Winterizing Fishing Boats + Technology
Nothing can prevent the weather, but taking the time to winterize your boats and technology will make for a happier spring.
by Sadie Marcheldon
Properly preparing your boat for colder months, inactivity or storage may extend the life of your watercraft, engine and marine technology. Many people invest money into having a boat and they like to have a depth finder, a trolling motor and other technology to help them get the most out of their fishing season. No one wants to return to their boat after storing it through months of inactivity to find that their craft, engine or technology is damaged. Not only is it often a large expense to replace damaged items, it’s a hassle. Taking care to winterize your boat and technology may not always stop damage, but it will go a long way towards preventing it.
Even if you’re not confident on winterizing all the parts of your boat, and want to take it to a professional or have a professional show you how to do it, there are some smaller, simpler steps you can take to get the other parts of your boat ready for down time.
Doing a quick, visual inspection can go a long way in getting your boat ready for storage. Check for any loose, broken or exposed wiring. Corrosion, dust, or pests like mice might do a number on any weak areas in wiring. Covering exposed wiring may go a long way in protecting it during the off season. It’s also a good idea to ensure that, if your boat is being kept in the water, that the bilge pump is in working order and exhaust ports are plugged. If you are removing your boat from the water, ensure that drain plugs are removed to prevent damage during freezing.
Cleaning Your Boat
Along with doing a visual inspection, it may be a good idea to clean your boat before it gets put away for hibernation. Cleaning out compartments and removing any food or garbage that may attract rodents will save you a headache come the next time you use your boat. Checking for wet items and making sure that items like life jackets or rain suits are dry before storage ensures that these items also stay in good condition during down time. You may want to remove these items and store them elsewhere during the winter, leaving compartments clean and empty to reduce risk of rodents. Doing a quick organize and putting everything away also ensures that items like tackle aren’t left out to rust.
Cleaning Your Technology
Many people who have a boat opt to install a fixed depth/fish finder. You may want to clean your technology, especially your screen, if it’s fixed mounted, with a soft cloth to ensure that dust and debris are removed. If your unit came with a cover for the screen, it’s a great idea to use that after the screen has been cleaned. Harsh chemical cleaners are best avoided as they may damage the screen. You can use the same microfiber cloth to clean any controls and other screens on your boat to remove dust and debris.
Covering Your Boat
A tarp might seem like a waste of money, as a good quality tarp can be expensive (and a fitted cover even more so), but it may mean the difference between keeping your boat watertight and protected from sun fading and the elements, or having to replace carpet, seats, electronics, or wiring when you’d rather be using your boat at the start of a new season. Not all tarps are created equal, so be sure you are using one that will stand up against the elements and temperature changes in your area. A tarp that is inadequate for your boat won’t hold up and may lead to further problems like sun damage, water damage or mould and mildew issues.
Taking Care of Your Battery
Not having a functional battery come the next season when you need to use it can be frustrating. In some cases, you can remove the battery and place it on a trickle charger used for marine batteries. Just be sure you know how to operate the charger, as trickle chargers may cause a battery to explode if left on for long periods of time. There are other chargers that may be able to keep your battery functional without running this risk.
If you can’t remove your battery, you may want to top up a wet cell battery before storing the boat. With any battery, it’s likely best to clean any connections so they are free of corrosion. You can leave your batteries unplugged, but it may be a good idea to charge them fully once a month or so. If you’re very unsure of how to properly care for your battery, you may want to do some research into which batteries and chargers work best. Some people recommend adding an extra layer of protection or insulation to the battery, even with all other care, like a towel or blanket.
No matter where your boat is being stored for its downtime, in a slip, a lift, or on land, properly preparing it for downtime or checking it regularly goes a long way in maintaining the integrity of the overall boat. As mentioned above, if you plan on removing your boat from the water, be sure that the structure you are storing it on, whether you are using a cradle, jacks, a combination of both or a trailer, is adequate for your boat. If you are keeping your boat in the water or on a lift, be proactive in checking the hull and seams for water damage and in keeping up with the weather to make sure your boat isn’t damaged in storms or high winds.
No matter where you are storing your boat, it’s always a good idea to have proper insurance in place. Not only will this help protect your boat against unforeseen circumstances and theft, it may also protect you from any liability issues that could arise.
Following the manufacturer specifications or recommendations for properly caring for all the parts of your boat will help prevent against damage in the winter or down season. Many boats have parts and pieces that need to be cared for and winterized that go far beyond just the motor. Educating yourself on how to properly care for your boat or taking it to a professional business to be serviced and winterized will help prevent against damages.
Fitted covers can be expensive, but you can have one made to cover only the parts of the boat that need covering. Open air flow is best for parts of the boat made to endure the elements.
Where you store your boat is going to play a determining role in all the steps involved in winterizing.
Some people choose to store their boat in the water at a dock or a slip. In many areas this isn’t an option. If keeping your boat in the water does work in your area, be sure that you check your boat regularly. This means checking the seals and the hull, as boats that constantly remain in the water may develop a leak along a seam or a blister on the bottom.
If you’re using a slip and your boat is in the water, it’s also a good idea to keep abreast of weather patterns including high winds, heavy rains or storms that could potentially damage your boat. Also, if you’re storing your boat in the water, be sure to take proper precautions by ensuring your bilge pump works (it shouldn’t be running, otherwise you may have a leak). Exhaust ports should also be plugged.
In some areas, removing a boat from the water for the down season is the only option available. If you’re going to take your boat out of the water for any extended period of time, be sure that what you are storing it on provides adequate support. This might mean a cradle, jacks, or on a trailer.
A lift may provide the best compromise between removing a boat from the water and keeping it on. In areas where temperature and weather allows for a lift, this might be an option. Just be sure that you keep abreast of weather patterns and winds, as lifts don’t always fare well in all weather.
If a boat must be removed from the water and stored for its down season, indoor storage is one of the best options for it, especially if the space is heated. However, this may be too costly or may not be available in all areas. Even if you do have a heated, covered area for your boat, you should still follow through on getting it ready for storage to ensure that everything is in good working condition for the next season.
When indoor storage is not available or is too costly, outdoor storage may be available. This might mean renting a space in a compound or storage facility or it may be something as simple as using your yard. Taking care to ensure that the boat is properly winterized when stored outdoors, especially in inclement temperatures, will go a long way in keeping your boat and marine technology in good working condition.
No matter where you overwinter your boat, monitoring is key. If you choose to DIY your storage, commit to regularly checking on boat's condition up close.
Motors, Motors, Motors
A huge part of getting your boat ready for down time is taking care to ensure that the boat’s motor is properly winterized. No one wants to come back, excited to kick off a brand new season, to find that their motor has a crack in it or that it won’t turn over. Replacing a motor can be a huge expense, or at the very least, a hassle that may be avoided by properly caring and preparing your motor for disuse.
If you aren’t sure what you are doing or you just aren’t sure you’ve done the job right, it might be worth looking into taking your boat and motor for a professional servicing and winterizing. The expense of having someone who knows what they are doing care for your boat may be well offset against having to replace an engine or other expensive parts because the job wasn’t done right.
Whether you have an inboard or outboard motor, some basic steps can go a long way in helping to maintain and protect your engine.
Oil and Fuel
Changing the oil in the motor right before your boat is put into storage may help protect the engine life by removing impurities and moisture. It’s a good idea to run the engine for a few moments, as this allows the old oil to pick up any impurities. The engine can then be turned off and the oil changed. It may also be a good idea to change the oil filter at the same time, just to be sure no moisture and impurities remain in the old one. Once the oil change is complete, the engine can be restarted to circulate oil to all the parts.
Similar to changing the oil, stabilizing the fuel can prevent gas from separating over the winter. Moisture build up or water in the fuel can rust and damage engine parts. If you can’t remove the fuel completely from your tank before the winter, fill the tank with fuel and add a fuel stabilizer that is recommended for the fuel type and also by temperature.
Depending on what kind motor you have, there are different steps that need to be taken in winterizing your inboard motor. Generally, if you have a fresh water cooled engine, winterizing your inboard motor involves taking care of both sides of the engine. The freshwater side is usually winterized by making sure the permanent coolant/water mixture in the engine is adequate for the temperature in your area. Manufacturer settings will help you determine what mixture and which coolant is right for your engine.
For the raw water side of the engine, (or for a raw water cooled engine), the system can be fully drained and left dry or a winterizing antifreeze can be used. Using antifreeze and circulating it through the system may be a better option, as it can provide protection against freeze damage, while draining an engine, if not done properly, may leave it vulnerable to freezing and ruining parts. Whether draining your engine or adding antifreeze, be sure that the job is done properly and to manufacturer specifications or your motor could be left vulnerable to freeze damage.
Depending on what kind of engine you have, there are different procedures and steps to be taken to properly winterize an outboard motor. Many manufacturers have different specifications, settings, modes and procedures when it comes to properly preparing an engine for winter. Being sure to find and follow these recommendations will help reduce the chances of freeze damage.
Generally, no matter what engine you have, you will want to take care to store the motor in the downwards position so that water can drain out, otherwise you run the risk of cracking the housing. If it’s possible, as in the case with smaller outboards, you may want to remove them completely and store them in a warmer setting according to manufacturer specifications.
Just like your inboard or outboard motor, winterizing your electric trolling motor properly is the best way to care for your gear and will help ensure everything stays running smoothly. It’s best to follow manufacturer guidelines for specific brands and best winterization but there are some preliminary steps you can follow as well. A visual inspection of your trolling motor can quickly tell you if anything looks off or isn’t right. Check to make sure the transducer is mounted properly and looks to be in good condition. Check the mounting bolts or bracket to make sure everything is still sturdy and nothing has shifted during a season of use. When storing your boat, be sure that your trolling motor is completely dry and does not have water sitting in any parts or crevices. You can also remove the prop and clean out dirt, debris, fishing line or anything else that may have become caught in that crevice.
Functioning fishing technology is a great asset for most fisherman and many people choose to install them on their boats. Taking care of this technology and ensuring that it too is ready for downtime, can help prolong the life of this equipment and ensure that it is ready to run smoothly for the coming season.
As previously stated, cleaning the screen of the fish/depth finder with a microfiber or soft cloth to remove dust, water or impurities is a small action that can produce some big results. Never use harsh chemicals on the screen. Usually just a cloth is enough. If the unit came with a case for the screen, be sure to replace it after cleaning. Visually inspect the wires and contacts for the unit as you would inspect the other wires in your boat. Be sure that everything is clean and covered, if possible. Removing any garbage or debris on the boat helps deter pests like mice who may chew wires and can cause damage to electronics.
It might be a hassle, but if it is possible, you may want to remove your fish/depth finder altogether. Though most units are made to withstand extreme temperatures, it’s always better for the unit to be stored in a controlled temperature over the winter. At the very least, it may be a good idea to remove the screen from your boat and bring that inside during the winter. Keep the case on and store it in a safe place. Keeping the installation booklet from the unit is a good idea so it’s easy to reinstall everything in the new season.
Opt for Portable
Another great option for technology that you may not have considered before, if you don’t have any fish/depth finding technology, is a portable fish finder. These castable fish finders can be used on larger powered craft and don’t need to be fixed right to the boat. These bobbers are ultra-portable and use a smartphone or tablet as their screen. If you’re unsure about removing or installing a fixed depth/fish finder on your boat or are unsure of how to properly care for it, buying a portable fish finder may be the way to go.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there are many different steps, processes and procedures involved in properly getting your boat ready for winter. Ultimately, you want to keep your boat running and functioning at an optimum level. Many of these steps involve some time or a familiarity with working with engines and technology. If you are unsure about how to properly winterize or store your boat, it may be worth getting a professional to do the work for you or offer a second opinion on how to properly care for and store your boat.
If you're a new boat owner, hire a reputable professional to winterize your boat the first year. Take good notes — You can DIY winterize starting in year two.