Winterize Your Boat


Photo by Bob De Young

Though it may be hard to believe, it’s that time of year again. Time to say goodbye to warm sailing conditions and to winterize your boat. Hopefully, this year there won’t be any polar vortexes or another Snowmaggedon, but just the plain, old cold can wreak havoc on your boat.

While it may be a pain, winterization is a must for all sailors and boat owners alike. Terry Clarence of Annapolis Boat Service estimates that a large percent of the work that needs to be done in the spring is due to poor winterization. His advice is to seek the help of a professional if you have any doubts about winterization.

For those who are a bit more ambitious, here’s a bit of advice. The first thing to remember: “It’s not easy.” Many boat owners make simple mistakes during the winterization process that cause irreversible damage. To take on the daunting task, you must understand your boat’s systems and how they work.

This includes knowing the highs and lows in the boat’s water lines, and being absolutely sure to work thoroughly. Many resources and comprehensive checklists can be found online to help make the winterization process seem more manageable (see Many suggest cleaning your boat before winterization, but Terry says, “Don’t bother … other than things that might freeze.” Water expands during the freezing process, so leftover water bottles from the summer can cause huge problems if they break and cause ice to form in the bilge.

Engines Off
Winterizing your engine is worth the time it takes, but the bare minimum involves oil changes and good antifreeze. Be sure to perform an oil change before winterizing your boat. This prevents any sediment in the old oil from settling and recirculating when the engine is started up again in the spring. Fuel filters can be changed either in the winter or the spring, but be sure to use good quality engine antifreeze such as BanFrost 2000. Don’t pick the cheap gas station antifreeze for your engine, or you will pay for it later. 

Seems so far away, yet this shot was taken in Annapolis in December...Photo by Al Schreitmueller

Water, Water Everywhere
Even though water may be necessary for sailing, it can lead to severe boat damage in the winter. Be sure to drain water from all boat systems and “be meticulous of hose clamps.” Additionally, you will need to drain cockpit showers and bilges; use lots of antifreeze! It is better to go overboard on antifreeze than risk ice in the bilge.

Antifreeze vs. Vodka
It’s no secret that vodka can be substituted for antifreeze when winterizing a boat. While both have their own advantages, Terry suggests using vodka, as there is no odor, and less flushing is required in the spring. It also can be significantly cheaper than antifreeze. However, he recommends giving the vodka a deep freeze test in your freezer to be sure it will work. Cheap vodkas with less alcohol content might still freeze in the boat’s systems, so always check it first.

Jack It Up
Another dilemma with winterization is where to store the boat. The best protection is on land with your boat shrink-wrapped to protect the deck and gelcoat. However, the shrink-wrapping process can damage painted hull sides on your boat, so it has to be done carefully. For those who leave their boats in the water over winter, Terry advises “meticulous winterization of seacocks.” Another thing to remember if your boat is in the water is that snow will block the scuppers. Be sure to clear out the snow to prevent a disaster.

Photo by Al Schreitmueller

Go Check Your Boat
If you choose not to shrink wrap your boat, be sure to repair anything that could let in moisture. Even a temporary fix such as a piece of tape over a crack will save you from even more repairs in the spring. When it comes to checking your boat over the winter, how often you should go varies depending on where you choose to store your boat.

For boats that are shrink wrapped on land, you will almost never need to check on your boat as long as it is in a good boatyard where they check the jack stands. However, if you choose not to shrink wrap, you will need to check your boat at least once a month. Boats in the water will need to be checked after every snowstorm and weekly if there is ice on the water.

Get to It!
Don’t let the cold weather sneak up on you. Start winterizing as soon as you can. Don’t be afraid to call in a professional for help. Winterization can take a long time to complete, and the sooner you are done, the easier it will be to relax by the fire during those cold months.

by Juliana Capuco