Tech Tips - Winterize

Winterize Your Boat
by Jim Thompson

Now that autumn's cooler weather has arrived, most boaters are putting their water toys away until spring and most of those boaters know that boats must be winterized to ensure they are good to go when the weather warms up again. Some of them have no doubt learned the hard way that simply parking a boat after the last outing and forgetting about it until spring can be a very expensive mistake.

Over the winter months fuel gets old and evaporates, leaving deposits of varnish and gum in the fuel system. Water freezes, breaking engine blocks, manifolds, and oil coolers. Batteries die, tires go flat, upholstery mildews, and wood rots. Savvy boaters know that laying a boat up for winter requires certain simple maintenance procedures to prevent these problems and the costly repairs that go with them.

Proper winterizing is not complicated, but it does require attention to the details. You might not feel you're up to the challenge, or you may have time constraints and prefer to have it done by professionals Most dealerships and boat shops offer winterizing services, from the basics all the way to shrink-wrapping and full storage.

Many boat owners are capable of doing their own maintenance, and winterizing is certainly within those who have some knowledge of the inner workings of their boats. By following a few guidelines, most mechanically inclined individuals can do the work themselves. If you're going to winterize yourself, we've come up with a list of the things you should consider doing before storing your boat. Since there are many different types of boats and motors it's impossible go into detail on each one, so we'll just deal with the basics here.

1. Stabilize the fuel system
This should be done on I/O's, inboards and outboards. Estimate the remaining fuel in your tank and add stabilizer according to the manufacturer's directions. It should be mixed thoroughly so you may want to add some gas or shake the boat around. You need to distribute the stabilized fuel through the fuel system so install a flush device and run the engine at least 5 to 10 minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on your temperature gauge during this step.

2. Drain the blocks and manifolds
Outboards are self-draining so you merely need to trim them down and this step is complete. I/O's and inboards are a different matter. The type of engine you have will determine what must be drained. Inline engines are the simplest, having only one block drain located on the port side and one manifold drain V6 and V8 engines will have two block drains, one on either side of the block, and one drain for each manifold. Most block drains, whether it's an inline or V block, are located toward the back of the engine, about one to two inches above the oil pan. Look for a two-piece brass plug. Remove only the outer plug and let the water drain. If little or no water comes out, poke a pick or stiff wire in the hole to clear the passage, as drains often clog up with sand and dirt. You should get a gallon or so of water from each side of the block. Different types of manifolds have different drain locations. On OMCs and newer Volvos, they can be found on the front and/or back of the manifold and can be brass plugs or rubber caps. Older Mercruiser center rise manifolds drain from the bottom by removing the cooling water hose from its fitting. Newer Mercs have a plastic tee plug in the bottom of this fitting. When removing these, be careful not to lose the o-ring. End riser style will have a brass plug on the bottom of the manifold, under the riser.

3. Drain fuel and oil coolers, if applicable
Power steering and EFI equipped boats have fuel and oil coolers that must also be drained. Power steering coolers can be located either on the side of the engine or attached to the flywheel cover. It will be about 1 inches in diameter and six to ten inches long and can be found by following the small return line from the back of the power steering pump to the cooler. Pull the large hose off one end and it will drain. Locate the fuel cooler by following the fuel line back towards the fuel tank. It is often inside a black plastic box, low on the side of the engine. If you can't find a drain plug on the bottom of the cooler you will need to pull the hose off one end like the P/S cooler. Cooling water hoses are normally 1 to 1 1/2 I.D.

4. Drain pumps and drive units, if applicable
If your boat has an engine-mounted seawater pump, there's one more part to drain. These can be belt or crankshaft driven. Pull the lower hose off to drain it. Your engine is now ready for a long winter's nap. If you own an outboard or sterndrive, check your drive unit for water. This is also a good time to change your gear oil if it's been a while since its last change. Loosen the bottom drain screw in the lower unit and let a few drops of oil drip out. If it's milky, or water comes out, drain it and plan on a trip to the boat shop. Gear cases are supposed to be full of oil, the presence of water indicates a seal failure. When you're through with this step, trim the unit as far down as possible and store in this position.

5. Treat with antifreeze
Boats with freshwater systems need to be drained or treated with environmentally safe antifreeze. If you treat with antifreeze be sure and run it through the system to protect pipes and faucets from freezing. Don't forget the water heater if your boat has one. Drain or treat with antifreeze.

6. Disconnect electrical systems
Electronics and electrical systems are easy to deal with. Remove and store depth sounders, chart plotters, etc indoors if possible. Disconnect the batteries after charging up and topping off the electrolyte. If you put your batteries on a maintenance charger, check on them from time to time, because you don't want to boil the water out of them.

7. Covering and storing
Covered storage is by the best way to protect your investment. However if you have to store your boat outside during winter months it should be properly covered and checked on frequently. Moisture inside the boat will cause mildew and corrosion, pull The cover back occasionally and make sure it stays dry inside. If it smells musty, let the boat air out and dry before recovering.

8. Last, but NOT least
This last step is not a step, but a practice that should be part of your daily boating routine. Pull the boat drain plug out. I have seen too many boats sunk on their trailer because the drain plug was left in. Get in the habit of installing and removing your drain plug when launching and loading your boat. If you've winterized properly, your boat should be in good shape to ride out the winter. Since I tried to cover only the basics of winterizing, I did not include oil changes, engine fogging, shrink-wrapping and the more technical, boat-specific options available. If you want to know more about those and other services you should contact your local marine service center

Jim Thompson is a Service Advisor for Alliance DFW Boating Center in Roanoke, Texas.