Preparing your boat for winter should be the last item on this year’s to-do list. The many mistakes I’ve made over my 65 years should qualify me as experienced if not expert. One of my frequent mistakes is to refuse to admit the season is over.
Because of this, I’ve adopted a gradual wintering schedule over the course of a month or more, prioritizing chores in such a way that any sudden boating re-activation will not set the schedule back to zero.
I start out by thoroughly scrubbing the decks and the interior nooks and crannies with a strong detergent fortified with bleach. If you think getting a deck and interior clean in the fall is difficult, try doing it in the spring after the grime and gunk has solidified on the boat for four or five months.
Giving the hull a good wash is next. If you decide to take out your skiff again, a gentle brushing and rinse afterward will bring it right back to tidy.
Waxing in the springtime is a necessity, and a winter wax makes just as much sense. The hull needs a film of wax protection from extended cold, wind, rain, snow and otherwise brutal weather.
Next is to drain all of the motor’s oil and lubes and replace them with fresh so that the waste deposits created this season do not continue to caress the heart of the motor over the long winter months. Changing the lower unit lubricant is particularly important.
If the lube comes out milky or whitish, it’s a sure sign that your prop shaft seals are leaking, not an uncommon occurrence. Winter is the optimum time to replace them. If water enters the lower unit and it freezes, it can split the lower unit cases, a particularly expensive repair.
The brackish water of the Bay (less than 30 parts salt per 1,000) makes the freshwater flushing of your outboard after each use optional. However, purging salt from your cooling system before winter is prudent. Give it a thorough, 15-minute flushing. As insurance, add a salt remover such as Salt-Away or a few ounces of Dove dishwashing liquid to your garden hose prior to hooking up the flushing muff.
Since I add fuel stabilizer and an anti-carbon additive to my boat’s gasoline supply during the season, I’ve no need to treat my fuel for the winter. If you don’t share in this practice, treat all your gas with a ring-free additive and a fuel-stabilizer. Run it into your engine thoroughly during that last flushing and prior to putting your rig up.
Completely disconnecting your batteries is one of the last must-dos. Most outboard motors and the boat’s accompanying electronics continue to draw at least a small amount of power. Unless each battery is connected to a maintenance charger, it will likely be damaged and have to be replaced in the spring.
Finally a weatherproof boat cover is a must for maintaining a clean craft.
Hope springs eternal in an angler’s heart. I’m always expecting one last good day before winter closes us out. In the meantime, I’m checking off my winterizing list in case the season is really over.