Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a southern latitude where fishing is stellar year-round, there comes a time every year when we have to put our rods and reels away and wait for warmer days. Only a noble few brave the cold for a chance at a good catch, but for most of us, winter is a just a long, boring wait until spring. And sadly, our fishing vessels have to wait it out with us.
A boat, no matter how big or small, is a huge investment for anyone, and putting in some time and effort to properly maintain it will ensure that it’ll serve you for many seasons to come. If you have to park your skiff for the winter, this step-by-step guide will ensure that she’s safe for storage and will be ready to go as soon as fishing season re-opens.
Before you start, you may want to go online and find a relevant checklist for preparing your boat for storage to have on hand for the process.
The first thing you’ll want to do is a good, thorough cleaning. Make sure the interior is free of trash and food items, and clean and varnish any wood or metal surfaces that can dry out or rust. Open any seacocks and allow them to drain thoroughly and remove any plant life or barnacles from the exterior before scrubbing it down. Unless you are storing your vessel in water, give the hull a good wax job.
Next, you’ll want to check any electrical systems and appliances to make sure they are functioning properly. Make any necessary repairs or replacements now if possible, though it probably won’t hurt to wait until spring.
Clean your bilge(s) with soap, water, and a wire scrub brush. Rinse well, and make sure they are dry and free of water. Spray with a lubricant and add a little antifreeze just in case.
Next on the list is prepping your motor. If you have an outboard engine, you’ll want to start by flushing it with water and then letting it all drain out. Wash the engine with soap and water and rinse it well. Next, drain the fuel line by disconnecting the fuel hose and letting the engine run until it cuts off. Apply a fogging oil to the cylinder walls and pistons, and use water resistant grease on the propeller shaft and threads. You’ll also want to wipe down the exterior of the engine with a little fogging oil.
For stern drives, you want to drain the gear case first. Clean the outer unit with soap and water and rinse thoroughly. Top off all of your fluids and grease all fittings. Use fogging oil in the cylinders and to wipe down the engine components.
For jet drive motors, you’ll want to start by flushing or pumping all the water out. Change the oil and oil filter, top off all fluids, and use fogging oil on all the cylinders, fittings, and exterior area. If your boat will be stored in extreme temperatures, you might need to flush the engine with antifreeze, per your manufacturer’s recommendations.
If your boat has an inboard motor, your first step should be a trip to the jewelry store to buy your wife some diamonds, because you can probably afford them (and she probably deserves them.) Next, you’ll want to run the engine a bit to warm it up. Change the oil and the oil filter while it is still warm and then flush the engine with fresh water. You’ll need to pump antifreeze through the manifold, and this process varies widely depending on your engine system, so you’ll want to refer to your owner’s manual for this step. Top off any fluids and change your transmission fluid. After removing the spark plugs, you’ll want to use fogging oil in your cylinders and then wipe the entire engine down with a little fogging oil.
For all engine types, you’ll need to change the fuel filter and water separator, fill up the tank, and add a fuel stabilizer to keep your gasoline from going stale and causing damage.
If your boat has a battery, start by making sure it is fully charged. Then unhook your battery cables, starting with negative. Clean your terminals with a solution of one cup water to two tablespoons baking soda, and consider removing the battery fully and storing it indoors if you are in an area that experiences extreme cold.
If your vessel has a fresh water system, go buy your wife some more diamonds. Then, drain your tanks and flush out the plumbing using a water pump. If you have a hot water heater, you’ll need to disconnect or bypass it, and then pump antifreeze through the system until you see it coming out of the faucets. For this step, it is best to refer to your owner’s manual for detailed instructions on how to winterize your specific model, and the proper type of antifreeze to use.
Once all this is done, you are ready to safely stow your dinghy for the cold months ahead. If you happen to be transporting your boat for winter storage, follow these guidelines to ensure your boat’s safety and security in the process.
Following these steps is the best way to ensure that you have a smooth start to next season. Now all that’s left to do is wait. And wait. And wait… just try not to die of boredom over the winter.