Laying up before the Snow and Ice Arrive | Boat Maintenance

With the sailing season well and truly behind us and the days getting shorter, the work that is needed for a successful winter layup period can sometimes get rushed or even forgotten. When planning a winter layup, I divide what needs to be done into four elements:

  • Work that needs to be done while the boat is still afloat;
  • Work that is easier to do while the boat is ashore;
  • Work that needs to be completed before the freezing weather arrives;
  • and finally, Work that will enable me to gain a head start on next season’s preparations for fitting out.

Here are some of my suggestions:

While in the water

Remove all safety equipment for servicing (but remember to leave two fire extinguishers on board at all times and enough lifejackets for any crew who’ll help to lift her out). Items that need regular testing (eg, liferaft, EPIRB, etc.) should be sent for service.

Laying up before the Snow and Ice Arrive | Boat Maintenance

Items that are time-limited (eg, flares should be checked against their expiry date and disposed of, if necessary, with a note to buy new at the start of next season). Items that get seawater on them (lifejackets, harnesses, lifelines, jackstays, etc.) should all be washed and rinsed, then dried naturally and stored somewhere dry, ready for next season.

Remove the sails

Sails should be removed. If possible, find an ample flat, clean space to lay them flat and check for any damage. Look carefully at pinch points, obvious chafe points, and the anti UV sacrificial patches. If the budget is available, send them to your sailmaker for a professional wash and overhaul. If not, try to clean, dry, and repair them to avoid stowing them away for the winter damp, which can lead to mildew.

Mattresses, bedding, and soft furnishings should all be taken ashore, washed, and dried and then stowed, ready for next season.

Personal and boat gear is best kept ashore for the winter, partly to avoid it getting damp, but also because soft items tend to retain moisture onboard, hinder the free circulation of air, and generally hinder access to nooks and crannies that should be opened up for inspection and ventilation.

Drain all water tanks

Run the water system to drain down all water tanks. Add the recommended amount of Milton for your size of tank and refill. Once it has stood for an hour, drain down again. If possible, blow air through the system to avoid accumulations of stale water collecting in the system. If you have a water heater, you should isolate and tag out the heater circuit, to avoid the risk of the element overheating and becoming a fire hazard.

Visit the fuel pontoon and fill your diesel tank as high as possible. This minimizes space for condensation to form, which helps to reduce the risk of getting diesel bug (bacteria). And just to be safe, add the correct dose of your favorite biocide (we like Grotamar, Starbrite, and Marine 16).

Get a friend and a bosuns chair and go up the rig to inspect it from top to bottom, looking for signs of corrosion or damage. While you’re up there, unship the Windex, VHF aerial, and anemometer assembly, remembering to place the watertight cap over the electrical connection so that there’s no risk of water ingress.

Place oil-absorbing pads

In the bilges, place a couple of oil-absorbing pads in the sump and under the engine. And if you have a gate valve fitted, or can otherwise do so safely, remove the impeller for the log.

If the mast is due to be unstepped, there’s quite a lot that you can do to help things along. Halyards can stay in place unless you are planning to fit new halyards or electrical cables (in which case it is easier to run a mouse while the mast is still vertical, believe me!). Yet, in any event, all halyards should be lead forward to the base of the mast, tied off, neatly coiled, and the coils then lashed to the foot of the mast.

Electrical connectors should be separated, and both sides of the connection should be sprayed with damp inhibitor, followed by Vaseline, and then sealed up.

Once ashore

Open up every single locker door, floorboard, and internal access to maximize free flow of air within the boat. Wash absolutely everything down, above and below decks. Saltwater dries as crystals on gel coat and varnish.

Boating in winter tips
Fishing Boat

Even weak winter sun is magnified by the crystals, accelerating aging., as does the presence of concentrated sodium chloride on the surface of GRP or painted surfaces. So wash everything with fresh, soapy water, and then rinse thoroughly. Try to avoid doing this in direct sunlight, so that it dries slowly, without leaving watermarks (calcium deposits) on the surfaces.

Wash thoroughly

Wash again below decks, taking extra care to dry everything afterward and to ventilate it thoroughly to avoid retaining dampness. When you clean the bilges, please be aware of the need to dispose of any oily residue properly, rather than over the side or straight into the drain.

Isolate the service and engine starting batteries, and if the boat isn’t staying connected to shore supply with a built-in charger, run a cable onboard and connect up a trickle charger. Arrange for a heater and a dehumidifier if possible, to keep the boat warm and dry.

Work to complete before the cold weather arrives

Engines don’t like to be frozen. The heater and dehumidifier will help, but we would recommend flushing through the cooling system with fresh water, and once this is done, sucking through a bucket full of water with antifreeze added as an inhibitor.

We also spray a little WD40 near to (but not into) the air intake and do a full oil change, oil filter, and engine fuel filter change. While you’re working on the engine, isolate the primary fuel filter (hopefully you’ll have a Racor type system fitted), remove the filter element, clean the bowl, fit a new filter and finally bleed it.

If you can run to buying a winter cover, do so. They give an enormous amount of protection, as well as providing a beautiful cocoon to work in through the winter, with the added benefit that being able to maintain a higher temperature means that if you need to paint, you won’t need to wait until spring comes to start.

Getting a head start on next season

If you’ve done everything suggested above, you’ll have a head start on 95% of the other boats in the yard. If you need work doing by the yard (perhaps sandblasting and preparing a fin keel, or dealing with bigger jobs such as shaft alignment or dropping the rudder or inspecting keelboats, think about booking these sooner rather than later, to avoid the last-minute rush. The same goes for other repairs.

If you’re going to be making new running rigging yourself (and why not), take the old stuff home with you and do the ropework on cold winter days when the thought of visiting your nice snug yacht is just too depressing.

But do try and visit her as often as you can. Winter gales can tear covers; leaves can block cockpit drains, and pooling rainwater can do plenty of damage to a wooden yacht. While you’re here read this awesome article on how to catch crabs.