Storing A Boat

By    April 12, 2011

The long-term storage of a boat, much like that of a car or motorcycle, can be a time-staking process. Whether you’re storing a fishing boat, sailboat, ski boat or even a yacht, the more work you put into storing a boat, the easier it will be to de-winterize and get back on the water. If you don’t have the time or mechanical skills to winterize and otherwise prepare your boat for long-term storage,  paying a boatyard to perform the labor is an additional cost of owning a boat.

Your main enemies when storing a boat are moisture exposure from rain and snow, sun exposure, extreme temperatures, and mechanical issues arising from disuse. Let’s explore which boat storage option is best for you, then walk through a how-to on proper do-it-yourself boat storage.

Where can I store my boat?

Where you decide to store your boat is a consideration of cost and services needed. For example, if you have no prior mechanical experience with your boat, you may want to have a professional at a boatyard or marina perform the maintenance (for normal longer term storage) or winterization (for storing over the winter months).

  • On a trailer in your own yard or driveway. Once you’ve purchased a trailer, this is the least expensive way to store your boat. Always be sure to perform the proper routine maintenance and/or winterization before storing a boat in this manner.
  • In a traditional storage facility. Many storage facilities, especially in cities (like Austin or Tampa Bay) where nearby, boatable bodies of water are abundant, have outdoor and indoor space for boat storage. This provides the additional benefit of keeping a potentially unsightly boat off of your lawn. And depending on the level of security at the storage facility, it can be a safer way to store your boat. Remember that routine maintenance and/or winterization should be completed before storing a boat in a traditional facility for over a month.
  • At a boatyard. Also known as rack storage or dry racks, a boatyard is a specialized type of storage facility that is usually located near a body of water. Boatyards store boats in either covered or indoor racks, usually multiple stories tall, utilizing a lift system to maximize space. Boatyards often provide winterization and maintenance services, so determine whether they will prepare the craft or if you’ll need to follow the do-it-yourself boat storage steps below.
  • At a marina. Having a boat slip at a marina is extremely convenient, as the boat remains in the water ready to launch.  This is a must if you’re storing a yacht or other very large boat. Few boat slips (the actual ramp used to launch new boats) are able to accommodate such large crafts and lift them out of water. Unfortunately, marinas are also the most expensive option. They’re a little like country clubs— the price of membership can include parties and access to shared facilities at the dock. Most marinas offer service and winter storage options as well.

How do I prepare my boat for long-term storage?

The first and potentially most important step, depending on the unique needs of your boat, is to read your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations on winterizing and long-term storage. If you’re only storing a boat for a few warm months, winterizing is not needed. Simply perform any routine maintenance that is pending or will need to be completed during the time the boat is stored. The following tips primarily concern winterization, as freezing conditions can literally destroy an otherwise healthy boat.

  • Hull. Fiberglass hulls can split and crack, causing leaks, if the boat is not properly covered. First, look for stress cracks and blisters in the fiberglass gelcoat. These should be addressed before putting on the cover.  Barnacles and residue should be scraped and/or pressure washed off of the hull. After cleaning the hull, you can create a layer of wax using a product like #M’s Marine Ultra Performance Paste, to make this job easier next year. To cover your boat, find a polytarp or polyvinyl cover. You might look for one to fit your exact model, which will ensure hull integrity and prevent mildew. This is usually better than a standard cover that doesn’t perfectly fit. If you’re storing outside, you can make your own frame to keep snow from accumulating on the tarp and causing damage. Be sure the cover is securely tied to make sure it doesn’t blow off or tear. Do not wrap your boat in plastic unless advised  to do so by your marina or boatyard, as this type of cover is more prone to mold and mildew.
  • Engines. Corrosion, fuel degradation and freezing are the biggest causes of off-season engine damage. Check wires, hoses, and connections in the engine to ensure there are no problems that may be exacerbated by months of disuse. Run the engine to warm it up, then change the oil and oil filter. Flush the engine with fresh water while idling the engine, until the water coming out is clean.  This ensures that it won’t overheat. Then store the engine in a vertical position to make sure the water drains completely. If you have an inboard or sterndrive engine, refill it with antifreeze. Turn the engine on again, and spray fogging oil (if you’re winterizing a fuel-injectted engine, use two-cycle oil) into the carburetor. While the engine is still running, shut off fuel supply using the fuel valve. When it stops, pull the spark plugs, use some fogging oil on the cylinders, crank the engine a few times and reinstall the plugs.
  • Fuel. Fill up the engine to prevent water vapors from entering, then add fuel stabilizer to the tank to prevent degradation of your fuel.
  • Bilges. Use a wire brush to clean up any oil spills, then spray with a lubricant and add a small amount of antifreeze.
  • Interior. If you’re storing outdoors, you’ll need to protect your vinyl from cracking with a vinyl cleaner and/or vinyl protector spray. Make sure your cover is well-vented to prevent trapped moisture from causing mold or mildew. This is an extremely common issue with winterizing for first-time boat owners. Remove everything you can from the boat, such as personal floatation devices, flares, fire extinguishers, etc. This includes electrical components like radios, if they’re detachable. Wash your carpets and deck. Drain and use antifreeze on any built-in heads, including sinks and showers. If you live in a particularly humid area, use a commercial moisture absorption product like Sportsman’s Mate.
  • Battery. If you’re storing a boat in water, leave the battery on board so the bilge pump can continue to function. If you’re storing out of the water, disconnect the battery and store it at home or in your unit on a battery charger.
  • Trailer tires. If you’re storing a boat on a trailer, be sure that your trailer tires won’t be damaged. If you’re storing in grass or in a storage unit, use wood blocks to keep the rubber off of the ground.

As you can see, preparations for storing a boat can be time-consuming and laborious. But it’s worth protecting your treasured investment to keep it healthy and happy year-round. Have you ever stored a boat? Share your tips or advice in the comments below.

As a member of SpareFoot's SEO team, Tony writes columns about the best way to store commonly-stored items. He also writes about marketing, technology, and other fun stuff like zombies and IKEA furniture.

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