How To Winterize Your Sailboat

With a fall chill in the air, it’s time to start thinking about readying your boat for the winter. Preparing your boat for a long, cold winter is a must, especially if you want to get back out on the water quickly in the spring.

The main goal of winterizing is to remove all fluids that could freeze, however it is also a good time to clean off the grime of summer and make any necessary repairs. Proper winterization will ensure no surprises in the spring. To help with a smooth transition, we have complied a list of 10 tips for preparing your boat for the long winter.

Before diving right in, always check your boat’s owner’s manual for any boat-specific winterizing instructions. Instructions from the owner’s manual are always a must-do. Make sure nothing is forgotten by creating a checklist of tasks to be completed before you start.

1. Fill/Empty The Tank: Add some stabilizer to your diesel fuel tank and then fill the tank to capacity with fuel. Then replace all the fuel filters and drain the water separator. Run the engine for 15 minutes to let the stabilized fuel flow through the system. This is also a good time to inspect fuel lines for any leaks. For a gasoline tank, run the fuel off and leave the tank empty.

2. Protect Engine: Make sure to read the owner’s manual of your engine for specific winterizing instructions. There are different procedures for winterizing inboard and outboard engines and each individual engine is a little different.

3. Drain & Anti-Freeze: Drain the fresh water system and empty and clean out all tanks. Then, fill all hoses and pumps with a fifty-fifty mixture of water and RV anti-freeze. It is also good to try to keep the bilge as dry as possible.

4. Remove Batteries: Be sure to remove the batteries from the boat and continue to charge/recharge them every month. While removing the batteries, check the electrical connections on board. It is also wise to remove marine electronics from the boat and store them at home for the winter. If desired, this is also a good time to remove dock lines, flotation devices, flares, fire extinguishers and other safety equipment from the boat for inspection and replacement if needed.

5. Clean, Clean, Clean: Winterization is the perfect opportunity to clean your vessel from top to bottom. Clean out the inside of the boat, emptying all lockers, food lockers, icebox, and refrigerator. Wash down all the surfaces of the boat inside and out. Also be sure to clean the hardware, mast, and rigging to remove any salt or grime. Thoroughly clean and dry enclosures. For cleaning canvas, like Sunbrella, we recommend using 303 Fabric and Vinyl Cleaner it does a great job and will safely clean a number of surfaces. Lightly wax fiberglass surfaces and touch up any chipping paint.

6.  Inspect for Repairs: Checking for and making repairs in the fall will help you get out on the water faster in the spring. Be sure to inspect the hull and deck for cracks or blisters and repair if necessary. Check lifelines for signs of corrosion and inspect and service all seacocks, winches, turning blocks, rope clutches, and the mainsheet system. Remove the mast and inspect mast, boom, and rigging for wear and damage. Also inspect the electrical wiring inside the mast. Remove tape from spreader tips and turnbuckles and inspect.

7. Repair & Store Sails: Before packing your sails away, you will want to clean them. Since cleaning sails can reduce their durability, it’s a good idea to just spray them with water and lightly brush out stubborn spots. Try not to dry sails by sunlight, as UV rays are harmful to Dacron and nylon. Carefully dry the sails in the garage instead. This is a good time to make any needed repair to sails as well. If your sail needs to be serviced, Sailrite stocks a full line of needles, patches, and other sail repair supplies. For more details of problems to look for and how to repair them, check out this Sailrite PDF on Getting Sails Ready for Winter Storage. 

When storing sails, make sure that they will be protected from rodents. Dacron sailcloth is a favorite mouse snack, and they will chew little ragged holes all through your sail without a safeguard. There are two good options to prevent this: first, suspend your sail bags from a height, like rafters of a garage or barn. Or sprinkle mothballs inside your sail bag. For foolproof protection, do both.

8. Empty the Head:  If your boat has a head onboard, it will need to be drained and flushed out. Pump out the holding tank and then add fresh water to the bowl and flush several times. Close the water intake seacock, remove the hose, and pump the head full of anti-freeze, making sure some of the anti-freeze goes into the holding tank. Replace the hose, leaving the seacock closed.

9. Arrange Cabin: There are some things that you will want to take care of below decks to keep everything in top order over the winter. If your boat has a stove, make sure to close the propane bottle and light the stove to clean any propane in the pipes. When the stove goes out, close off the supply at the stove. Seal the end of the propane line and make sure there are no leaks. Remove the propane from the boat.

To keep cushions nice, pull them all out, tilt them upwards, and unzip them so air can flow around them. Open all compartments, doors, and hatches to increase air flow. If storing canvas projects inside your boat (such as biminis or dodgers) lay the canvas out as flat as possible, taking special care with any vinyl windows. If windows need to be stacked, place a bed sheet between each one. Sprinkle some mothballs around the cabin to keep the rodents away if desired.

10. Cover: Whether storing your boat inside or outside, a cover is a necessity. For outdoor storage a Sunbrella Marine Grade canvas cover is ideal. If you are storing your boat indoors, use a trailering cover or shrink-wrap. Make sure there is an anti-chafe material and that the cover is fitted so rodents and bugs can’t crawl up underneath. Custom-made boat covers fit best.

Getting your boat ready for the winter can be a tedious process but is well worth it. A clean boat in the fall means a clean boat in the spring—and we’ll be counting down the days!

4 comments
  1. It is all well and good to say to cover your sailboat, but I have a 26′ fixed wing trimaran and no cover seems to survive the thrashing of the wind that comes up from between the hulls. My only solution is to plan on painting the decks at least everyk other year and let the snow build up.

  2. Byron Schluter said:

    Overall good information, however I disagree with 2 areas you covered. First you should always fill you gas tanks as well as diesel tanks with a fuel stabilizer that corrects the problems created by the ethanol blended fuels that are everywhere. By topping off the tank you reduce the amount of air space that can create condensation that is absorbed by the ethanol. Second, you should never dilute the RV antifreeze. Use it full strength or you could have freezing issues. I work in the marine industry and specialize in boat maintainence so this is very important to me.

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