How To Winterize A Pontoon Boat

How To Winterize A Pontoon Boat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

December 9, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Every boat owner should have a winterization plan.
  • The boat needs to be cleaned from top to bottom and the engine prepped.
  • Every boat should be covered to keep weather elements and critters from ruining the boat.
  • A pontoon boat should never be left in the water during winter months.
  • Do not store a pontoon boat on the ground ever.

You’ve enjoyed a summer building memories and cruising on your new pontoon boat, but now it is time to store it somewhere. How do you winterize a pontoon boat?

Among other things, winterizing a pontoon must include the location of storage, cleaning, removing and storing equipment, prepping the engine, and covering the boat for protection against the elements. Many owners shrink-wrap their boats for added protection.

With more and more families turning to pontoon boats as their choice of recreational watercraft, an essential consideration is how to prepare your boat for storage during the off-season. Just as regular maintenance is needed to keep your boat looking its best, winter storage has an important role when it is not in the water. Careful preparation can ensure that your boat is ready for the winter months and will be at its best when the next season comes along.


Table of contents

What Are Some Things to Consider When Winterizing My Pontoon?

There are several factors to consider for the proper storage of a pontoon.

Develop a Plan for Winterizing.

You should formulate a plan to winterize your pontoon so that you can begin to accumulate the necessary components that you will need. If you prepare your boat for winter without professional help, you will need a water source, power washer, cleanser, terry cloth towels, and a large cover with ropes for tying it down.

Location (Where Am I Planning on Storing My Boat).

You must decide where you plan to put the boat. Some owners leave their boats in the water during the off-season, but I don’t recommend it ever. The best solution is to remove the boat from the water and store it in a dry dock, either on land or in a storage unit. This method keeps the harmful effects of constant water exposure from damaging the boat's surface. If you have space on your property and no homeowner regulations to battle, store it on a concrete pad covered under a canopy or covering.

If you don’t want to store your pontoon in your driveway, so to speak, then you will need to find a storage facility. Many marine dealers and storage companies have designated fenced-in lots where boats can be stored or offer indoor storage areas should you wish to keep your boat in a climate-controlled area. You will pay more for the indoor option.

Be sure to cover your pontoon boat with a plastic tarp or cover to keep dirt, debris, and rain off, or have it shrink-wrapped. Shrink wrap is the best sealing method to keep moisture and dirt from accumulating during storage.

Remove the Boat From the Water

Removing the pontoon from the water will prevent the harmful effects of minerals, algae, mussels, or other parasites from attaching to your boat's hull. Constant exposure to the water may be easier (as far as storage goes), but it certainly doesn’t do your boat any favors or help maintain the longevity of its life.

Inspect Your Boat for Issues

Every pontoon should be inspected each time it is out of the water. Look for dents, dings, and discoloration in aluminum. Many luxury pontoons have fiberglass sides that can show signs of cracking. Identify any problem areas, like zebra mussels on the bottom of the boat, so you can plan how to deal with them.

Give Your Baby a Bath

Every pontoon should be washed with a soapy solution and a power washer each time it is out of the water, but at the end of the season, you need to do a much more detailed cleaning. A quick powerwash can rinse everyday grit or grime, but stubborn areas need extra attention.

For the aluminum tubes, you may have to use a cleaner and a polish to restore them to their original luster. If the tubes need attention, this is a great time to apply some cleanser and polish to keep them shiny and bright.

Clean the Deck

The deck should be brushed down with a soap solution, and everything should be allowed to dry. Wear waterproof boots or shoes, as wet decks can get very slippery.

Remove Equipment and Store it Appropriately.

Remove any electronic items, toys, tubes, ropes, or other accessories that should be stored indoors. This action keeps things from disappearing from storage and means that equipment is not exposed to the colder elements that could affect their performance.

This period is a good time to empty all the under-seat storage areas and inspect ropes, latches, safety equipment, and other items. If the extinguisher is expired, toss it. If any item looks moldy or compromised in any way (ropes frayed or worn), toss them. You want to avoid being responsible for anyone getting hurt during the next season because an old rope happens to break. I permanently remove every item from the storage unit to give the cabinets good scrubbing. (This is an area where bleach or mildew cleaner needs to be applied).

Clean all Fixtures, Carpet, and Seating Areas

All furniture and fixtures need to be sprayed with mildew and mold removers.  These kinds of cleaners can reach the cracks and crevices of seating, where bacteria can grow (especially if left untreated). (I also go over everything with a bleach cleaning solution to ensure that I am attacking any nasty that general cleaning might have missed).

Letting wet surfaces completely dry is an excellent idea before covering the boat with a tarp or shrink wrap. The last thing you want is to trap moisture or mold inside a sealed environment.

Prepare the Engine

Most pontoon experts suggest filling the gas tank to at least the ¾ mark. You need to change the oil and oil filters. Remove the battery (fully charge it if necessary) and store it separately from the boat.  Drain the coolant and replace it with non-toxic antifreeze. (The antifreeze keeps corrosion or lime deposits from growing). Be sure to refer to your owner’s manual for specific winterization suggestions from your manufacturer. Lubricate the propeller shaft if your owner’s manual calls for it.

Cover the Boat with A Tarp or Cover for Additional Protection

It is always a good idea to cover the boat with a cover to keep bird droppings, rain, and snow from ruining your boat's paint. Be sure to tie the cover down to keep it secured to the boat against the wind should you store the boat outside.

Option: Cover the Boat with Shrink Wrap

Many pontoon owners shrinkwrap their boats to help preserve their condition after cleaning them. Effective shrink wrapping can be a deterrent against any debris, dirt, or critters who could ruin the boat during storage.

If you decide to tackle this project yourself, you will need to build a frame with polyester strapping, on which the shrink wrap sheet will rest. (The easiest way is to use a series of 2x4s standing on their end, running down the center of the boat, with the straps branching out from the top of each board. Use as many as you need to create a sturdy structure for the shrinkwrap to rest on).

Once the shrinkwrap is evenly placed over the tent frame, secure the base of the shrinkwrap to the boat and apply heat to the wrap with a shrink gun. The plastic will shrink (much like when you winterize your windows with plastic sheeting), and you will begin to see it seal.  Care should be taken when working with a shrink gun because of the open flame; shrink wrap can develop holes if too much heat is applied.

Many marine dealers offer shrink-wrapping services, and you should expect to pay several hundred dollars to have someone do it. (The expense is worth it for owners who cannot get up and down from their boat or are nervous about handling the open flame of a shrink gun).

What if the Tubes Have Drain Plugs - Should They Be Drained?

Consult your owner's manual to see if they recommend removing and draining the water out of the pontoon tubes. Some manufacturers don’t (although I think on older boats, it is always a good idea).

Not all pontoon boats have drain plugs, although older boats tend to have them because the pontoons were made with rivets. Draining residual water inside the tube is always a good idea if a drain plug is present. (If there is water, a seal may be broken, and it is a good idea to inspect the tube in question).

Newer pontoon tubes are made with individual chambers to prevent sinking should one area of the tube get damaged. The only way any water can get into the tube is for the pontoon to be ruptured.

Is it Okay to Leave My Boat Uncovered?

The short answer is no. If you are preparing a boat for storage, you should always cover it. Rain contains acidic elements that can ruin your boat’s interior and paint. Covers can also keep unwanted pests like squirrels from invading and chewing on your boat's wiring.

If you live in an area that freezes or has a definite winter, you do not want to leave a boat unprepared for winter storage. Freezing temperatures can damage the inside of engines and create substantial repair bills for owners once the season starts in the spring.

How Much Does It Cost to Winterize My Pontoon?

If you do the work yourself, you should expect to spend a couple of hundred dollars on cleaning supplies, prepping the engine, and covering the boat. If you decide to have a professional perform the task, you can expect to pay more than $500.

Can I Set A Pontoon Boat on the Ground During Storage?

Setting a pontoon boat on the ground is not a good idea. The contact of pontoon tubes to the ground or the concrete surface of a pad will lead to corrosion and potential scratches or damage to the aluminum.

How To Winterize A Pontoon Boat
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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