Ready your boat for winter

How you prepare your boat for winter will depend on its age, hull type, superstructure and usage. Consult your boat and equipment owner’s manuals for other advice and useful maintenance checklists.

General guidelines

Most boatyards will pressure wash your boat’s hull, but many boats need additional cleaning. Remove barnacles and other marine growth while they’re still wet, and use a cleaning method that’s safe for the environment.

If you live in a cold climate, winterize your fresh and wastewater systems as well as your engine cooling systems. Change engine oil and oil filters at the end of the season. Drain raw and freshwater systems, including pumps, or fill them with nontoxic antifreeze.

Top off fuel tanks to minimize condensation, and add a fuel stabilizer to keep fuel fresh.

Store batteries where they can be monitored and periodically recharged. If you leave them aboard, disconnect or isolate them from electrical loads. (Even when electronics are turned off, hidden loads such as digital clocks can drain even large storage batteries over several months.) If you don’t disconnect your electronics, periodic charging may be required.

Protection from the elements

Freezing rain, snow and sleet are hard on a boat. If you store your boat in the water, ice may damage the hull and frozen through-hull fittings or hoses could break, causing the boat to sink.

If your boat is stored ashore, the hull must be well supported. Remove portable items, including sails, and clean and lubricate deck hardware.

If your boat is stored outside, protect it with a waterproof cover over a framework consisting of a ridgepole and adequate rafters to prevent undue sagging from rain or heavy snow. Allow ample clearance between the ridge and cabin so air can circulate. The rafters should have sufficient slope to prevent snow and rain from collecting. The cover should extend beyond the rails for air circulation, and it should be lashed down securely.

Never tie the cover to poppets or shoring such as jack stands, because wind could catch the cover and pull the poppets out of position. Tie the cover under the hull, or use sand- or water-filled plastic jugs to hold it in place. If you tie it from side to side under the hull, use a sturdy shock cord within the tie to prevent the cover’s grommets from being torn out by a sudden wind gust.

If you use shrink-wrap, allow for adequate ventilation and access.

Choosing a boatyard

The boatyard you choose depends on your boat’s hull type and size as well as its superstructure. Can the yard handle your boat properly? Are you allowed to do your own work? Is the yard clean and well kept?

How are the boats supported? Does the cradle have adequate supports for your boat’s hull? (The hull must be properly supported to prevent problems such as cracks and bent shafts.)

The contract should clearly state the period of storage and how fees are figured. It should include fees for hauling, blocking with jack stands, and relaunching. For sailboats, what about unstopping and restepping the mast if necessary? How is the mast stored? How much time is allowed at the dock? How much notice is needed to have your boat ready to use?


Whether you lay up the boat in a marina, boatyard or your backyard, security is critical. Simple common sense can reduce theft.

Remove valuable equipment, medicine, alcohol, money and easily pawned items. If you leave valuables aboard, store them out of sight. Dinghies and outboard engines are a common target for thieves. Secure them with good locks and/or alarm systems. Your boatyard or marina should be well-lighted and patrolled by watchmen. Be a good neighbor and look out for other boats in your marina.

Closing your boat

Learn more about outfitting and maintaining your boat by taking a USPS course. Contact your squadron education officer for a list of courses and sign up today!