Do You Need to Winterize a Boat? What Happens if You Don’t?

You have just finished an amazing season on the water full of wind-blown hair and sunkissed skin. The memories you made will undoubtedly be cherished by you and your loved ones for a lifetime. Now that it is time to “close up shop,” you may be wondering about what is truly necessary for preparing your boat for the winter off-season.

Do You Need to Winterize a Boat? What Happens if You Don’t? 1

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Do You Need to Winterize a Boat? What Happens if You Don’t?

Do you need to winterize a boat? Winterizing a boat is an essential process unless you plan to make necessary repairs to your boat come springtime. If you do not winterize your boat, any water droplets left could freeze, expand, and crack the components they were in. This could cause anything from blowing off a hose to completely ruining your engine.  

When it comes to winterizing a boat, this is not a procedure that you want to miss. Taking time and effort to complete this process (or spending the relatively small amount of money to have it done for you) will save you loads when you return to your boat in the spring.

In this situation, the preventative care and maintenance efforts significantly outweigh the responsive actions you will have to take in dealing with the consequences of not winterizing your boat.

What Happens If You Don’t Winterize A Boat?

As mentioned above, the winterization of any boat is an essential component of maintaining your vessel in the off-season. Winterization of a boat is a process by which all of the water is completely removed in any component that could have the potential to store even a few drops.

This preventative effort will eliminate the possibility of moisture, causing serious damage to your beloved ride. Even if it doesn’t cause serious damage, mold and mildew will build up over the winter.

Removing the water from all areas of a boat is the most critical part of the winterization process. Even if you live in a warmer area, if there is any potential that it may ever dip below freezing, then winterization is critical.

Winterization does not just have to occur in places that get rigidly cold, but in places that the temperature can drop to freezing even once or twice. If the water even has one opportunity to freeze, it will, and then you will be left to deal with the consequences.

Common places that you need to winterize include your boat’s bilge, engine, faucets, plumbing lines, heating or cooling system, and any other component that could hold water. Left to the cold, even the smallest amount of water in these parts could leave major repercussions. 

Another component of winterizing your boat includes preparing parts that will not be used for prolonged periods of time. If you do not plan on taking a break from boating, this may not be as critical for you.

However, if you house your boat during the off-season, you will want to make sure that it is properly prepared to handle its non-use. 

Checking and changing the oil, covering your boat with protective layers, and moving your boat to an indoor storage location all need to occur if you want to ensure that your boat has the least likelihood of cracking or being damaged by the cold.

It is better to be safe than sorry and have to limit your time on the water or spend an unexpected amount of money due to boat repairs in the spring. 

When Should I Winterize My Boat?

Winterizing a boat should be done the last time you plan on using your boat during the boating season. Since it is a more rigorous process of completely draining your boat from any leftover water components, it is important that you do not reuse your boat after it has been winterized unless you plan on repeating the process.

When choosing the time to winterize your boat, consider when you plan on using it last and how long you will have prior to your desire to store the boat. I

If you plan to bring your boat back home to a colder climate after boating in a warm climate all summer (Texas, Florida, California, etc.), you should consider winterizing your boat prior to your move. 

The main timeframe to consider for winterizing your boat is before the first possible chance for your boat to sit in weather that is below freezing. This can happen as soon as early fall, so it is best to take care of winterization as soon as the off-season hits.

If you think you may use your boat after the end of the season but know your boat may sit in cold temperatures, consider winterizing and then re-winterizing if you end up using your boat again.

Why Winterize A Boat?

Any experienced boater will tell you that winterization is one of the most important maintenance processes that is required in caring for your boat.

This is not just a standard piece of equipment that means nothing to you, after all. It is likely a vessel that carries not only you but your dreams out on the open seas. Therefore, to make sure that your boat lasts a lifetime, proper maintenance including winterization and upkeep is essential. 

Choosing to neglect winterizing a boat could mean having to completely replace any of the components that water was found and frozen in. While you will not be able to tell if a part of your boat has recently unthawed, you will be able to see the damage that is left behind from the process. 

Rather than hoping that the cold weather does not affect your boat, it is much wiser, easier, and less time-consuming overall to just go ahead and complete the process. Your boat and your budget will thank you.

How much does Winterizing a Boat Cost?

Winterizing a boat can cost up to $300 if you hire a professional to complete the process for you. This does not include the cost of boat storage during the winter.

This figure is an estimate for the process based on an average of labor costs and general equipment that will need to be drained, though it is not a permanent number than cannot be adjusted for your boat specifically.

Of course, if you are knowledgeable and confident in how to winterize your boat yourself, this will save you the cost of labor from a professional. The professional cost is naturally adjusted based on the size and equipment on your boat.

If you have a larger boat with multiple drainage systems, toilets, showers, sinks, a heating/cooling system, etc., this is likely going to cost you more than a more simple boat with fewer features that require water.

While the costs will not stray too far away from a $300 average professional winterization cost, it may vary slightly depending on the professional and boat’s specifications.

With the major headaches that can come from damage caused by choosing not to or forgetting to winterize your boat, though, the limited cost here way outweighs the cons. 

Do You Need to Winterize a Boat? What Happens if You Don’t?

Can I Winterize My Boat Myself?

This article will not provide all of the essential instructions that you will need to follow in winterizing your boat, but it can sum up some of the basic steps to winterization. Check with your owner’s manual or contact your boat manufacturers for more info.

After reviewing these basics, you can choose if you would like to learn more about the complete process or would rather hire a professional to do the work for you.

  • Empty everything that could have touched/can hold water. This is the most essential part of winterization. You will need to drain the bilges, tanks, bilge pumps, the whole plumbing system, engine, the water pump, heating/cooling systems, even your garden hose and any other component that water would have flowed through.
  • Flush the engines. Especially if your boat has seen saltwater, this step is critical. You will want to make sure that your engine is entirely clean and free of particles that could cause damage through freezing or corrosion. Salt is a common cause of corrosion to your metal outboard motor, so that is why this step is even more important if you have traveled in the ocean. Additionally, even though it takes colder temperatures to freeze saltwater, it can still happen, so you want to make sure that the engine is clear of water, too.
  • Check and change the engine oil. Any oil that is left sitting stagnant for prolonged periods of time will separate into its different components. These particles (known as dirty gear oil) can attract water and also contaminate your engine. Changing your old oil in your engine is important in considering that winterizing most likely means that your boat will be sitting unused for a prolonged period of time. Then you can fog the engine with oil to reduce the opportunity that water particles would otherwise have of entering into the unfilled space.
  • Add marine-grade antifreeze to anything that has been drained of water. You cannot safely use the same antifreeze that is used on a car on your boat, so be sure to purchase antifreeze that was designed for your boat. By adding antifreeze to equipment that would have held water, you are providing a protective layer to these parts that will help to prevent freezing and thus cracking and other damage that could occur to your boat during cold winter months. 
  • Remove the drain plugs, put on a boat cover, and properly store your boat. By moving your boat to warmer temperatures, you are preventing it from reaching freezing temperatures in the first place. Adding a cover, sturdy tarps, or shrink-wrapping the exterior is crucial to protect the interior if your boat experiences snow. However, the other components of the winterization process are still critical as they are entirely preventative whereas moving your boat to an indoor space cannot automatically guarantee that it will not freeze.