Winterization & Storage

Really? Winter? Already?

by Mike Aldridge

As you’re strapping down the boat’s cover, readying for the blizzards of winter, you’re thinking … “Winter?! We don’t have winter here!” And you’d be mostly correct. The average low temperature, for the Charlotte area anyway, is a frosty 48.8°. If you’re a fair-weather boater, though, you’d better stay with the program and winterize your boat. There’s no need to tempt fate any more than you usually do. After all, that 48.8 is an a-v-e-r-a-g-e, meaning there can be some significant troughs in the sine curve of weather patterns. Also, while you may buy that global warming thing, don’t count on it replacing your bilge heater. At least right away.


First things first, though. Where are you going to put your boat to ride out the wintery unknown? Your garage? If you’re like me, the darn thing won’t fit and most HOAs don’t cotton to a boat and trailer in your driveway, or THEIR driveway, as they may believe. You could look into a wet slip, but I’d have to ask why, if you’re not planning on boating in the off-season. Oh yeah.


There are local storage facilities sprouting up all over. Since more and more people are opting for smaller quarters, like apartments, the storage business is growing. You’ve gotta put your stuff somewhere, after all. And some of these places have spaces specifically for your boat and RV. As well as temperature-controlled wine storage, although I can’t understand why there’s a need to store wine.


Some of your favorite boat dealers, too, have yard storage available should you want to leave your boat with them, and there are some facilities dedicated solely to boat storage, of course. Along with the usual line-up of marinas with their dry stacks and handy forklifts ready to put your boat away. There's a list of area storage facilities here.


I said this should be first on your list, since there is a long line of boaters thinking the same thing you are. There’s no need to push and shove if you get an early start, so call today and reserve your space. For your boat, or your wine.


But if you’re storing your boat, you’ll want to winterize it, too. Some of the storage facilities, particularly the full-service marinas, offer winterizations, but there are other service shops as well as mobile services that can take care of these chores and close the case for the season. Problem solved, now on to … What was it?


Or you could handle the winterization yourself with the main goal of either purging all the water from your engine, or adding antifreeze, to eliminate the chance of that water freezing. As you’ll remember from physics class, freezing water expands and that expansion in the confines of an engine can necessitate some expensive repairs. And we don’t want that.


Every brand of engine has its own process for winterization, so consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions and, if there’s any doubt, call the professionals. (Remember these guys?)

Winterizing that Four-Stroke

Let’s assume your boat is out of the water and on a trailer or jack stands. The first step is to flush the engine with a good fresh water supply. Some engines, especially older units, require the use of “ear muffs” or “flush muffs,” which are inexpensive and can be found at your local chandlery or marine retailer. Newer engines are fitted to allow direct connection of an ordinary water hose. Some of those fittings are plastic, however, and can be stripped, so be careful when attaching the hose. Again, advice varies from one manufacturer to another, but allow five-to-ten minutes for a good flush.

Next, remove the cowling and inspect the engine for silt or debris, which you might have picked up the last time you ran a little shallow at the sandbar. Rinse all that stuff out.


You’ll want to change the lube in the lower unit now, too. This is especially important if you’re planning on ignoring your boat over the winter. Putting your boat away with dirty lube in the lower unit will create more maintenance issues down the road. What was happily a silky, slippery substance at the end of the season will become an acidic viscous villain by next spring. It could also be that some water, which can freeze, has crept into the unit. So, change the lube.


Then there’s ethanol. You might be buying your fuel at the “non-ethanol” pump, but you can’t be too careful. It’s bad enough to get water in your fuel, but you’ve become “” if there’s ethanol in the tank as well. Water and that government-mandated corn syrup will bond and produce a blob of destructive goop that can seriously damage your engine. Fuel stabilizer won’t hurt your engine, so play it safe and add that liquid insurance, while you top off your fuel tank.


BTW, topping off your tank for storage will reduce the chance, or at least the quantity, of condensation that can occur while your boat is stored. Once in, hook the water hose back up and run your engine for ten-to-fifteen minutes to mix and circulate the stabilizer throughout the engine.


You’ll then want to tilt the engine all the way back and all the way down again to be sure you’ve drained all the water.


If we’re erring on the side of caution – It’s my way, bless my heart. – then you’ll want to fog the engine. With the engine running, spray the fogger into the air intake until smoke comes out the back. You should then remove each plug and spray a hit of fogger into each cylinder. And, yes, of course you put the plugs back in.

Looks warm inside that dry storage facility, doesn't it?

If you’re an all-in kinda boater, the simplest thing to do is just use it. If you run that bad boy at least every two-to-three weeks, so that the engine warms up, either in or out of the water, you really don’t need to do the fogging thing.


Did I say antifreeze? No? Well … that’d be right, since you’ve removed the water from the system there’ll be no antifreeze required.


Winterizing Your Sterndrive

Ok, we’re getting into the weeds now. If you’re going to tackle this yourself, be sure you have your owner’s manual handy. And you may want to review the Marine Service Index (… back to page 87) for area professionals who will be happy to take care of this task so you can concentrate on your fantasy football league. First things first, after all.


Generally, though, one of the most important steps is to remove the drive and inspect the bellows, universal joint, gimbal bearing, shift cable bellows, water intake hose and exhaust run. See? Maybe hiring this out is the best thing.


Okokok. Once the drive is apart, you’ll want to replace the bellows, as well as any O-rings and gaskets, install a new water intake hose, align the engine and drive, and lube the U-joint.


As with any winterization, the chief goal is to remove water from the system and treat the system to a heaping helping of antifreeze.


First, run the engine on a flusher and get it up to operating temperature so that the thermostat opens. With the boat on a trailer or blocked level, trim the drive all the way down and turn it dead astern, so water in the pickup, water pump housing and exhaust passages can drain.


Crank the engine slightly, but don’t start it, to purge any water from the water pump. It’s a kind of “turn your head and cough” process. Keeping the drive down and straight also prevents rainwater or snowmelt from collecting in the exhaust hub during the winter and helps extend the usable life of the flexible rubber bellows that seal drive components from water intrusion. Insert a small wire repeatedly in the various accessible vents and drain holes to ensure that all water drains from the drive.

And speaking of antifreeze, some engine manufacturers require that propylene glycol antifreeze with a rust inhibitor, mixed to said manufacturer’s instructions, be used in the stern-drive raw-water passages in locals subject to freezing temperatures. Attach a flush device – we’re back to the “ear muffs” again – to the drive’s water pickups, but plumb it to pick up the antifreeze solution from a five-gallon bucket. This will feed the solution through the water pickups into the raw-water systems of both the drive and engine. Keep the engine running until the pink-colored propylene glycol solution comes out of the drive’s exhaust then turn off the engine.


Next, and like the four-stroke process, you’ll want to drain the gear lube by removing the lube drain and vent plug screws. Put new gaskets on the plug screws. If you also have a remote gear lube reservoir, found in the engine compartment, remove and drain it as well, then clean, dry, and reinstall the reservoir.


Pump fresh lube into the drive from the drain hole at the bottom of the unit until fluid appears out the vent hole at the top. Reinstall the vent screw, which creates a partial vacuum, then quickly replace the drain screw. The vacuum created doesn’t allow fluid to drain very quickly. Also fill the lube reservoir to the proper level.


Remove the propeller and check for fishing line around the shaft seal and remove any you find. If it was there too long, it might have cut the seal. If the seal seems damaged or gear lube appears to be leaking from the prop shaft seal, have the seal replaced, the gears and bearings checked, and the gear case pressure tested. Otherwise, grease the shaft. This is a good time to send the prop out for reconditioning, too.


Finally, you’ll want to inspect everything. Check the steering and tilt-and-trim components for wear and replace anything that shows damage. Check the hydraulic fluid levels in the power steering and trim pumps. Inspect all the sacrificial zinc anodes and replace them if there’s less than 70 percent left. Use zinc-chromate primer and touch-up paint on any scratches or chips on the drive, then give all grease fittings a shot of fresh marine grease.


There. See? Easy-peasy. Or you could schedule an appointment with a reliable shop. There’s a directory here. But I repeat myself.


Pilot Media publishes boating guides providing comprehensive information on boating and waterfront living. Each edition includes an index of boat related businesses, reference maps, marina & boatyard guides, a directory of waterfront & water-access restaurants - The Pilot's Galley - and a Fishing Guide that includes a directory to area fishing service providers.  Read more >

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