LeBlanc: Winterizing your boat is important

It still may be warm here but believe it or not winter is on the way…probably. Well it usually comes down this way anytime now from today through February, so we need to be prepared for it just in case it gets here. For those of us with boats, that can call for special attention to our boats and motors.

Some boaters across Texas will lay their boats up and not use them again until next Memorial Day. Those folks really need to winterize their boat against the possibility of freezing weather, as well as the engine not being used. Considering the potential damage caused by the ethanol in the fuel we are forced to use nowadays, that too must be addressed.

I didn’t realize it but Texas is one of three states that have the most engine winterizing insurance claims in the country. Boaters in the frozen north know hard freezes are a part of their lives so preparing a boat for winter is just one more freeze prevention job among many, and a way of life. However, here in Southeast Texas, we are seldom plagued with long stretches of the ice and snow and all that other frozen stuff, but all it takes is one hard freeze to drop in on us to cause major damage to a boat.

Water expands almost 10% by volume. That expansion means that any water left in your engine, potable water system, or refrigeration system can do some major damage during a freeze. Even an engine block can crack open during cold weather. The key is making sure all water gets drained out or replaced by antifreeze.

Now let’s address antifreeze, and for those who are not aware, there are two types of antifreeze. Ethylene glycol - the kind in your boat’s cooling system - works fine for engines, but it’s very toxic. Propylene glycol is safe for potable water systems and is also fine to use for the raw side of engine cooling systems - check the label to make absolutely positive you have the right product for the job. Make sure antifreeze is rated to protect down to the lowest possible expected temperatures.

Another potential disaster at all time and especially with little or no boat use in the winter is what passes for gasoline nowadays. Add fuel stabilizer before you fill your tank. That helps mix the stabilizer so it protects all of the gas. Running your engine for a few minutes after mixing it up will get some stabilized gas in the engine’s fuel system, protecting it over the winter. At all times keep your fuel filters and fuel line water filters clean and up to date and that will help keep your engine protected and running at ultimate performance. For boats with portable gas tanks, try to use up fuel now. Any remainder can be used (if unmixed with two-stroke oil) in your vehicle. If your boat has a built-in gas tank, fill the tank almost to the top, leaving a little room for expansion. This will minimize condensation on tank walls, stopping phase separation in its tracks.

When storing your boat at a marina or boat yard take home any removable electronics, small outboards, and anything else that can be easily stolen. If you store your boat outside at home put anything that can be stolen in the garage or some other safe storage area. The dark days of winter are when boats are most frequently broken in to.

Don’t forget about your batteries. With the prolific over use of electronic stuff on many boats nowadays a person can have a small fortune tied up in batteries, so it makes sense to take care of all of them. Batteries are happier inside a dry, snug building, so remove your batteries from your boat, put them into the garage, and use a trickle charger to keep them topped off to protect them and extend their life.

A further boat enemy that can be encountered in this area is mold and mildew. It can be found anywhere, especially in warm humid areas, and if you are not careful it can infiltrate your boat and aquatic accessories. One important fact is it’s easier to prevent mold than to stop it. Without some air circulation, your boat’s interior can build up condensation, which can lead to a moldy mess next spring. If you leave your boat in the water, solar-powered vents and boat covers that lets air circulate can help keep mold at bay.

This is also a good time to consider addressing maintenance for the outside of your boat, so you might consider cleaning and waxing the hull before you lay it up for the winter. The grunge buildup from use all summer and sitting up all winter outside at home, or in a boatyard, can make for a lot of work come springtime, but if you clean and wax it before you put your boat to bed for the winter the first springtime trip will be a lot easier.

As one last thought, make a list of what you did or had your shop do before you put your boat to bed for the winter. That way, next spring you won’t be wondering if the lower units lube was changed or the spark plugs replaced and so on.

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