Why Your Boat Needs A Winter Checkup

December 29th, 2023 by team

by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor)

“Out of sight, out of mind,” right? Never a good idea when it’s about your boat.

We’re headed into the heart of winter and your boat is nicely tucked away all snug in her winter bed, and you’ve not got a care in the world for her until it’s spring commissioning season. In theory.

But if you’re like a lot of boat owners, you still worry anyway. And if you don’t worry, you should still pay a little attention to your boat in the winter.

Winter Doesn’t Care

Nature doesn’t rest, and the moment you put your boat on the hard and wrap on that cover, it comes at your boat. As winter progresses, rain, snow and sleet try to get water under the cover and into the cracks. Bitter cold freezes any water that gets in (or got missed during winterization), and icy winds rattle and shake the cover and the stand. Things can work loose and leak.

So it’s best to check your boat periodically. At least every couple of weeks, and for sure after every wind, snow, and ice storm. And any period where the weather doesn’t go above freezing during the day is a reason to check on your boat. Your boat will often be a little warmer inside than outside temperatures, but it’s not a big difference. A quick dip below freezing won’t usually damage things, but several days with no warming above freezing can.

Mid-winter Boat Checks

You don’t need to spend hours on the boat shivering in the cold. But climbing aboard for a few minutes with a flashlight to have a look around can save you some time in the spring or prevent a bigger problem down the road.

Check the Cover

If you’ve never dealt with a collapsed winter cover, it’s not something you want to have to handle in the freezing cold. If there’s snow piled on it, working with the collapsed winter cover becomes difficult, and it may require re-wrapping as shrink-wrap isn’t easily mended.

With a proper cover installation, ice and snow shouldn’t accumulate. But shouldn’t is no guarantee, so any time you’ve got an accumulation of snow or worse, an ice storm, swing by the yard and have a look.

Throw a broom in the car, too. Because you might as well knock off the big chunks of snow and ice while you’re there if anything has built up. It will stop heavier accumulation in the next storm and keep melt runoff from trickling onto the boat.

Check all the spots the cover ties to the boat for wear and make sure none of the tape is peeling or loose at the joins. Make sure canvas covers are taught, and still securely tied and anchored.

Deck Checks

It’s usually tough to move around under a cover if it’s low to the deck, but look around for pooling water and wet spots. No cover is 100% perfect, and you’ll always have some dampness. But you don’t want standing water anywhere. Standing water can seep into cracks and freeze, and that can damage deck fittings or make a mess of sealed connections.

If you see standing water or frozen puddles, try to trace back the leak to where it’s coming from the cover. Patch that spot with tape, and do what you can to get rid of the water.

Inside the boat

If you’ve winterized everything properly, then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. But even if you think you’ve winterized something properly, harsh weather will find anything you’ve missed. It’s better to find a cracked fitting in the winter, when there’s ice dripping out of it, than to find it in the spring when you’re commissioning the boat. It’s worse if you don’t find it until you pressurize the system.

So take a quick look down below, just to be sure.

  • Look at plumbing fixtures, hoses, and hardware. If anything has cracked, you might see ice drips on the fixture or around it.
  • Check the engine room for any leaks or spills.
  • Look in the bilge. Freezing there can damage float switches and bilge pumps. Also, if any water is coming in the boat under the cover, it may end up in the bilge.
  • Pay attention to any odd smells. A closed up boat will often smell odd and antifreeze has a distinct fragrance. But there shouldn’t be any overpowering smells like mildew, mold, or head odors. Look for the source if there are.

Spring isn’t that far off

Despite the dark and cold of January and February, it’s not actually that long until commissioning season. For me, a midwinter visit to the boat did a little more than make me cold. It warmed me up with memories of why we bother with all this.

So keep an eye on your baby, check her every now and again, and think warm thoughts.

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