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For Everything a Season

Winter Is Almost Here, It's Up to You to Make Sure It Isn't the Season of Your Boat's Discontent
Story by Randy Hess • Photos by Steven J. Conway

There's no joy in decommissioning your boat for the off-season. Perhaps there is the comfort of caring for a reliable friend, or the instant nostalgia of recent memories on the water - but these are bittersweet rewards at best. The delayed gratification you'll enjoy for doing this task well will come when you and your old friend kick off the next boating season with nary a maintenance hiccup.


"Time on the water is precious in New England," said Ronald Kimmerle aboard Jenny-Lin V, his 400 Sedan Bridge.

"You'll never get back any of those spring days you lose because your boat isn't ready to go when the shrink-wrap comes off. Poof! They're gone." Throw in a cracked engine block or major hull damage from improper storage, he added, and you'll lose a whole season (and a small fortune to boot).

Ronald should know. In addition to being a lifelong New England boater, he's also general manager of Bassett Boat Company in Warwick, R.I. His team helps ensure that their customers throughout make the transitions on either side of winter as pain-free as possible. The advice that follows will help you prepare for winter, but before tackling the job, you should closely read your Sea Ray and propulsion owner's manuals, and if you still have questions you should consult with the pros like Ronald and his team at your local dealer.

Power Play

Your engines are the pumping, breathing heart of the matter, so to safeguard your boat's long-term cardiopulmonary health, you need to tuck it in nicely for its long winter's rest. Your three primary wellness concerns are preventing corrosion inside and out, stabilizing your fuel system, and banishing any water that may aspire to knock your block off.

Start by changing the fuel separator before filling your fuel tank(s) about three-quarters full and adding the proper amount of fuel stabilizer. The stabilizer prevents the fuel from deteriorating and causing varnish build up, a sticky tar baby you don't want to punch. Fuller tanks reduce the likelihood of condensation, but don't top them off because extreme changes in temperature can cause fuel expansion that forces fuel out your overflow vents. Running the engines for 15 minutes ensures stabilized fuel gets into your fuel lines, filters and carbs.

Your next step is flushing the engine(s) with fresh water before circulating non-toxic antifreeze through the manifold via a pickup hose from the water pump. The process will vary a little depending on whether your system is cooled by raw water or an enclosed freshwater system, but your owner's manual will point the way. Run the engine to ensure the antifreeze chases all water from the system. Any H2O left inside could freeze, thaw, repeat, in the same basic process that water uses to turn rocks into sand. Don't let your engine become a beach.

Preventing corrosion in and on your powerplants means getting greasy. Start with an oil change after you've warmed the engine, which will drain impurities away with the oil. You should also change the oil filter(s).

Then, with the motor running, spray fogging oil into the air intakes on the carburetors to liberally coat the internal components of the motor. If you need to, remove the air box to access the carburetor throats; some engines have fogging ports to make the job easier. The motor may smoke and start to stall while the fogging oil is being injected, but a little extra throttle will allow you to finish the job. The process is different on EFI engines, where you should put an ounce of 2-cycle outboard engine oil in the fuel-water separator and run the engine briefly to coat internal components.

If you have a sterndrive, repeat the drain-and-fill drill with the gear oil, checking for signs of water intrusion and excess metal shavings in the drained oil. Either is a sign that a mechanic needs to get involved. Grease all fittings and rams for the hydraulic steering and tilt/trim and check these fluid levels. Make sure you store the boat with the drive in the down position, which prevents water from collecting anywhere and retracts the tilt/trim rams for better corrosion protection.

Finally, make sure that your batteries are fully charged, and clean and grease all connections to prevent corrosion. If your boat is equipped with an on-board trickle charger, leave it on, otherwise check the batteries every couple of months, topping off the charge on each battery as necessary.

Win the Water War

Water will go about its evil in more places than just your engines and fuel system, so kick it out wherever it resides. "We drain all of the systems using non-toxic antifreeze," Ronald Kimmerle said. "We'll run every water system on that boat until it turns pink."

Start by completely draining the fresh water tank and water heater (which should, of course, be turned off). Pump non-toxic antifreeze into the system and turn on all the faucets, showers, wash-downs, etc., until you see the antifreeze coming out. You want it to run through all of the associated pumps and drains ¿ everywhere.

Your head needs attention, too. Pump out the holding tank, flush with fresh water and pump out again. Then pump antifreeze throughout. This is one system where you definitely don't want to spring a leak. A liberal dose of olive oil in the bowl will keep your VacuFlush seal from sticking and tearing next spring.

Finally, make sure the bilges are clean and dry. Use soap, hot water and a stiff brush to clean up any oil, then spray a moisture-displacing lubricant and add a little antifreeze to prevent any water that may get in during lay-up from freezing.

The Inside Story

You know how it's nice to come home from vacation to a clean house? Same deal on your boat. Excess clutter gets in the way of winterizing, plus safety gear, lines and such can get moldy and, who knows, someone may decide to walk off with some of that expensive clutter.

So, remove all valuables, electronics, fishing gear, lines, PFDs, fire extinguishers, flares, fenders ¿ pretty much anything you can. Then, turn all your cushions on end so that air can circulate around them, or, better yet, bring them home along with all the other removables. Prop open all storage compartments to maximize circulation there, too. Also, open, defrost and clean the refrigerator and freezer. Consider using products such as Star Brite No Damp or MDR's Damp Away, which will wick moisture right out of the air. Place them throughout the boat. Mildew is a stinky bummer that will dampen your summer. And don't forget to vacuum the floor and all compartments to get crumbs and other rodent-attractors off the boat. Don't give Mickey a free lunch.

Stow Stow Stow Your Boat

Shrink-wrap is your friend. There are more options than ever for how to use this convenient boat protector. Some yards will build a frame over the cockpit and put a zipper in the wrap to make it easy to check and work on your boat over the winter. Keeping the boat in the water? No problem; you can have the boat wrapped and then put back in the water knowing you have extra protection from the elements. And Sea Ray has started to ship its sport boats in reusable shrink-wrap. The wrap is still shrunk to fit the particular boat, but a draw-cord allows for easy removal and re-use. Wrap that puppy!

So, store onshore or in the water? Depends, with location and finances tending to settle the discussion. Each has its advantages. Storage in the water means you might get a jump on the boating season next spring and don't need to worry about hull support. On the other hand, boats stored ashore won't sink.

Here are a few things to keep in mind for each:

For in-water storage, be sure you close all seacocks and check rudder shafts and stuffing boxes for leaks, and tighten or repack as necessary. Check your battery to make sure it is fully charged and your charging system is working. Obviously, bilge pumps need to be working and float switches must be debris-free. And, make sure the marina checks your boat periodically. If the water ever freezes where you moor, you should have a de-icing device or bubbling system in place.

For onshore storage, be sure to pressure-wash the hull, cleaning barnacles and slime off props and shafts, rudders, struts and trim tabs. Clean all your thru-hulls and strainers and open seacocks to allow any water to drain. Check the hull for blisters, and if you find any that need repair, you might want to open them to drain over the winter.

Onshore storage demands additional diligence in supporting the hull. Whether custom cradle, jack stands and blocks or on your trailer, placement of the hull supports is crucial to ensure the hull doesn't become distorted and compromised. Critical areas to support include the engines, bulkheads and keel. A little expert advice and a close reading of your manual are a good idea here.

Finally, a few points to keep in mind for storage on trailers: If the boat won't be moved, use jack stands under the axles to remove the load from the bearings and tires, and cover the tires to protect them from the sun. Place a plastic tarp over the boat cover to reduce stains from birds, leaves, etc., and to ease snow removal.

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