Fall has come out of nowhere. Another summer has come to an end. The days are getting shorter and the weather colder. The boating season is coming to a halt as football season, hunting season, and Old Man Winter approach. This is a critical time for your boat. How you lay your boat up for the winter months is crucial for your pocket book and keeping up the value of the investment you have made.
This is the most crucial service you can have performed on your boat. Have you ever filled a glass container with a liquid and put it in the freezer to cool off quickly, only to forget about it? It froze and busted! The same thing will happen to your cast iron engine block if it is not winterized properly.
Check out this damage caused by improper winterization.
See the below chunk of the block not where it is supposed to be.
Since ALL sterndrives, (yes, even the closed cooling models) use the water you are driving on to keep them cool, there is the possibility of freeze damage during the winter months. Yes, a closed cooling model has antifreeze in the motor just like your car, but it circulates through the heat exchanger and it is cooled off by the lake water which is pumped out of the lake. So you have to have the heat exchanger and water pump winterized to avoid freeze damage. Most smaller boats running on fresh water do not use a closed cooling system. In these cases you have the complete cooling system of that engine full of water.
I can’t possibly cover “how to” winterize your boat, as there are multiple manufacturers out there, each of whom change their draining configuration. It would be impossible for me to go into every single engine. I suggest you have your boat winterized by a professional. For those of you who feel as though you already know how to winterize your boat and plan to do so, consider this: Let’s say you winterize your boat 5-6 years in a row with no problem, but on the 7th year you forget something. That engine block that just cracked on average for a single engine boat will cost you $5000. Was $5000 the seventh year worth the money you saved the first six?
The most common mistake I see with “do-it-yourself” jobs is pulling a drain plug, not seeing any water come out, and assuming the block is empty…..but it’s not. Maybe you went near a sand bar or murky water and you have mud damming up the water so it won’t drain. Every spring I see this costly mistake. If you pull a plug and nothing comes out, use a pick and shove it up the hole to free up the mud and drain the water out. There are several more common pitfalls that cost well-meaning, frugal boat owners who hope to save a buck and winterize their own boat literally thousands of dollars. So I still stand by my advice to have a licensed, certified technician who works for a reputable dealership winterize your boat for you. There is so much more to winterizing than just draining the water, such as fuel treatment, battery storage, changing the fluids (now is the time of year for fluid changes, see previous blogs on this topic) and fogging the cylinders down to prevent rust. It’s always better to have a professional who will stand behind their work take care of this maintenance. IF you still decide that you want to winterize yourself, at the very least, get the specific manual for your motor. Also keep in mind that your boat may have a heater, ballast tanks, a fresh water system, a head or an air conditioner. A professional will know how to handle each of those items.
In the past you may have been told to fill the gas tank up before storage. This was to prevent condensation in the fuel tank. The addition of ethanol to fuel has changed that old rule. With ethanol there is a process called phase separation (see my fuel blog) where the ethanol separates from the gas, then pulls the moisture out of the air where the ethanol and the water will then mix leaving you with water in the fuel. Now it’s best to run the fuel as low as possible, leaving just enough for the technician to winterize the boat. The best case scenario would be if the tech ran out of gas just as they finish the winterize!
All of the water drains from your engine as soon as you turn it off. However, you should still have it winterized by treating the fuel, fogging the cylinders, and changing the fluids. It is possible to have water get into the gear lube by way of a leaky seal. If there is enough water present in the gear lube, it can freeze and crack your gear housing. The average cost for a gear housing is roughly $2200. This is also true of stern drives as well.
Check out the damage that can happen from water in the gear lube.
Covering your investment for the winter:
Shrink wrap is the way to go even if you live in an area that does not get a lot of snow. A good shrink wrap protects against UV damage. I see way too many boats that are only 4-5 years old with the seats all dry rotted from sun damage. Get a good cover for the summer time, (and use it consistently) and shrink wrap your boat for the winter. If you live in an area that gets a great deal of snow, you may have heard cover companies boasting that they make covers that are just as good as shrink wrap. Don’t fall for this gimmick! You’re paying a lot more for a cover that can still collapse, rip, and cost you a nasty mess in the spring. A good shrink wrap, using the correct materials, will help prevent water, sun, and animal damage.
During a long period of the boat being covered (even if stored indoors) I recommend a product called No Damp, by Star Brite.
There is a package design with a coat-hanger piece meant for hanging in a closet that works best in a boat. This product helps remove the moisture that causes mildew on the interior of the boat during storage.
The cost of storing your boat for the winter can be overwhelming, especially with the holidays approaching. Even so, cutting corners for winter storage can make for very costly repairs in the spring or can shorten the overall life of your boat. An investment now can save you hundreds, even thousands later.
Master Mercruiser Technician
Master Mercury Technician