Guest Post: Winter Downtime Can Be Valuable for Boat Owners

Boating is a family affair, and for most of the 75 million boaters in the United States, the season is relatively short — roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day — corresponding to school summer vacation. Roughly half of the 17 million boats registered in this country are less than 16 feet in length, and more than 93 percent are less than 26 feet. They require relatively little effort to winterize, but it constitutes an important task.

In many U.S. ports, boats can be left in the water during the winter months, but the truth is that even larger boats are not used regularly, and some degree of winterizing is necessary, or at least recommended while they float idle. Inactivity is at least as large a problem for most marine systems as cold.


Photo by Verne Equinox via Wikimedia Commons

Systems to Winterize

There are five areas of primary concern for boat owners:

  • Engines and Gear Train
  • Batteries and Electrical Systems
  • Interior
  • Freshwater Systems, including Sanitation Systems and Pumps
  • Exterior

Not all apply to smaller boats; trailerable boats with outboard motors require minimal effort. You can purchase an outboard engine winterizing kit from a marine supply store and use it to add antifreeze.

Adding antifreeze to an inboard engine is a job best undertaken with a helper. Follow directions carefully and you should encounter no problems. You must also fog the engine to protect its moving parts and treat the fuel system. Although experts differ on the best methods, additives are available for both diesel and gasoline engines, and the fuel should be stabilized for winter.

Change all the oil and replace all filters prior to closing up and covering the boat for the off season. Moving parts dry out during inactivity. Hoses and lines get brittle and can crack. Lubrication is important. In warmer climates, humidity control is vital. If your boat is at a slip in a marina, a portable dehumidifier is valuable, but electricity is required. Chemical compounds are also available, and should be placed liberally throughout boat interiors to draw humidity from the air.

Batteries must be filled and completely charged, and it is beneficial to turn systems on periodically to recharge them.

Haul Out or Let It Float

Many boaters, particularly those with larger vessels, subscribe to the theory that boats are meant to always be in the water. If your boat is small, or if you’re new to boating, you may prefer to store your boat in a secure facility. A small recreational boat can easily be housed in a storage unit for the winter. Remove the engine and battery, and keep them ready for the next season.

Winter is a good time for necessary maintenance, including repainting the bottom, accomplishing interior repair or refurbishing, or installing new navigational or operational systems. For owners, winter downtime presents an opportunity to complete skills courses or to take the Canadian online course to earn a boat license for licensed travel in Canadian waters.

In areas where boats can be wintered in the water, notably the Southern U.S. on both coasts, as well as the Chesapeake, and the waters of the Pacific Northwest, winter boating is possible all year. Off-season boating can be delightful, with less traffic and wonderful sights. It can also be cold. Come spring, “summerizing” the boat means the start of another season on the water.

By Walter Adams
Walter is a single dad who loves raising his two boys and writing about sports on the side.


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