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It’s Time to Winterize Your Boat:

By Buzz Lamb

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It’s best to leave it to a pro. But if you don’t, here are a few tips

Unfortunately, the boating season is winding down here in the Lake George area and it is time to think about protecting a valuable recreation asset.  Soon, many boat owners need to face the awful fact that it will be necessary to winterize their boats against the icy blasts of a long winter in the Adirondacks.

The best place for your boat for the winter is out of the water and under cover in a garage or a storage building.  Another option is to have the boat shrink-wrapped, which provides a very tight protective cover, or to make sure your boat is covered with a sturdy tarp or some other protective cover.

The decision to have your boat winterized by a professional or to “do-it-yourself” has always been a hot topic for debate. The discussion comes down to this question:  “Is the money you save this fall worth the risk of having major damage next spring if you didn’t do it properly?”  Unless a boat owner really knows what they are doing, the job should be left to the pros.

That said, for those who still want to do it themselves, here are a few reminders.

First, add fuel stabilizer to the tank.  Follow the directions on the label to ensure that enough is added for the amount of fuel in the tank.  The old school of thought was to top off the tank before putting the boat into storage but recently the recommendation has been to treat the fuel that is remaining at the end of the season and then top off the tank in the spring with fresh fuel.  The octane level in today’s gasoline is extended with oxygenates and the octane level tends to diminish with time as the oxygenates are dissipated from the fuel.

Next, change the engine oil and filter (not necessary on two-stroke outboards).  It doesn’t matter if the engine has five hours or 105 hours on it since the last change.  According to the American Petroleum Institute, today’s oils do not wear out but they do get contaminated with combustion residue, acid and dirt.  Run the engine to get the contaminants in suspension and then pump the oil out of the engine, remove the old oil filter and install a new one and then fill the engine with the required amount of fresh oil.

Fogging the engine is the third step in the winterization process.  If the engine is equipped with a carburetor(s) or throttle body injection then fogging can be accomplished by slowly pouring or spraying a rust preventative lubricant into the engine while it is running at about 1,200 to 1,500 rpm’s.  If the engine is multi-port fuel injected then fogging must be done by running the engine on a remote fuel tank containing a special “recipe” of rust preventative and fuel conditioner.  Check the owner’s manual for the amounts required by your engine’s manufacturer.

Next, the engine cooling system must be prepared for winter.  Outboard motors are self-draining as long as they are in an upright position.  In stern drive and inboard applications there are two types of cooling systems used today.  One is raw water (direct) cooling and the other is closed (indirect) cooling.  The process to drain the two different types varies and the manufacturer’s service manual should be consulted for the proper procedures.  After all of the water has been properly drained, environmentally-friendly antifreeze should be added to the risers, manifolds, coolers and engine block.

Stern drive and outboard gear cases should be drained and checked for excessive moisture in the oil.  This could indicate leaking seals or other serious problems that should be handled by a pro.  If all looks okay, then re-fill the housing with fresh fluid recommended by the manufacturer and be sure to replace the small gaskets or o-rings that are on the drain and fill screws.

If your stern drive has a rubber boot or bellows, check them all for cracks, pinholes and chafing.  Grease all of the fittings and check the fluid levels in the power steering reservoir and the trim pump reservoir.

Some vessels are equipped for overnight stays and contain porta-potties, heads (toilets) with holding tanks, sinks and showers with holding tanks and fresh water holding tanks.

Pump out the holding tanks at an approved facility, flush the system thoroughly and the add propylene glycol (pink) antifreeze to the system.  Completely drain the fresh water system (don’t forget the hot water heater, if equipped) and pump non-toxic antifreeze into the system with all the faucets open.  Continue to pump the antifreeze until it comes out of all of the faucets. (Note: Check your owner’s manual to make sure that alcohol-based antifreeze won’t damage your system.)

Once the water system has been winterized it is time to disconnect the battery(s).  If your boat is equipped with a battery switch it is still a good idea to remove the negative cable from the battery to ensure that the electrical system has been completely disabled.

Finally, to keep you boat dry and mildew-free, use some of the commercially available odor and moisture absorbers.

Do not neglect to consult your owner’s manual for manufacturer’s recommendations on winterizing your boat and other systems.  If any of the above seems to be confusing or over your head, that is probably the best clue that you need a pro to winterize your boat.  Just remember this; if a pro lays up your engine and next spring something is wrong…it’s his problem.  If you have done your own work, then you have the problem!

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