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A Checklist for Close of Season

Here is a little-known fact, October 30th is Checklist Day. Who knew? Another piece of trivia, apropos of nothing. The first, or at least most well known check list was developed after the crash of the prototype B-17 (Boeing Model 299). Seems the test pilots jumped in the airplane, fired up the engines and took off. Unfortunately, the gust locks, the devices that lock the control surfaces, weren’t disengaged. The plane climbed out, stalled and crashed. Check lists were promptly developed to prevent future such accidents. Winterizing your boat is as much about the next boating season as it is about preventing winter damage. You want the boat to be tucked away safe for the winter and ready to roll when warm weather blossoms. That means a fair amount of preparation and work. And in this particular area, shortcuts can be costly. All this is to persuade you to develop your own Close of Season checklist, if you haven’t already done so. To help you along, here are some hints and suggestions: 1. Schedule long lead time items. a. Winter storage contracts b. Haul out scheduling c. Shrink wrapping d. Any winterizing work to be done by the yard. 2. If the boat is going to be hauled and stored on shore: a. Make sure the yard knows the proper lift points and blocking points. I’ve seen bent shafts from improper lifting. 3. If you use a frame for a winter cover: a. Locate it and all associated pieces. b. Make sure everything is in good repair and ready to install when the time comes. 4. Inspect the winter cover itself: a. If you are using a plastic tarp, make sure it can withstand another winter. b. Replacing a torn tarp in the middle of a January blizzard is not a happy prospect. 5. Remove all food and drink from the boat. A frozen can of soda will make a real mess to clean up in the spring. 6. Remove all fabric items; clothes, towels, PFD’s, canvas and sails. Store in a warm dry place free of mold, mildew and critters. You don’t want to find Mr. and Mrs. Mouse living in the remnants of your mainsail. 7. If you plan on having the boat shrink wrapped, prepare the topsides. a. Remove any antennae that can be removed. b. Many people place a sacrificial PVC pipe over antennae that can’t be removed. You don’t want your antenna to be heat bonded to the shrink wrap cover. c. Pad any sharp protuberances that might poke through the cover. d. Make sure the shrink wrapper installs vents in the cover as well as a zipper access door if needed. 8. Winterizing engines. a. It may seem obvious, but you need to plan on winterizing all engines, including the main(s), the generator(s) and the outboard for the dinghy. b. In the case of a light outboard, run it dry and take it home for storage. 9. Winterize the fuel system: The solution to winterizing fuel tanks is to empty them completely or fill them up. Most experts recommend filling them, because it leaves less bare surface area inside the tank, making it harder for water to condense on the walls and ceiling. Emptying your tanks is also difficult at best. That said, winterization here is relatively simple. a. Head to the fuel dock and fill the tanks to about 95% of capacity, taking care to add the appropriate biocide (for diesels) and stabilizer (for all engines). The stabilizer will ensure that the fuel maintains its composition throughout the winter, when the engine is not in use. b. You should run the engine long enough to push the fuel with its additives through the entire fuel system. Usually, the ride back from the fuel dock is enough to accomplish this. c. The last thing to do is to change the fuel filters, including both external and on-engine units. 10. Change oils and filters. Your engines have been in use all summer and have accumulated their share of contaminates in the oil. Better to change the oil in the fall so the engines have clean oil for their winter rest as well as being ready for spring use. a. It goes without saying that the filters should also be changed. b. Outboards should have their lower units drained and the gear oil replaced. c. If the outboard is a four cycle, change the oil and filter. 11. Check with your engine mechanic or engine manual to see if your engine should be fogged. Fogging means spraying a fogging oil into the engine intake while the engine is running. 12. Winterize engine cooling systems. a. If you have a fresh water cooled inboard, check the antifreeze and replace as necessary. Fresh water-cooled engines use automotive style antifreeze. b .Raw water-cooled engines will need antifreeze run though the cooling loop. c. Use marine type engine antifreeze, not automotive antifreeze, it is available in either -60 or -100 grades, NOT the pink water system antifreeze. d. If you are not storing the outboard in a warm place, run antifreeze through it using an engine muff. 13. Drive train winterizing. a. Replace the lubricant in your engine’s transmission or your outboard’s lower unit, for the very same reasons you are changing the oil. b. On an outboard, most lower unit have an upper and a lower plug. Remove both, drain the oil and check it as it is draining. Does it look a shade or two darker than regular oil? That’s a good sign. If it looks like coffee that’s been mixed with milk you probably have a water leak and you should schedule some time with your mechanic to sort it out. Do it now so the work can be done during the winter. If you wait until spring he’ll be swamped with repairs and you’ll be frustrated instead of out on the water. c. Refilling these lower units can be counter-intuitive, because the oil is best added using the lower drain plug. Try to refill from the top drain hole and you often will not get enough oil in there. You can squirt it in directly from the tubes of oil you purchased or go high tech and spring for a pump. In either case, you’ll want to pump oil into the lower plug until it oozes out of the top drain hole. Screw in the top plug while the oil container or pump is still in place, then quickly remove it from the lower hole and screw in the plug. Do it fast and very little oil will drain out. d. While you’re working around the outdrive, apply lubricant to any grease points and portions of the steering mechanism that need it. Refer to your service manual for the proper products and where to apply them. 14. Batteries. a. On a smaller boat that is coming out of the water, you can simply remove the batteries, bring them home, top them off with distilled water and charge them periodically. b. On bigger boats with large battery banks, you can top them off, clean and disconnect the terminals, and leave the batteries in place. When you inspect the boat periodically, you can reconnect and change them using shore power. 15. Water system Winterizing. Neglecting this step can result in expensive repairs in terms of cracked tanks, busted hoses and cracked fittings. a. The first step in winterizing your water system is to get all the water you can out of the system. That means letting the pump run, with all the faucets open until nothing but air comes out. Because you are purging water lines, as well as the tanks, be sure to include all sinks, showers, wash-downs and anything else that draws fresh water. b. A special case is the water heater. The best strategy is to fit your boat with a bypass kit that will allow you to drain the water heater dry, and then skip the antifreeze. The reason is simple: if you forget to drain the antifreeze out of it in the spring and start up your heater, the smell and taste of cooked antifreeze will be with you for a long, long time. c. Pour your bottles of antifreeze into the empty water tanks through the same deck fill you use to add water. Don’t be tempted to dilute the antifreeze before adding it to your tank. It will mix with the residual water left in the system, and any further dilution will reduce the protection it provides. d. Once the antifreeze has come out of the outlet furthest away, close it off and open the next outlet and allow it to run. You want to work your way back through your water system until all faucets and outlets have antifreeze coming out of them and all drain lines are flushed. Be thorough: everything that uses fresh water should be treated, including sinks, showers, wash-downs systems, windshield wipers, washing machines, ice makers and live wells. e. While the live well might look empty, there could still be water left in the lines and pumps that will cause problems. 16. Winterizing ancillary systems. The most important ancillary system is the toilet with its holding tank and associated hoses and valves. a. The holding tank should be pumped out and flushed several times with clean water, and then pumped as dry as you can get it. b. Add antifreeze to the toilet bowl, replacing all the water in the bowl and lines, and pump it through the system until it enters the holding tank. Depending on the amount of residual water, you may want to add a little more antifreeze to the holding tank. c. Pour a little antifreeze down the pump-out fitting to be safe. d. Another vital system is the air conditioner. Most air conditioners use raw water to cool the refrigerant, and that cooling circuit also needs to be winterized with antifreeze. One way to do this is to add antifreeze to the water strainer, if it has the proper fitting to do so. If not, close the seacock, disconnect the intake hose and run it to a bucket filled with antifreeze. When you run the air conditioner, the line will suck up antifreeze instead of sea water. The antifreeze must go through the entire cooling system and out the discharge to fully winterize the system e. If there are areas on the boat that regularly collect water, such as a lazarette, anchor locker, drain or bilge area, you will want to dry them out thoroughly using a pump, rags or paper towels. Generic disposable diapers are another great tool; just immerse them and come back a few minutes later to clean up. If you don’t think these areas will stay dry, you can add antifreeze and check them periodically throughout the winter—especially after rain and snow. f. One area commonly overlooked is the bilge pump system. Many times, there is residual water left in the discharge line and in the bilge, itself. Run antifreeze through these pumps by pouring some into the bilge and running the pumps. Don’t forget the permanently installed manual pumps, either. Talking about the end of season and winterizing is never a happy topic. Do it right and your spring commissioning will be a happier time.


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