Tie Down Blog

Boat Owner’s Guide to Winterizing and Winter Maintenance

What Does Winterize Your Boat Mean?

The definition depends on who you ask.

It is different for every boat and boat owner. The term “winterizing a boat” is more common in parts of the U.S. that see a lot of snow and ice. Fall and winter maintenance is a more familiar term for states with temperate climates.

Regardless, both actions focus on protecting your boat from cold weather by storing your boat properly, protecting the engine from damage caused by frozen pipes, and protecting the integrity of the vessel.

A properly winterized or maintained boat saves boat owners a huge lump of money in maintenance and hours in the repair shop.

It is best to refer to your owner’s manual on the specific winterizing steps for your boat.

The main tasks associated with winterizing include:

  • Drain gasoline tanks and cooling system
  • Check inboard or outboard engine
  • Add non-toxic antifreeze to anything that holds water, like plumbing and fixtures
  • Cover Your Boat
  • Proper boat storage, on land or in the water

This list only highlights some tips from Tie Down Marine for winter maintenance . 

Does Every Boat Owner Need to Winterize?

The short answer: Yes!

The longer answer depends on your definition of winterizing.

Winterizing doesn’t have a single definition! But the idea is a boat owner takes precautions to prevent interior and exterior damage from the off-season and cold weather.

A complete winterization plan is necessary for a boat owner in Michigan but unnecessary for someone in Florida. However, fall and winter maintenance still prevents damage during the time you don’t use the boat.

Owners in more temperate or undefined climates, like Georgia and Florida, often neglect winterizing due to the assumption that it is not necessary.

Preparing your boat, no matter the extent of maintenance, ensures an easier transition back to the lake or sea in the warmer seasons.

At the end of the day, winter maintenance or winterization urges a boat owner to check the boat for:
Why is it Important to Winterize a Boat?
Taking a day or less to protect your boat at the end of the boating season prevents a migraine in the spring. Whether your boat uses an inboard or outboard motor, winter maintenance protects these parts of a boat:
  • Engine
    • Your engine risks the most damage if not maintained properly during the winter. Salt water expands when it freeze’s, which can crack and break the engine block.
    • This action potentially damages any part of the boat that holds raw water. Besides cracking, water could spill into unprotected areas. Corrosion could build in the engine, damaging it more.
  • Boat Appearance
    • Maintaining your boat’s appearance before storing it away prevents issues in the future. Upkeeping this allows a boat owner to preserve a beautiful boat and prepare for a better resale value.
    • Most boats utilize gelcoat, which can lose shine through excessive sun and water exposure. Mildew and mold often become an issue for upholstery and carpet. Winter air is unpredictable but shifts between humid and dry.
    • Mold and mildew form when surfaces stay moist, which can form over the colder seasons. No damp dehumidifiers and odor control products eliminate these issues, along with a boat cover with good airflow.
  • The Motor
    • Phase separation occurs when ethanol combines with water and detaches from gasoline, creating a gunk in the tank. The chance of this increases when a boat owner doesn’t use their vessel for a long period of time and goes without an unflushed engine, leaving dirty and unchanged oil.
    • This causes slow damage, shortening the engine’s life and efficiency. Removing drain plugs, using fogging oil, changing the oil, adding fuel stabilizer, and draining the engine are a few ways to keep the motor fresh and prevent corrosion.
  • The Battery
    • Disconnecting a fully charged battery prevents battery drainage. Storing it in a dry and safe condition also protects it. Jumping your boat at the beginning of boating season puts a damper on the excitement.
  • Storage
    • Storing your boat out of water versus in water depends on preference, budget, and accessibility. The proper plan protects against sinking, storm damage, blisters, and theft. No matter where you choose to store the boat and how to cover it, this step is just as crucial as others!
    • Running the engine is important if you do not winterize your boat.
What Happens If You Don’t Winterize?

The extent of maintenance depends on where you live and what all you want to do. Missing something critical might guarantee a time-consuming or expensive problem in the future. The type of boat or personal watercraft determines the definite winterizing plan to implement. 

However, if absolutely no steps are taken, these are common issues that arise in  salt water or fresh water:

  • Cracked or broken engine
  • Corrosion buildup
  • Damage to heating system
  • Fuel becomes unusable due to improper break down
  • Mold and/or mildew spread

These issues arise far too often but are preventable! Refer to the winterizing or winter maintenance section in your boat’s manual then decide if it is a job for you or your nearest boat mechanic.  

A Great Investment in the End

Implementing a winterizing or winter maintenance plan for your vessel during the time you don’t use it helps you get the most out of the boat during the active boating season.

Mold stains, a cracked hull and damaged engine are just a few problems that arise from a poorly prepared winter maintenance plan. It’s a good rule of thumb to implement your plan well in advance before the risk of a freeze. 

Spending adequate time, either way you choose to care for it, ensures your boat will look and operate at the same level, if not better, after the fall and winter seasons.