Batten Down the Hatches

Prepare the boat for winter storms.

We’ve all been roused in the middle of the night by window-rattling wind only to lie wide awake and worry about how our boat is surviving the storm. We toss and turn, wondering if we made sure the automatic bilge pump was working or worrying about that tarp we meant to secure properly but never did. And if it’s freezing, did we drain the freshwater lines properly or shut the through-hulls?

While we like to think our mild West Coast winters mean we don’t really need to decommission our boat, there are always times when winter sneaks in, and it is definitely better to be safe than sorry.

One way to keep snuggled under the covers on stormy nights is to make sure we’re prepared for the worst that winter can offer. Here are some helpful hints to assure a good night’s sleep, no matter what the weather.

• Replace worn docklines with a half-inch line, minimum, for vessels less than 40 feet and 5/8-inch line for vessels larger than 40 feet. Leave an extra line on board, so the boat can be retied if necessary.
• Tie the vessel securely in its slip using only the cleats for its slip. Besides bow and stern lines, I suggest a spring line be run forward and one run aft, to keep the vessel from coming into contact with the dock. Do not tie across the dock to another cleat, because it can be a trip hazard for crew and other tenants.
• Check that the cockpit drain hoses are in good condition and properly clamped to their fittings.
• Secure any dock box lids.
• Remove or secure Bimini tops, dodgers and any other canvas covers that may blow off the boat.
• On sailboats, secure sail covers, tie halyards away from the mast, and remove and stow the furling jib.
• Secure the dinghy, on board if possible.
• Close unused through-hulls and winterize belowdecks.
• Change oil and filters on the engine and generator. Acids build up quickly in engine oil and can damage vital engine parts.
• Fill fuel tanks and add an approved fuel stabilizer for your engine’s fuel type. Doing so will prevent condensation and slow the oxidation process. Add a growth inhibitor to diesel fuel.
• Manually lift the float switch on any automatic bilge pump, to check that it’s operating correctly.
• Drain and rinse the holding tank with fresh water.
• Pour a cup or so of potable antifreeze into the toilet and pump the head to make sure the antifreeze gets distributed through the system.
• Remove valuable personal items and equipment. Lock up the dinghy, outboard, doors and hatches.
• In case of power loss to the docks, you may want to emphasize antifreeze protection, battery condition, and/or hire a Boat Watch service to monitor onboard systems.

When it comes to boat heat, try the following:
• Inspect the shore cord plug and make any necessary repairs.
• Let the marina office know if your power box receptacle needs attention. Shore cords must match the breakers on the dock.
• Electric heaters and dehumidifiers should be marine grade and UL approved, with automatic shutoff switches.
• A controlling thermostat on the heater will help save electricity.
• Unattended diesel furnace heating of a vessel is not recommended, since the heater may clog at low operating temperatures and fill the vessel with soot and possibly create a fire hazard.

Finally, don’t just forget about your boat over the winter. It’s a good idea to stop by the marina once a week and make sure everything is just as you left it: safe, secure and smelling fresh.