The temperatures are cooling. The leaves are changing. It’s getting dark earlier in the evening. It’s officially fall in Michigan. And with fall comes the inevitable approach of winter and the first freeze.
Unfortunately, this marks the end of boating season, and it is time to put away the water toys until next spring. However, putting a boat away for the winter isn’t as simple as taking the boat out of the water, covering it and parking it in your driveway.
If you do that, you will feel pain come next spring, emotionally and financially. Not only will you be unable to cruise the lake right away when the weather warms up, but it will cost a hefty chunk of change to get your engine running again.
“The way I see it, it’s worth the $130 to let someone else take care of (winterizing your boat),” said Michael King, the service manager at Colony Marine in Pontiac. “If you do it wrong, it can cost you thousands of dollars. It’s sort of like you can pay me now or pay me later if you don’t know what you’re doing. Paying $130 is the best insurance I can sell you because if something is done wrong, it’s my fault.”
While water may be fun in the summer, it is a boat’s worst nightmare in the winter — especially for boat engines. Any water left in the motor will freeze over when the temperatures plunge and may cause cracking — a very expensive repair according to most marine experts.
“You need to make sure everything is protected. Just one crack can ruin an engine. And then you’re looking at a possible $5,000 repair,” said Greg Adams, the sales manager at Freeway Sports Center in Fenton.
To prevent this from happening, there’s a list of recommended chores you should complete to properly protect your boat from the winter.
First, it’s recommended that you follow the guidelines and recommendations found in the manufacturer’s instruction manual.
The next thing is to know whether your engine is an outboard or an inboard engine. As implied by the name, the outboard engine is outside of the boat, while an inboard engine is located inside.
Outboard engines pretty much drain themselves.
“Typically, outboard engines virtually have a self-draining cooling system,” King said. “It’s still important to oil the cylinders and follow all the manufacturer’s specifications and details.”
“Outboard engines drain themselves, but you need to make sure you winterize them because of rust. You don’t want it to corrode,” said Kurt Banas, owner of Sunset Boats and Marine Services in Waterford Township.
Meanwhile, inboard engines need to have their blocks properly drained and filled with a non-automotive anti-freeze.
“With an inboard engine, it’s important to drain the manifolds of all water and replace it with the appropriate anti-freeze,” said David Crow of DSL Marine and Transport in Waterford. “You shouldn’t use car anti-freeze because that goes right into the lakes. It’s toxic stuff. You need something earth-friendly.”
The gear loop on inboard engines should also be checked at the bottom to ensure there is no water inside.
It’s also recommended to check shaft seals for any potential leaks.
Tyler Fitch, service manager at Motor City Power Sports in Bloomfield Township, said it’s important to drain the engine block and the exhaust system to avoid freezing and cracks.
“It takes a very little amount of water to cause cracks,” he said. “All you need is a little water in the right spot and it will freeze, expand and crack.”
Another recommendation is to change the oil and filters, although this may not be imperative to do in the fall.
Aaron Monier, the sales manager at Action Water Sports in Fenton, said oil changes can happen during the fall or spring.
“There’s really no right or wrong. It’s really your preference,” he said.
Fogging the carburetors with fogging oil is recommended to prevent corrosion.
“We spray the entire engine down with an anti-corrosive lubricant, like WD-40,” said Motor City Power Sports’ Fitch.
“You’re basically setting your boat up for spring. You want it to be a breeze in the spring. You want to just charge your battery, toss it in, and go. The thin oil keeps the parts free from rust,” said Crow, who also recommends leaving the battery fully charged when you put it away because if it’s not fully charged, the battery may crack and leak acid all over the boat.
According to Fitch, it’s a good idea to connect the battery to a trickle charger for the season.
Another chore to complete before putting your boat away for its winter hibernation is adding a fuel stabilizer to the gasoline. This is to prevent the gasoline from degrading over the winter.
Fitch said boat owners should fill their engine’s gas tank with fresh fuel and then add the proper amount of fuel stabilizer.
“Then you should run the boat for 10 or 15 minutes to get stabilized fuel in the fuel system,” he said.
One of the greatest challenges facing winterization and boat maintenance in general is the increase of ethanol in gasoline. Because ethanol attracts water, this can be quite problematic for boat engines.
One of the fuel stabilizers recommended by marine shops is Marine Formula Stab-Bil to help combat the ethanol in the fuel.
Cracking is not the only problem caused by water. Mildew and mold are others.
This is why it’s imperative to thoroughly clean and dry your boat before storing it for the winter. Seats should be propped up to let in air. The boat should be properly vented when covered to keep the boat dry. All toys, wet beach towels, and other water gear should be removed from the boat. Otherwise come May 1, King warns, “It’s just one huge black gob of mold sitting under the seat.”
Added Ron Wiergowski, the sales manager at Skiers Pier in Waterford, “Make sure you put away your boat dry. Take all of your gear out of the boat. This way it will stay nice. (Taking all that stuff out) allows the boat to breathe better so no mold will grow in the boat.”
Cleaning the boat with an anti-microbial protectant is not a bad idea, either. Adams recommends Elite Marine Shield, a product recently introduced to the market to combat mold and bacteria.
Hanging dehumidifying bags is also recommended.
“We make sure the boat is vented properly. We also hang little moisture bags on the poles to take care of any residual moisture,” Wiergowski said.
If storing your boat outside, it’s recommended that you have it shrink wrapped for several reasons.
“If you shrink wrap your boat, it will keep the carpet and the upholstery as new and nice as possible. Especially if it’s cold and you haven’t taken care of the upholstery, just sitting on it will crack it into oblivion,” Crow said.
“If they’re storing their boat outside, we tell them to have it shrink wrapped. It keeps the elements out — rain, sleet, snow, leaves,” said Steven Cooper, the sales director at Anderson Boat Sales in Waterford.
Shrink wrapping is also a better bet than using the mooring cover to protect the boat.
“Shrink wrap warms in the sun. So the snow melts and slides off,” King said. “Even really nice mooring covers may be insufficient if it gets a couple hundred pounds of snow on it.”
By shrink wrapping your boat, covers remain nicer and last longer.
Another force of Mother Nature to be aware of is animals.
“Mother Nature has all kinds of little critters. And on a cold night they are looking for a warm spot,” King said. “Honest to God, we’ve seen raccoons get into boats through small holes, and they lived in there all winter. The boat was totaled because they had defecated and urinated in the carpet and deck. They ate the seats.”
In order to combat animals, it’s suggested to keep mothballs in the boat in a container such as a Frisbee and to perform visual inspections of your boat throughout the winter to make sure no animals have been squatting inside.
It’s not just boats that should go through seasonal inspections. Trailers also should go through periodic checkups.
“Definitely use grease on the wheel bearings of the trailer,” Cooper said. “Check the electrical connections and the brakes to make sure they’re in good working order and that the lights work properly.”
You want to be able to trust your trailer.
“The loneliest Friday night you will ever have is on I-75 where you left your boat sitting on the highway,” King said.
Adams also recommends shrink wrapping the trailer or making sure to cover the hitches and winches to prevent them from rusting due to exposure to snow and ice.
“Also, if you can, cover the tires,” he said. “They will begin to dry rot over a period of time. It takes a long time to dry rot, but you’re better off covering your tires when you can.”
Those who constantly tow their boat should be more diligent about inspecting their trailer.
“A lot of it depends on how much you trailer,” Wiergowski said. “Some people just use it twice a year to pull in and out their boats, and others are towing their boat some place every week.”
Although there isn’t a certain date you should winterize your boat by, it’s universally accepted that you should do so before the temperatures drop below freezing. Most people are done winterizing by the middle of October.
And if you’re unsure what to do when winterizing your boat, you may just be better off having a professional handle the chores for you. Many dealers and marine shops throughout and around Oakland County have special winterization offers and package deals at this time of year.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you should definitely read the owner’s manual or bring your boat to a certified dealer,” Banas said. o