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Before Haulout

It’s been a great summer of boating and now it is time to begin preparing your boat for winter. If your boat is hauled out for winter storage, here are some suggestions from ACE Recreational Marine Insurance® that will help you ensure that your vessel will be ready for safe and reliable cruising again next year.

When the boat is afloat and tied to the dock, it’s easier to get on and off than it will be when she’s hauled out, so now is the time to do as much of the heavy lifting as possible.

Outside the Boat

Anchors and Canvas - Remove canvas covers, deck and cockpit cushions, extra mooring lines, fenders and anything else on deck that should go ashore for winter storage. If it’s possible, tie the boat with her bow over a dock or walkway, drop the anchor on the dock and pull out all the anchor rode so you can rinse the chain and rope with fresh water. If you plan to leave the rode in the anchor locker for the winter, be sure to let everything dry thoroughly, and be sure the locker is clean and dry before re-stowing it.

Sails and Rigging - If you have a sailboat, now is the time to remove the sails, flake them neatly on the dock and put them in their sail-bags. It’s a good time to give the sails a careful inspection to identify any repairs or cleaning that may need to be done by your sail-maker during the winter. Tie messenger lines to your halyards and remove them so they won’t be damaged by winter weather. Even if the mast will be removed for the winter, it’s easier to pull the halyards out when the mast is vertical. It’s a good idea to take all your running rigging off the boat (don’t forget to reeve messenger lines) so you can inspect it all, repair any frayed ends or replace any chafed lines that you didn’t repair during the season. Dacron running rigging can be cleaned by soaking in a mild detergent solution, then soaking in fresh rinse water, and drying before stowing. Nylon mooring lines can be cleaned the same way, which will rid them of abrasive salt residue and extend their service life. Check with the manufacturer before cleaning high-tech cordage like Spectra, etc.

Unstepping the Mast - Even if you don’t normally unstep the mast for winter storage, it’s a good idea to do it every few years so you or your rigger can inspect all the rigging and fittings, especially the ones at the masthead. If the mast will be removed this year, straighten the cotter pins in the turnbuckles so that they can be quickly removed when the yard sets up the crane to lift the mast. Remove the mainsheet, and then remove the boom and lay it on the coach roof or side deck. Use life jackets or cushions to pad the boom so it won’t scratch the boat. Keep track of any shims that come out of the gooseneck, so that you can replace them in the spring. Before you loosen any turnbuckles, measure the distances between the upper and lower halves of the turnbuckle bodies and write them all down. That way, you’ll be able to set all the stays and shrouds at the same tension next spring, which could save a lot of time tuning the rig. Disconnect and tag the mast wiring, and remember to protect the connectors from the weather if they’re on deck.

Check Your Shore Power - If your boat is equipped with AC shore power, turn off the circuit breaker on the dock first, and then disconnect the cord from the boat. Take a close look at the boat’s shore power receptacle. If you see any sign of darkening of the plastic around one of the prongs, replace the connector. You don’t need to buy a whole new receptacle fitting; just replace the internal parts. If one of the prongs in the connector in the boat’s receptacle is damaged, it’s possible that the corresponding clip in the end of the cord is damaged too, and it may be time for a new shore power cord as well. That receptacle, where the cord plugs into the boat, is a very common source of fire on boats. Be sure your shore power connection is in like-new condition!

Check the Gas System - If your boat is equipped with a propane (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) system, be sure the valves are turned off at the tanks. Take a close look at everything in the tank locker (tanks, regulator, pressure gauge, solenoid valve, wiring, etc.) to be sure all is properly secured and in good repair. Be sure the vapor drain at the bottom of the locker is clear, and that every wire and hose that passes into the locker is properly sealed so any leaking gas can’t get inside the boat. Finally, since running water isn’t always available in storage yards, give the boat a thorough washing before she’s hauled out.

Inside the Boat

Checking for Leaks - After you’ve washed the boat, go inside and look for deck leaks. Try to look at as much of the hull-to-deck joint as you can see, and around all the windows, hatches, portlights, chainplates and any other hull and deck penetrations. Make notes of any leaks you find, keeping in mind that water might show up inside the boat in a different place than where it’s getting in from the outside. Chasing leaks can involve quite a bit of detective work, but it’s an important part of maintenance. Try to have any leaks repaired right away, especially if the boat will be stored outside for the winter.

Gasoline Engines and Tanks - If your boat has gasoline engines, you’ll want to run the fuel levels in the tanks down as much as possible before hauling out. Since most gasoline now contains a fair amount of ethanol (alcohol), the fuel will get “stale” fairly quickly. Left untreated, this will get worse as condensation forms in the tank and mixes with the alcohol, eventually causing “phase separation” and resulting in a watery alcohol mixture in the bottom of the tank. This can cause serious engine damage. In the spring, the remaining fuel in the tanks can be treated with fuel stabilizer, and when fresh fuel is added, it will mix and dilute the small amount of stale fuel that spent the winter in the tanks. When the boat has been delivered to the haulout site, leave the engines running and turn off the fuel supply, and let the engines run at idle until they use up all the fuel and stop running. This will purge all the gas from the fuel system, reducing the possibility of varnish forming as gasoline evaporates, which is often a problem with gasoline engines equipped with carburetors. Another suggestion is “fogging” a gasoline engine to coat its internal parts and protect against corrosion. Fogging oil is available at most marine stores and at engine parts stores. Remove the flame arrestor before running the engine to use up the fuel. The engine will start to run “rough” and stumble just before it stops. When this happens, spray the fogging oil into the carburetor or throttle body until the engine stops. Read your engine’s operating manual for more suggestions on protecting it during winter storage.

Diesel Engines and Tanks - Diesel fuel is more stable than gasoline with ethanol, but it still absorbs water, and water will do serious damage to injectors. It’s a good idea to fill the tanks on a diesel-powered boat before hauling out. With full tanks, there’s less internal air space and less tank surface to collect condensation. Add a dose of biocide to the tanks to prevent algae growth before you top them off. Running the engine out of fuel isn’t necessary with a diesel engine, and it’s difficult to purge the air out of some diesel engines to get them running in the spring

Winterizing Systems - If you have harsh winter climates where you store your boat, her systems will need to be winterized. You can do a lot of these chores while the boat is in the water. Close the seacocks (except for propulsion engine cooling water intakes), and drain the strainers. Depending on the boat’s layout, it may be necessary to remove hoses from generator and air conditioning pump cooling water intakes, and perhaps remove pump covers, to drain all the water out. Pump out the toilet holding tank, rinse it, and pump it dry again. You may have to remove hoses from the toilet as well. The domestic water system should be drained, but in some cases it’s not possible to drain all the water out of hoses in hidden spaces, so it may be necessary to add some non-toxic anti-freeze to the water system.

Protect the Batteries - If there’s a separate set of house batteries, they can be removed for winter storage before the boat is delivered to the yard for haulout. The same applies to the generator starting battery, if there is one. The engine starting batteries can be removed at the yard’s service dock, just prior to haulout. Batteries are heavy, so it’s easier to get them ashore while the boat is afloat rather than trying to deal with them once she’s on the hard. Storing the batteries at home will extend their life, since cold weather will cause them to self-discharge more rapidly, and once they’ve spent more than a few weeks in a discharged state, they can’t be trusted. When you take the batteries home, store them on a dry surface in a location that’s not subject to freezing temperatures, and plan to trickle-charge them for a day or two once a month through the winter. Don’t forget to clean the terminals before returning them to the boat in the spring.

Clean Out, Clean Up - Remove as much gear from the boat as you can, including electronics, lifejackets, binoculars, clothing, cushions, fishing gear, and anything else that could be damaged by moisture and cold weather, or that may be attractive to thieves. Clean out galley cabinets and take home extra food, spices and condiments. Dishes, pots and pans, and glassware might benefit from a trip through the dishwasher at home. And here’s a hint: the flame arrestors on gasoline engines need periodic cleaning. If they’re a bit dirty, take them home and soak them in solvent or paint thinner, let them air dry, and then run them through the dishwasher on the bottom rack. They’ll come out shiny and clean. You’ll also want to cover the engine intakes with plastic bags when you take off the flame arrestors. With the lockers empty and the batteries ashore, give all the stowage and bilge spaces a good cleaning. Add a bit of baking soda and wash out the battery boxes to neutralize any spilled battery acid. Use lots of fresh water and a biodegradable cleaner that’s safe to pump overboard, and then use a wet-dry vacuum to suck all the remaining water out of all the interior spaces. You’ll appreciate getting aboard a clean, fresh-smelling boat next spring!
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