Mid-Winter Boat Checks

There is no maintenance off-season for boat owners.

If your boat has been winterized thoroughly and buttoned-up tightly against the consequences of the cold weather, you’re justified in not visiting your pride and joy for six months, right? Well, if you can stand such a long period of separation, you have more restraint than I. There are many good reasons to visit your boat a couple of times during the winter.

Exterior
Conduct the first check as you walk down the dock: Is the boat still afloat? Start with a visual check of the exterior. Is the boat floating on its usual lines? If in the fall you installed a cover, give it the once over, checking for tears or loose lines. You don’t want to arrive in April to find that the cockpit is full of water. Tarps have a habit of tearing at load points, and these need to be checked often. Tighten all the lines securing it and double them up if they look suspect. Make sure tarps can’t flap against the boat, because they’ll mark up the hull for sure. Is there any floating debris, such as driftwood, in the boat slip?

Walk around the boat on the dock or deck, making sure fenders are placed correctly and secured, and mooring lines are holding the boat safely in the slip. Those lines need to be secure while still allowing the boat a little movement in the slip. If mooring lines are too tight, they will put undue stress on the boat’s cleats. In addition, make sure the lines are not chafing the boat’s paint, brightwork or fiberglass. Check that scuppers are clear and shorepower cables are securely plugged in at both ends, with no signs of arcing or burning. If vermin are a problem in your marina, look for signs they’ve been visiting and take steps to discourage them.

Interior
Check that hatches are secure or locked, and look for signs of leakage on the deckhead, cabin walls, bulkheads and deck. Check under cushions and berths for leaks, condensation or mildew. In fact, it’s a good idea to prop up the cushions, so air circulates underneath them.

Bilge
It’s critical that the bilge pumps are operating properly. At least once a month, manually lift the float switch to ensure it activates the pump. Make sure the intakes are clear of debris that could clog them when the pumps are most needed. It’s surprising how easily water can find its way into a boat that is supposedly watertight.

Electrical
Check the meters, monitors and panels of the electrical and battery-charging systems. Is the shorepower system connected and functioning? Are all the circuit breakers and fuses in order?

As for the batteries, it’s a good idea to maintain a charge on them, whether you remove the batteries or leave them installed during the winter. All batteries, both new and old, will discharge during periods of inactivity. If the batteries aren’t on a float charge, give them a midwinter charge. A battery maintained with a charge on it will provide longer service life than one allowed to continually run down. A boat moored in the water during the layup period needs an operating bilge pump, and the bilge pump relies on a good battery.

Make sure the battery terminals are clean. Take the cables off, clean the connectors, apply a dielectric grease to the terminals and reconnect, making sure the connections are tight. Check the electrolyte level.

On the Hard
If your boat is stored on the hard, on jack stands or a trailer, strong winter winds can cause a jack stand or two to shift slightly, perhaps leaving the boat unbalanced. Heavy rains could let them settle deeper into the ground. Don’t count on the yard workers to catch these problems before your boat is damaged, particularly if the boat is hidden at the back of the yard.

If the boat is shrink-wrapped, check that there is adequate ventilation; otherwise, you have a breeding ground for mildew.

If you haven’t already done so, post your contact number where it can be seen easily from the dock in an emergency. Make sure the marina office knows how to contact you too.

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