Every year there’s an angler’s handoff that happens when we trade out one season for the next. It’s always a tough transition. Your mind is focused on the fun and interest of the moment, which is typically what you’re looking forward to, not back from. It’s understandable that with some of our tackle, even rods and reels, we’re not overly dutiful about cleaning everything up and putting it away just so. Yet, with a major investment in your boat and everything that’s on it, you’ll always be happy pulling on the flywheel or turning the key come spring if you did your due diligence when it mattered most. Not to mention, you’ll have protected your investment for many years to come.
Here are a few basic winter boat storage tips to follow when putting away your boat for the winter.
Main Motor – If you do none of these other winter boat storage tips, make sure to address the powerplant at the back of your boat. Chances are, it’s the single most expensive item besides the hull, and also takes the most abuse throughout a single season. Remember that water inside any element of the engine can freeze and expand, causing major damage throughout. That’s why it’s nice to store inside a heated garage if you have the option. If you know you had some line tangles in your boat prop, consider pulling it and inspecting the rear seal for damage.
If you do not, start by dropping your motor all the way down to drain every last bit of trapped water. Then, inspect the lower unit oil for gray or discolored oil. It’s never a bad idea to replace this oil, and there are convenient pump kits to do it fairly painlessly. From here, on four-stroke motors, consider an oil change if you’re near your hour-based maintenance intervals, such that you can fire up in the spring and not worry about it. It was sage advice with 2-stroke engines to fog the carburetor back in the day, but I’ve had no issues running some gas stabilizer or Seafoam in the tank for the last few outings and making sure to gas up fresh in the next season. It’s never bad to seek the advice of your marine mechanic or local shop either, as they’re up to date with your specific engine’s maintenance routines and requirements.
Electronics – Like most consumer electronics, it’s never a bad idea to keep them out of extreme temperatures, so I’ll disconnect plugs on mine and pull them into the house for winter storage. It’s a good time to spray some glass or other screen cleaner on the screen and get that film of junk off before forgetting about it for a few months.
Battery – Much advice has been penned about over-winter battery maintenance, and I’ll summarize by saying that for most batteries in good condition, you likely won’t have to worry about keeping them in cold storage for the duration of the off-season. That said, if you have the option to pull them out of the hull and warm-store them, it’s never a bad idea. Again, it’s nice not to push the levels of extreme temperatures that winter can bring, especially if yours are a few years old. As a middle ground, I’ve had success in the past plugging in a long-term battery maintainer all winter. It offers a trickle charge when needed and was a cheap investment.
Trailer – As a general rule, it’s hardest to perform maintenance when the item in question is needed, but it’s also been true for me, that the motivation to do so is lacking during these times. When it comes to trailers then, inspecting, fixing electrical issues, and re-packing bearings is a real chore come late fall, but I’ve been on the other side of what failing to do so can mean. Races and bearings, as well as any wiring, can take some time to track down if you’ve got an odd combination, so it’s good to figure out what you need, take the time to get it, and install it so you’re good to go come spring. Paying the piper has to happen, so you might as well do it when it’s convenient though un-fun.
Hull – I like to finish the last trip of the year with a good washdown, inside and out. A pressure washer can be helpful, just be careful not to use too tight a spray nozzle setting or get too close to decals and other more delicate parts. Rinse the inside first and wash out the interior, spraying the carpet and all vinyl flooring to remove dirt and debris. Then, move to the exterior, taking care to ensure scum lines and the like are gone. As a finisher, a simple mix of 50/50 water and white vinegar in a spray bottle with remove water spots once sprayed and wiped down.
From here, make sure anything organic has been removed from the holds. Store your rods and reels inside and out of the boat where possible, and give it time to air out before it gets too terribly cold. Remember that mice will be looking for places to nest once the cold hits in force, so make sure to keep your boat buttoned up and in a secure location. Dryer sheets in the storage hold help, but I don’t think completely prevent mice from invading. The point being, if there’s enough of them, they’ll find a way – so don’t store your boat in a place that’s infested, to begin with. Trap or control them if needed, as I’ve suffered through boats of my own and boats of friends with some wire chewing that’s impossible to diagnose or fix without running new wire throughout.
Hopefully, these winter boat storage tips help when putting your baby to bed this fall, and remember to thank (or scold) yourself depending on how good a job you do now. It really makes a huge difference when the excitement of open water hits the following spring, and you’ll never have to be the person that’s sidelined until June waiting for a part or trying to get your boat into the shop because it was improperly taken care of the season prior.