There are two parts to boat ownership. The first is the fun part—being out on the water and catching fish. The second is maintenance, which consists of all those little tasks we know should be done but often put off. The nuts and bolts of a boat may not be exciting stuff, but they’re what keep you on the water instead of at the boat doctor. And it’s on the water you want to be when the calendar finally signals the fishing opener after a winter’s layoff.
The most important maintenance is preventive, and the logical time for this is during late fall before putting the boat away for winter. Of course, depending on where in the country you live, your boat may never go into hibernation. But certain steps should be taken if the boat goes off duty for a month or more during cold weather. A little time invested now can prevent breakdowns in the spring when you should be on the water catching fish. Here are 12 ways to get your boat ready for winter.
1. Drain the boat. Raise and set the trailer at a tilt and let all water drain from the boat. This includes bilges, livewells, and any gathered water. Leave bilges and drain plugs open so any water that accidentally enters the boat can also escape. Make a note to put the drain plug back in before your first trip in the spring!
2. Remove all gear. This includes fishing equipment, tackle, nets, pop cans, food wrappers, old fishing line and everything else that accumulates during the season.
3. Remove electronics and instruments like compasses, depth finders, trolling motors and radios and store them indoors. Extremely cold temperatures can take a toll on this equipment, so find a small space in a basement or heated garage to accommodate them.
Trickle charging through the winter will keep them kicking next spring.
4. Disconnect and remove batteries. Check and fill water levels if needed. Clean the terminal ends with a stiff wire brush and apply a layer of grease or Vaseline to the terminals. Take the batteries inside and bring to a full charge. You can leave them on trickle charge or re-charge every month or so through the winter. Store batteries in a dry place.
5. Clean inside of boat. Vacuum the carpet and wash down surfaces with soap and water. Wash cushions, vests, and lifejackets with a good cleaner and let them dry thoroughly in the sun. Clean the interior with soap and water and wipe down the upholstery with a vinyl protector. Open all compartments and hatches and allow them to dry completely. Leave them open for extra ventilation. Lastly, wash the hull and apply a coat of wax if desired.
6. Change the oil. This prevents water from setting in and freezing, which can lead to internal engine problems and a trip to the mechanic.
7. Fill the gas tank and add a fuel stabilizer. This will prevent condensation, clogging and prolong the life of the gas. Also change the fuel filter while you’re at it.
8. Flush engines with water and let drain completely. Disconnect the fuel hose and run engine until it stops. Remove the spark plugs and coat the engine cylinders with oil. Replace the plugs but leave the wires disconnected. If you remove the
Examine props on gas and electric motors and repair or replace as needed.
engine, be sure to store it in an upright (vertical) position.
9. Check engine and trolling motor props and repair or replace as necessary. Propellers often get nicked, bent, and cracked over the course of a fishing season no matter how careful you are.
10. Check the trailer tires. Are they in good shape or have you been riding the last treads all summer? Inflate them to the recommended pressure and grease the wheel bearings. Jack the trailer up and put blocks under the axles so the trailer wheels clear the ground by an inch or so. This helps prevent flat spots from developing and alleviates undue pressure on the tires.
11. Cover the boat. If you’re leaving the boat outdoors you’ll want something to keep the cover tight. An easy framework can be made by running strips of lumber across the inside of the hull to form a support for the cover. This frame allows air to circulate and keeps the cover from sagging under the weight of snow, leaves and ice. Boats stored indoors can also benefit from covering. A simple canvas cover helps keep dirt, bugs, mice and other unwanted intruders out.
If indoor storage isn't possible, try to utilize whatever outdoor shelter is available.
12. Store it. Deciding where your boat will be stored is usually a quick decision. If you’re lucky enough to have garage space or an outbuilding then your boat will be out of the elements during the winter. A more creative solution may be necessary. Maybe you have space under a deck or porch. A carport can also provide shelter. If none of these options exist then you’ll be parking your boat outdoors until spring. Even if you leave it outside your boat should be well protected by following the steps above.
There you have it. With a little elbow grease in the fall you’ll be able to hit the water in a clean and trouble free craft in the spring. One you can be proud of.