Last fall a friend told me he had recently paid $150 to have his boat winterized and was wondering what the fellow did. He keeps it in dry storage, so we went over and checked it out. Antifreeze seemed to have been run through the engine but that was all. The air cleaner hadn’t been touched so the cylinders had not been fogged, and the oil had obviously not been changed. Now I don’t want to disparage the many mechanics who do a good job, but I feel my buddy got ripped off.

Add this to the fact that I have been accused of being “overly thrifty.” But let’s face it: I’m cheap. I just get annoyed to have to work for three hours to pay someone to work for one hour doing something I could have done in the first place. Anyone who’s taken their car back to the dealer for an oil change knows what I’m talking about. Anyway, I hope this will be the difference between me being an old man sailing around in his sailboat and riding around in his sports car or me being an old man riding around on a bicycle and eating dogfood!

At my family’s marina up north, we pulled about 50 boats a year out of the water for winter storage and all of them had to be winterized. This was long before the internet and things are a lot easier now. You can probably get on YouTube and find a tutorial on how to winterize your specific engine and I recommend you do that. It’ll save you all kinds of work.

However, I’ll just go over some of the basics:

Fuel: I NEVER burn fuel containing ethanol in anything that will be sitting for a while. This includes not only boats but chain saws, lawn mowers, pressure washers etc. Ethanol absorbs water and tends to gum up carburetors and injectors. (Non-ethanol fuel is available at many gas stations around the lake and all the fuel docks.) I also add a fuel stabilizer such as marine grade “Sta-Bil” to all my fuel (this includes diesel). Just follow the instructions on the package. This is especially important for winter storage when drastic changes in temperature cause condensation in the tank. Topping off your tank for the winter will minimize this problem. On an outboard I disconnect the fuel line and let the motor run out of fuel so there is no more left in the carburetor. Then open the drain plug in the float bowl, which will also drain out any remaining fuel and water and dirt that has accumulated over the summer.


Wet storage: Here on the lake we are in luck. The lake has never frozen in the 30 odd years I’ve been here, even though the air temperature has dipped well below freezing on many occasions. HOWEVER, even if the air temp is way below freezing, your boat is surrounded by comparatively warm water (maybe 40 degrees F) so the temperature in your engine compartment is not as cold as the outside air. I occasionally use my sailboat in the wintertime for things such as the New Year’s Day Poker Run, so I simply hang a 60-watt lightbulb in the engine compartment when the weather threatens to dip below freezing. This has always been sufficient to keep the engine above 32 degrees.

If you have an outboard motor, the owner’s manual probably tells you to keep the lower unit in the water in freezing conditions because the metal is a good conductor of heat and transfers the heat from the relatively warm water up the shaft to the rest of the engine.

Dry storage: Of course, the above does not apply if you don’t have power at the dock or dry store your inboard. Then you will have to run antifreeze through the cooling system. The easiest way to do this is close the through hull fitting on the raw water intake, remove the hose and pour nontoxic marine antifreeze into it until you can see the color change in the water coming out of your exhaust (this might require a helper). Then reconnect the hose and you are set for the season. (Don’t forget to open the raw water intake before you start the engine next spring. A note taped to your instrument panel might help remind you.)

If you dry store your outboard, make sure you cycle it until all the water is out of the system including the water pump.

Remember to take out the plug in the stern and don’t forget to put it back in next spring. Let the joke be on someone else next year! A winter cover might be a good idea to keep leaves, pine straw, etc. out.

Don’t forget the head and your freshwater system if you have one. I always drain the freshwater system and add nontoxic anti-freeze to the head after pumping out the holding tank. Pump it through to protect the hoses.

Now is also a good time to inspect the hoses clamps and impeller. Anything you do now will save time in the spring.

Oil: During the summer, corrosive acids and other things build up in your oil, so you should change it before putting the boat up for any length of time. You can get an inexpensive hand pump from any auto parts store. Make sure you dispose of the used oil properly. Most marinas and all county recycling centers have used oil collection points.

When removing the oil filter, make sure the gasket comes out with the filter. If it is stuck in the engine, the new filter will not seat properly, and you will pump oil all over your bilge. Also, it’s a good idea to fill the filter with oil before putting it on. Otherwise, you will have to run the engine for a bit to fill the filter then top off your oil. (The filter usually holds about a pint of oil.)

You’ll want to get the oil warm to make it easier to pump so run the engine a bit before putting in the antifreeze.

For a two cycle outboard, there is no crankcase oil involved, but changing the lower unit oil is recommended. Remember to clean off the magnetic drain plug each time.

I’m afraid I don’t have any experience with four cycle outboards, so just follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Upper cylinder lubrication:

You want to lubricate the upper cylinders before winter storage. Just remove the air cleaner and spray “fogging oil” (available at most auto stores and West Marine) into the carburetor until the engine stalls or at least sputters. In small outboards you can just remove the spark plugs and squirt some oil into each cylinder. Turn the engine over a few times before replacing the plugs. Now might be a good time to put in new plugs. Diesel engines don’t have to be fogged.

All of the above are not hard and fast rules, they are just what I’ve been doing for years, and it seems to have worked pretty well. Remember to use internet tutorials as a resource and follow the manufacturer’s directions. If you do get into something that’s too much for you, call in a professional.

Good luck and smooth sailing!