will allow air into the tank, which can condense on the sides as the temperature changes causing corrosion and clogging over time. Turn off all fuel valves, and use duct tape to seal off any through-hull exhaust ports. This will also help prevent potentially harmful internal condensation. In addition to these steps, remember to replace your boat’s fuel filter and water separator.&uot;

Bottom line with winter preps: boaters need to start considering these issues now instead of later. Next week we will look at some other practical considerations for prepping your boat for the winter. Until then…Boat Safe, Boat Smart and stay warm!

Joe DiRenzo III is a retired Coast Guard Officer and former cutter Commanding Officer. Currently a Coast Guard civilian employee, he is a nationally recognized expert on port security and maritime terrorism issues. He has written columns for the Suffolk News-Herald for just under five years.