Managing Winter Lay-Up
Winterize Your Marine Engine
Or Pay the Boatyard to Do It?
Winterize Your Marine Engine
Or Pay the Boatyard to Do It?
It doesn't matter whether or not you like to work on your own boat. Sometimes it just makes more dollars and sense to pay the boatyard to do particular tasks. That's especially true during winter lay-up, when sometimes the toil and trouble isn't worth enduring. These days, it's becoming harder and harder to find a yard that will even let you work on your own boat. Not only do they cite lost revenue, but also legal liability. With this in mind, here are some thoughts on how to manage winterization, when to do a particular task yourself and when to get out the checkbook.
Whether your boat is gas- or diesel-powered, you should stabilize the fuel. Read the label on the back of the stabilizer can to determine exactly how many ounces of stabilizer are required. Typically, the more gallons of fuel and the longer the lay-up, the more fluid will be required. Filling the tank at least three-fourths full will reduce the condensation that would otherwise dribble down the wall of the tank all winter long.
The engine needs to be moth-balled, which means protecting its cylinder walls, piston rings and valves against rust caused by wet winter air. One favored method is to spray fogging oil down the air intake, flooding the idling engine with oil until it stumbles and dies. Sticky, vaporous, corrosion-fighting fogging oil clings to the exposed surfaces all winter long. Another tried-and-true method is to crank the engine with the spark plugs out, spraying fogging oil first down the air intake and then into each one of the spark plug holes. The plugs are replaced and an oily rag is placed over the air intake. Some techs duct tape the opening. Most boaters can winterize an engine in about a half an hour.
Right after winterizing, grease all the zirk fittings on the steering and throttle mechanisms. New grease not only forces out old, hardened grease, it also expels trapped moisture that might otherwise freeze, expand and crack the castings. Again, there's no need to pay good money for this procedure. Grease guns and tubes of grease are inexpensive and readily available. One should already be in the spare parts kit.
That said, here's a consideration. At the same time the engine is mothballed, an experienced marine mechanic performs a mini survey, looking for anything that just plain looks wrong. A professional pair of eyeballs is worth its weight in gold. On the other hand, a reasonably competent do-it-yourselfer can check fluid levels on the engine and transmission, as well as the reservoirs on the power steering and trim tab pumps. On the block and heads, look for rust streaks that might mean leaking coolant. Notice any puddles of oil. Squeeze hoses to make sure they are supple. Check the hose clamps.
Freshwater-cooled marine engines rely on a blend of SO percent water and 50 percent antifreeze. There is a finite service life for antifreeze's corrosion-fighting additive that keeps an engine from rusting from the inside out. So naturally, the coolant needs to be drained and flushed at regular intervals. Some extended-life antifreeze solutions boast a service life of five to seven years. Whether your marine engine needs freshening depends on which coolant flows inside.
Draining and refilling coolant is a low-tech operation, albeit one with minor complications. The draining, per se, is no problem, but disposing of the coolant in an environmentally friendly manner can be a bit of a hassle. At first blush, topping off with a new 50/50 blend of coolant would appear to be as easy as going to the store, buying a couple of gallon jugs and pouring it in. But sometimes air bubbles get trapped in the coolant deep inside the engine, preventing coolant flow and overheating the engine. A botched job can warp a cylinder head. If you have any doubts about your abilities to handle this operation, get out the checkbook. If you do it yourself, dispose of the spent coolant at a recycling center.
By now the boat has been freshly hauled and lays dripping wet on the hard. A properly stored 30-foot boat needs at least three to four blocks while a 40- to 50-foot boat needs four or five blocks. The bow should be canted slightly upward; water poured on deck should run aft.
Even with active bottom paint, there's likely to be a few razor-sharp barnacles and green slime clinging to the hull. Having the boat pressure washed gets the job done thoroughly and quickly and for a cost significantly less than buying a pressure washer. Get out the checkbook.
In cold climates, stern-drive and outboard motor gear case oil should be changed in the fall. Otherwise, if the propeller shaft seal has been leaking, water has been drawn into the gear case. If the temperature drops below freezing, the water will freeze, expand and crack the aluminum housing. While anyone and his brother can drain and fill a gear case, should you find more than a few droplets of water, you better get out the checkbook and pay for the seals to be replaced.
On outboards and stern-drives, remove the propeller and grease the propeller shaft splines. If worried about boatyard theft, take the propeller home. Otherwise, reinstall it.
Hibernating starting batteries gradually lose their juice during the winter months unless they are trickle charged. Even better, in cold climates, store them inside a building at a temperature above freezing. Removing them from the battery boxes and lugging them off the boat is eminently doable. But do you really want to go to the trouble, only to reverse the procedure come spring commissioning? Those things are heavy! For a paltry few dollars many boatyards store batteries and trickle charge them at intervals to keep them up to charge.
Here's one final tip: It's a boat. So naturally, it follows during winter lay-up broken, twisted and nonfunctional components will rear their ugly heads. It is the wise boater who schedules repairs during the slow winter months, when service departments struggle to keep technicians busy. Ask for a discount on labor. Then, with the work already having been done during winter, launching won't be delayed for weeks while the service manager schedules the job during his busy time.