How to Winterize a Yacht

Do it like the mammals: at latest when the first snowflakes fall, the risk of frost comes along and you wish you lived in Florida, it is getting time to think about hibernating like a groundhog. Winterizing a boat is a necessary task that comes along every year. Unfortunately, there are plenty of small mistakes one could make that might damage the boat. This article should help you think about how to prepare you boat for the frost.

In case you live in an area with a harsh climate, it is likely that you will have to winterize you boat. How much time and effort this will require vastly depends on the type of boat we are talking about – it might be as short as a few hours dedicated to your dinghy, or several weeks of sporadic work if you have to winterize a large cruiser.

In any case the work normally starts with a decent clean-up; remove all gear, personal items and anything that doesn’t belong to the boat itself. Wash the decks, windows, pillows or whatever else come along your way. You might want to use your boat as a storage space for gear or personal items (kitchen tools in the galley, for example, or rudders, ropes and alike). Even if this is the case, you should clear the boat and clean it before you add these items. Everything stored on the boat should be kept in boxes – however, putting these things into place aboard should be the last step in the winterization ceremony.

Check the boat for water traps: Ice has a lower density than liquid water, which goes along with an increased volume. In other words: wherever there is water caught, cracks might occur in the spring. Drain all water from pipes on the boat by disconnecting them. Some pieces of equipment such as pumps, the engine or the toilet might be supposed to keep some water.

Avoid frost damages by removing water

In that case they are normally on the safe side with no risk of frost damages. However, if you are in doubt, stick with the instruction sheet of the respective piece of gear. Don’t forget to check exhaustion pipes – they often catch water which might cause corrosion or even heavy frost damages.

Remove all electronic devices. Once again, the amount of work dedicated to this will depend on the type of boat you are winterizing. Especially with cruisers that hold a lot of electronic gimmicks, make sure that you label every bit of wire that you remove. Store them in a dry place that doesn’t get too cold (no frost!). In spring you will be grateful for every single label that will tell you which wire needs to be connected to what plug.

If you have batteries on your boat, charge them fully and then remove them from the boat in case you expect frost. Make sure to grease the terminals to prevent corrosion damages. Depending on the type of batteries, they might be grateful for an occasional slow discharge and recharge during the winter. Ask the manufacturer about this.

Making your yacht iceworthy

Removing batteries and electronics will also keep them from getting stolen if you keep your boat in the water rather than indoors. You might want to do the same with other “valuable” bits: the propeller, brass-items, outboard, fire extinguisher, first-aid box, buoyancy…long winter evenings are great for checking and possibly repairing or replacing things like these for the next season.

Winterizing an engine is a major task by itself, even if it is only an auxiliary engine. Fill the engine’s fuel tank until it is almost full – allow some room to remain in the tank for expansion. Add some stabilizer; change the oil in the engine and gearbox after operating the engine for a few minutes to warm up the old oil contents; then, change the oil filters, too.

Clean the surface of the engine, tilt all loose parts, oil it up or apply anti-freeze substances to prevent corrosion and frost-damages on the surface parts. Speaking of anti-freeze: make sure that you have drained the engine, and replace the cooling-water with anti-freeze solution. During the winter, you might want to manually turn the engine over once every couple of weeks. This will keep it entertained and

A sleeping beauty waiting for spring

If you store you boat in a warehouse, you garage or a hangar, the winterizing makes a great opportunity for an annual cleaning of the hull; get rid of barnacles, algae and alike. In spring, you might want to renew antifouling substances – for the winter, a clean hull is all you want. If you want to store your boat on a trolley or trailer, add blocks to it to take the weight off the tyres and joints.

Store the rigging in boxes in a dry, not too cold place: ropes, lines and canvas are might need some cleaning before the winter, too. If you store the boat indoors, you can use the hull as a storage-space for the rigging.

Finally, cover your boat: if the boat stays outside or even in the water, a decent, water-proof and well-fitting cover is mandatory. Make sure that water or snow will not get caught in pockets and fix the cover properly. Check the cover occasionally during the winter. If you store your boat indoors, any cover should do that will keep the dust out. Even old sheets will do the job. Kiss the boat good-night and try to find a winter-hobby (ice-sailing, maybe?).

Further Reading

Back to "boats"

General Boat Maintenance: Hull, Deck and Interiors

More on Winterizing a Yacht

Boat Maintenance on