Winterizing Your Yacht
Warm weather and another boating season have come to an end. Now is the time to winterize your yacht so it emerges in ship-shape condition once spring rolls around.
Don’t Be Fooled: “Old Man Winter” Can Be Brutal Even In Temperate States As a yacht owner, preparing your vessel for cold weather is critical. Proper winterization not only avoids costly damage to your prized possession, it also greatly extends the life of your yacht and its engine by protecting its components from freezing, corrosion and lying idle for long periods.
In fact, protecting your yacht from the elements is important no matter where you live in the U.S. Winters may be colder in deep-freeze states (like Michigan, Maine and New York), but studies show that yacht owners in warmer climates (like California, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia) file more freeze- related claims due to unexpected cold spells.
The good news is, yacht winterization doesn’t have to be difficult, and Pantaenius America is here to help by providing this checklist to keep your vessel in good condition during winter hibernation. Take these protective measures now, and your yacht will be ready to get back on the water when you are…
Decide Where To “Park” Your Yacht For The Winter
If you live in a state where frigid temperatures are the norm, storing your yacht ashore is a no-brainer. In warmer climates, however, where ice and snow occur infrequently, you have a choice. Granted, storing your yacht on the water will give you a jump-start on the boating season next spring, but storing it ashore is still a safer bet. A yacht in hibernation on high ground won’t sink. Plus, a hull surrounded by air for several months each winter is less likely to develop blisters than a hull that remains in the water.
If you go ashore:
- Pressure wash the hull to remove all dirt, scum, barnacles and the like— then check the hull for blisters that require attention.
- Open seacocks to allow any water to drain.
- Disconnect and remove batteries and store these at home in a cool dry room. Be sure to charge them every 30 to 60 days.
- Make certain your yacht has adequate support. Studies show that three times as many boat hulls are damaged by mishandling ashore than are damaged in the water. Some are damaged when blown over by windstorms, but most are damaged slowly because hulls were distorted in storage, creating problems ranging from poor engine alignment to broken stringers and bulkheads.
If you opt to stay in the water:
- Plug exhaust ports. Snow has a tendency to pile up on the stem, pushing exhaust ports below the surface. Water then gets into the exhaust system and possibly even the cylinders. If this happens, the pistons rust, and the engine gets ruined.
- Close all seacocks and gate valves. Failure to do so could cause your yacht to sink.
- Check rudders, shafts and stuffing boxes for leaks. Tighten or repack as necessary.
- Inspect your batteries to make sure they are fully charged. Boats left in the water should have working batteries onboard so the bilge pump will continue to function if needed. Also leave a battery charger behind so you (or someone else checking on your yacht) can restore them if they run out of juice. Make sure cells are filled with distilled water so they don’t freeze. Clean terminals with baking soda and rinse with cold water. Coat terminals and cables with petroleum jelly to help prevent rust.
- Check to see that the bilge pumps are working and that the float switches are properly activating the pumps.
- Use docklines and springlines to secure your yacht well away from the dock. Use chafe guard on lines when your vessel will be left unprotected for long periods of time. You can purchase these at marine stores or make your own using garden hose or PVC water tubing.
Inside Or Out
Whether you store your yacht ashore or in the water, we recommend taking these steps before putting your boat to bed for winter…
Do A Clean Sweep
Winter air can be humid or dry, and both conditions can wreak havoc on the interior of your yacht. Open and clean the pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and wipe out drawers and lockers. Turn cushions up on edge so air is able to circulate around them. Pay special attention to teak, vinyl and carpet, as these are areas where dirt combined with moisture can breed mildew. Clean carpets, rub down wood with lemon oil, and spritz vinyl surfaces with a vinyl protectant gel or spray to prevent cracking. You may also want to install a dehumidifier or use commercially odor and moisture-absorbing products such as “No Damp,” “DampRid” or “Zonedry.”
Dismount electronics and other valuables, and take these home for safekeeping. Remove all flammables—portable propane canisters, charcoal, flares, fenders, paints, thinners and varnish—and store these ashore.
Important: Do leave a fully charged fire extinguisher behind—and be sure to stow it in clear sight.
Clean bilges and drain any existing water. Once clean, spray with a moisture displacing lubricant and add a touch of environmentally-friendly antifreeze to prevent any water from freezing. Remove all drain plugs and put them in a place where they’ll be easy to find in the spring. Once the inside of your yacht is sparkling clean, leave interior doors and lockers open so air can circulate.
Winterize Your Engine
Pull the cover and examine the engine for problems—such as frayed or loose wires, connections and clamps. Inspect hoses and replace any that are mushy or starting to crack. Check the condition of the belts and adjust for tension if necessary. Touch up any paint nicks to prevent corrosion.
Run the engine for a bit to warm it up, then replace the old gear oil with fresh oil, and change the oil filters. When a boat is not being used, oil tends to settle at the bottom of the engine block, exposing the pistons and valves to air, humidity and other corrosive materials. If your engine uses coolant, drain the current fluid and replace it with propylene glycol based antifreeze. Remove the impellers, as these have a tendency to get dry in cold weather, and loosen belts. Remove spark plugs and spray “fogging oil” inside the carburetor and down in the spark plug holes. Replace the spark plugs but don’t reconnect the wires.
Fill ‘Er Up
Top off your fuel tank—but not more than 7/8s full to allow for expansion in the spring. (If storing your boat ashore, first check with marina or boatyard personnel to make sure they allow you to do this). Generally speaking, if your fuel tank isn’t full, you run the risk of condensation forming within the tanks, which can lead to corrosion and clogging. Add stabilizer; otherwise, you’ll allow air to get in the tank, which can condense on the sides as temperatures change, causing corrosion and clogging over time. Replace the fuel filter and water separators, then turn off all fuel valves, using duct tape to seal any through-hull exhaust ports. This will help prevent potentially harmful internal condensation.
Check Water Systems
Completely drain the fresh water tank and hot water heater (turn it off first). Isolate the hot water heater by disconnecting the in and out lines and connecting them together. Pump a non-toxic antifreeze into the system and turn on all faucets, including the shower and any wash down areas, until you see the antifreeze coming out. Add non-toxic antifreeze to the water heater, too, as well as to ice makers, air conditioning pumps and sump pumps.
Empty The Head
Pump out the holding tank at an approved facility. Add fresh water to the bowl and flush several times. Use a cleaner approved for your type of system, and let the solution sit for a few minutes before adding more fresh water and pumping it out again. Add antifreeze (use an alcohol-based antifreeze if this type of solution won’t damage your system) and pump the coolant through the hoses, holding tank, Y-valve, macerator and discharge hose.
Whether you’ll be storing your yacht inside or out, your vessel should be covered to protect it from the harsh winter environment. For outdoor storage, a quality 8- to 10-oz. cotton canvas boat cover that’s properly sized and fitted for your yacht is ideal. It will keep your yacht free from snow, dirt, water, falling leaves and bird droppings—all of which can cause damage if left unchecked. It can also prevent UV rays from breaking down hoses and fading carpets and upholstery. Be sure the cover is securely tied down, however, so wind won’t get underneath it and blow in snow and rain—or shred the cover itself. Your outdoor cover should also be supported by a frame to help distribute the weight of any water or snow that may collect on your yacht.
If your yacht will be kept in dry storage, your main concern is keeping dust and other particulate matter from gathering on your yacht. A fitted cover is still your best bet, as it will keep mice, rats and other critters from seeking refuge inside your vessel.
In extreme weather, shrink-wrapping is recommended, as it provides 100% waterproof protection, can’t possibly blow off, and can withstand heavy loads of snow or rain.
Note: Shrink-wrapping is very effective at keeping moisture out, but it’s also notorious for trapping moisture inside and creating horrendous mildew problems. Solution: Make sure vents are used along the entire length of the cover, and a series of foam pads are inserted between the hull and the cover to allow condensation to escape.
Making Sure Your Yacht Is Left In Capable Hands
Winterizing your yacht doesn’t have to be a do-it-yourself job. But if you hire a repair facility to tackle these tasks for you, be sure to spell out exactly what you want done—and get it in writing. Nor should you assume that a marina or boatyard will automatically take steps to protect your yacht from an unexpected freeze. For this reason, you should plan to visit your vessel every few weeks to make sure everything is safe and secure—particularly after a heavy storm or extended cold snap. And if you’re not able to do this, draw up a separate agreement with a marina, boatyard or service contractor to look after things on your behalf.
Is Your Yacht Insurance Policy Up To Date?
The off-season is the perfect time to review your yacht insurance policy and make sure you have the coverage and navigation you need. At Pantaenius America, we’re happy to provide this service at your convenience. And remember, unlike most of our competitors, we offer superior coverage with no layup period!
Information provided by Gaston Saada, who teaches courses on winterizing your boat and is affiliated with Tidewater Marine Services (www.tidewatermarine services.com); 800 Armistead Ave., Hampton, VA; 757.739.9808