How to Winterize Your Sailboat

How to Store a Sailboat for the Winter | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

July 21, 2020

Sailing

We all know how it feels when that first cool breeze of winter comes creeping across the water and strikes your sails. All things must end, and when boating season comes to a close, that means it's time for sailors to winterize and store their sailboats. So, how do you store a sailboat for the winter?

Properly winterizing and storing your sailboat can take a good deal of both preparation and planning. At the most basic level, it simply entails draining all fluids, making minor adjustments and repairs, covering the boat, and then finding a place to store it. There are many different places you may be able to store your sailboat depending on its size. We'll go over all of your different options here for long-term sailboat storage.

Proper winterization can make all the difference when it comes time to pull your boat back out next spring. Winterization ensures that your boat lasts a long time with minimal need for expensive repairs and replaced parts. When you're done with this article, you should know everything you need to know about both winterization and storing your boat for the winter.

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Table of contents for this article

What Is Winterization?

For the most part, winterization simply means draining all the fluids from your boat that could freeze in extreme temperatures and damage the engine over the course of the winter. However, most sailors also use the winterization process as an excuse to perform routine maintenance and inspect for general repairs on their sailboats. Sailboats can get pretty grimy and scuffed-up over a full summer of sailing, so keeping up on your boat's appearances and performance before the start of each winter is a great idea.

The Winterization Process Made Simple

Step 1: Drain the Fuel

If You Have a Gasoline Engine

This process can go two different ways depending on whether your boat has a diesel engine or a gasoline engine. If your sailboat has a diesel engine, the process of preparing your fuel tank for the winter can be slightly more complicated. If your sailboat has a gasoline engine, all you really have to do is run or drain all the fuel out of the engine and then leave the tank empty.

If You Have a Diesel Engine

If you have a diesel engine, there is a slightly more complicated process that will help to better ensure that your engine isn't injured over the long winter months. First, supplement your fuel tank with a stabilizer. Stabilizer prevents fuel from separating over the winter.

One the stabilizer has been added, top off the fuel tank with fresh diesel fuel. When you are finished with this, you will then want to go through and replace all of the fuel filters. Finally, drain the water separator until it's completely dry.

After this process, run the engine for 10 to 20 minutes so that the stabilizer has a chance to flow through all the fuel in the system. As you are letting the engine run, you can take the opportunity to ensure that there are no leaks in any of the fuel lines.

Step 2: Drain All Water from the System and Replace It with Antifreeze

The first step to this process is to completely drain the fresh water system of your boat. Once you are sure that the system has been completely drained, it's a good idea to clean out all of the tanks to make sure that there is no crud or build-up inside. After that it's time to fill the system up with antifreeze.

Some antifreeze that you'll find at the store comes already mixed with water and some does not. Be sure to check what kind you're buying as antifreeze always needs to be mixed at a 1:1 ratio with water before being added to the system. Every pump and hose in your entire fresh water system needs to be filled with this antifreeze mixture.

Step 3: Remove the Batteries

Your boat batteries will need to be removed before winter storing. As well, you will want to make sure that you are continuing charging maintenance on them at least once a month over the winter. Without performing this routine maintenance, your batteries might be DOA come spring. Once that happens, you'll be out a pretty penny replacing them.

You can use the opportunity provided by removing the batteries to take a glance at all the electrical connections and ensure that there are no problem areas. You should also gather up any and all marine electronics on board and take them inside with you for the winter. These can be damaged or stolen so it's not worth the convenience to store them.

Step 4: Remove All Other Extraneous Supplies

The less you leave on board your sailboat before storage the better. Anything you leave out runs the risk of weathering, damage, or theft. Loose items also have a tendency to get lost or simply become clutter.

You should check to ensure that all safety equipment is in top working order and that none of it is in need of replacement. Take account of all personal flotation devices, fire extinguishers, flares, and dock lines, as well as any other piece of safety equipment you are keeping on your sailboat. Some of these things will have an expiration date you should check every year to make sure that they are always working at their ideal level.

Step 5: Perform Routine Cleaning

Winterization is the perfect excuse to make sure your sailboat is sparkling clean. From the outside in, sailboats can get pretty messy over just the course of a season or two. Performing routine cleaning once a year will ensure that the dirt, grime, and contents of your sailboat never grow out of hand.

Firstly, you'll want to scrub down every surface on both the inside and outside of the boat. Salt and grime build-up on your boat can cause unwanted decay over extended periods of time. The more often you clean this build-up off of your sailboat, the longer it will last you.

Once you are satisfied with the outside and surface of your boat, it's time to get into the really messy bits. Any storage area or cabinet should be cleaned and excised of wanton garbage. Whittle everything down to the bare necessities and then store those necessities in a cool, dry place away from your boat for the winter.

Other parts of your sailboat that should be cleaned include any and all hardware fixtures, as well as and including the mast. Once you are finished with your cleaning, you will want to ensure that everything is properly dried before storage. Any and all water needs to be eliminated from your boat until the spring!

Step 6: Inspect Your Sailboat for Repairs

As we've already suggested, the winterization process is the perfect time to make a periodic inspection of your sailboat for any necessary repairs it may be needing soon. As with any type of vehicle, whether on land or sea, there are many little things that can go wrong with a sailboat. Always being proactive and keeping an eye out for repairs before the need becomes obvious can help ensure minimal damage, as well as minimal repairs costs.

You will want to inspect both the deck and the hull for any blistering or cracking that may be occurring. This will happen naturally and it's a good idea to deal with it as it comes up. Corrosion and grime build-up is another must to be dealt with.

Internally, you'll want to check the lifelines for any signs of corrosion. As well, you should make sure that your mainsheet system, turning blocks, winches, seacocks, and rope clutches are maintaining well. Then you will need to remove all of the tape from the spreader tips and turnbuckles so that you can give them each a quick inspection and be sure they're all working properly.

Finally, you'll need to remove and inspect the mast. You will also want to check the boom and the rigging for any wear they may have sustained over the spring and summer. Should anything need repairing, you've got two full seasons to deal with it!

Step 7: Repair the Sails and Store Them

As with other parts of your sailboat, cleaning your sails is always a good idea before putting them away. However, excessive cleaning can do more harm to your sails than good. For this reason, a simple light spraying and brushing of your sails should suffice.

Once you've managed to wash your sails, you should also be careful when it comes to how you dry them. Dacron and nylon, the materials that sails are generally made of, tend to be harmed by strong sunlight. For this reason, many people prefer to let their sails dry inside, whether in an indoor storage area or a large garage.

You should also make sure that your sails aren't in need of patching. Patching sails is an easy DIY job that you can perform with needles and patches from most boating supply stores. Ensuring that your sails are free from rips and tears is a must come spring.

There's one more thing you should keep in mind before storing your sails. Mice and other rodents tend to have a field day with the fabric that sails are made out of. If rodents get wind of your sails, they will likely be in worse condition come springtime than they are right now!

In order to keep your sails away from the clutches of pesky rodents, there are a couple of steps you can take. For one thing, you can keep them wrapped in plastic. For another thing, you should try to store them in an area that rodents will have a hard time reaching.

Step 8: Drain and Flush the Head

Should your sailboat have a head, it will need to be both drained and then flushed before winter storage. This should be done by pumping out the holding tank thoroughly. Once finished, add new water and then flush it through multiple times.

After several times flushing the tank, close the seacock for water intake, unplug the hose, and then fill the head full of the same 50/50 antifreeze and water mixture you used elsewhere. Be sure that at least some antifreeze makes it into the holding tank. Once you are done, simply replace the hose and then leave the seacock in the closed position.

Step 9: Arrange the Cabin

This step can entail a few different things depending on the specifics of your sailboat. Simply finalize everything and then be sure that there is nothing left over that needs to be taken care of. There are many extraneous parts on a sailboat that may call for special winterization steps.

If you have a stove on your sailboat, you will need to make sure that the propane tank is closed. As well, you should burn the stove for a few minutes to guarantee that there is no leftover propane sitting unburnt in the pipes. Once you are done, seal all the lines and then take all propane tanks off the boat for the winter.

Also be sure to mind any attached cloth and canvas parts on your sailboat. Steps will need to be taken to preserve these from rodents and pests. You can get a lot of use out of mothballs sprinkled around the vicinity near clothes to help keep the pests at bay. Otherwise, you can make use of plastic fabric and couch covers.

Step 10: Cover Your Boat

Now it's time to cover your sailboat. You will want to cover your sailboat regardless of whether you are storing it inside or outside. However, you may be able to get away with a less heavy-duty covering if you are storing your boat inside.

Special canvas covers are made for outdoor storing of sailboats. You are likely going to want to spring for one of these, as anything less allows for the possibility of unnecessary wear on your boat. If you are storing your boat inside then you can use a simple trailering cover or even just shrink-wrap.

Always Read the Owner's Manual Before Doing Anything!

Whether performing basic winterization, maintenance, or repairs, always be sure that you have read the owner's manual first! Articles like this one can be a lot of help, but they are typically written for the most general of audiences. Your boat may have specific features and needs that invalidate information that you read elsewhere.

Your owner's manual may also have some very helpful tips for winterization and storage. Boat manufacturers will typically take the extra care to include detailed winterization instructions in order to alleviate their own liability for potential damage to their products that may occur in the winter months. Keeping abreast of the specifics of your sailboat is always the number one most important way to make sure your sailboat is being properly taken care of.

Do I Need to Winterize My Boat?

While boat owners oftentimes dread the prospect of winterization, it is incredibly important. The more care you put into winterization, the faster you'll be able to get your sailboat back out on the waters come winter. As well, proper winterization and maintenance ensures the longest possible life for your sailboat.

Should you for some reason choose to opt out of the winterization process, you may be able to find a place that will do it for you. Many boatyards will perform basic winterization for a reasonable (though not small) fee. You can even choose to store your boat at that same boatyard to make everything as simple and easy as possible.

Winterization and proper storage will protect your boat from rain, snow, sun, and extreme temperatures. As well, performing routine maintenance and repairs during the winterization process is a proactive way to ensure the longest life for your boat. Whether these steps are performed by you or someone else, always be sure to get them done.

Where and How Should I Store My Sailboat?

Now we get to the good part, and by that I mean the end. Once the winterization process is complete and routine maintenance has been performed, it's finally time to secure yourself some storage and store your boat away. Of course, there are many different options depending on your wants, needs, and price.

As is typical with these kinds of things, the more money you spend, the more protection your boat is going to get. However, the highest price-point isn't always going to be viable or even necessary for the average boat owner. Here are some of the best options for long-term boat storage that are available for sailboat owners:

Your Own Property

The first and easiest method is to simply find a space on your own property that would be suitable for storing your boat. Not only is this method free but it also allows you to always be sure that your boat is where you think it is and that no one is breaking into it. However, you will need to have both room and shelter for it.

Another problem that can come up when trying to store your boat on your own land is the matter of HOAs, or homeowner's associations, and other local jurisdictions that may impose themselves on your property. Some municipalities do not like homeowners to store boats on their properties as they feel it makes the neighborhood look uncomely. In this case, you are pretty much forced to find another place to store your boat.

Outdoor Storage Facility

This would be any self-storage facility that allows you to store your stuff outside. Outdoor storage can be a good deal cheaper than indoor storage but it means that your boat will be at a higher risk. Be sure to keep this in mind before making your final decision.

With outdoor facilities, the type of paved surface your boat is being stored on may make some difference as far as the overall price point is concerned. Nice, smooth paving may make it easier for you to get your boat and trailer in and out of storage but it might also mean you'll have to pay a little bit more. Know what you're getting yourself into!

If you choose to go with an outdoor facility, you may wish to spring for a heavy-duty cover for your boat. Be aware that your boat will be totally susceptible to any rain and snow that will be occurring over the winter and fall. While winterization will ensure that your pipes don't bust, it doesn't mean that damage won't be done to the surface of your boat.

Indoor Storage Facility

There are many indoor storage facilities with units large enough to store even the most excessive boats and trailers. An indoor facility will provide maximum coverage and protection for your sailboat. However, it will be a more expensive option when compared to outdoor storage or storage on your own property.

Boatyard

Storing your boat at a boatyard is also sometimes referred to as "dry storage" or "rack storage". Sometimes marinas will also have their own boatyards for dry storage. Boatyards are specially-designed facilities that are intended for storing boats on land in a carefully organized facility over the winter. As such, they are typically located fairly close to large bodies of water.

As we've mentioned, a boatyard may be able to provide you with winterization services. Always be sure to make these plans well beforehand so you can be certain you won't have to perform any aspect of winterization yourself. This is another reason why boatyards are a great option for some sailboat owners.

Marina

Storing your boat at a marina isn't an option for all climates as it means your boat stays permanently in the water. Obviously, this is going to cause some issues should the water totally freeze over. However, if your climate allows for it, marina storage might be the long-term storage option for you. As well, some marinas in climates where water typically freezes over during the winter may offer dry storage.

Your boat remaining in the water is both the main positive and main drawback of marina storage. Having your boat ready and waiting for next season could be a huge benefit if it doesn't cause extraneous damage. One huge caveat, though, is that marina storage is typically fairly expensive, especially compared to other options.

Finding the Best Option for You and Your Sailboat

As you can see, where and how you store your boat is largely up to you and your needs. There are multiple options for any and all size boats and any and all types of winter. The larger your boat, the more expensive storage will be. The harsher the winter, the more imperative correct winterization is.

How to Winterize Your Sailboat

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