Once temperatures begin to fall, boat owner’s thoughts turn to winter storage and preparing their boat for the offseason. Protecting the boat from the harsh Michigan winter becomes a priority.
When asked which items were often overlooked or misunderstood, many Michigan marine mechanics gave the same answer: batteries and fuel.
Derek Fobear, service manager at Bay Outboard Marine in Saginaw, said small-boat owners who avoid paying higher costs for fuel at the dock by filling up at a local gas station could cause themselves expensive engine troubles.
“Automotive fuel contains ethanol,” Fobear said, “which will absorb moisture and separate from the gas over time. Cars burn their fuel much faster, so it doesn’t have time to deteriorate and separate, which can begin in just two weeks.”
Fuels containing ethanol will separate over time into a layer of alcohol and water with the gasoline itself creating a second layer on top. Since fuel systems draw from the bottom of the tank, the engine will feed on the alcohol and water mixture in the spring, causing poor performance or even preventing the engine from running.
While boats sit unused through the winter months, both fuels with ethanol and marine gasoline without it will deteriorate, losing volatility and affecting performance. Adding a fuel stabilizer to the tank is a critical step in the fall maintenance plan. It is important to add the stabilizer properly. Many add it after the boat has been hauled, instead of in advance, which allows treated fuel to reach the carburetors and fuel injectors as the engine is run.
No matter how large or small the boat is, gas or diesel fuel in the tanks should be properly treated to ensure a trouble-free launch in the spring.
Dead batteries can freeze and crack, leading to unsafe conditions since damaged batteries can explode when a charge is reapplied.
Battery preparation is another misunderstood step in the winter storage process that causes boat owners to find dead batteries as they prepare for spring launch.
Doug McKeever, mechanic at Tower Marine in Douglas, said boat owners can sometimes be their own worst enemies when it comes to spring battery trouble.
“We regularly find that an owner has gone into the boat to work on something and hooked the batteries back up,” McKeever said. “By leaving a 12-volt light on, they guarantee the batteries will be stone dead when we try to launch in the spring.”
Batteries should be disconnected for the winter to ensure hidden problems or a switch is not drawing current that’s been left on. Built-in voltage monitoring systems in modern battery chargers also can drain the boat’s batteries if the unplugged chargers remain connected to the 12-volt terminals.
Boaters are advised also to check the battery water level, charge and condition once or twice over the winter. Dead batteries can freeze and crack, leading to unsafe conditions since damaged batteries can explode when a charge is reapplied.
Properly storing a boat for the winter includes other tasks besides fuel and battery preparations, such as the following items. These little things can become big problems when a vessel sits unchecked for months.
Tarp and Drain Plugs
Boats should have their drain plugs removed while the boat sits on its trailer or cradle. A left-in drain plug can result in a boat full of water when sitting on land if rain and snow are able to sneak through a loose winter cover.
Tarps and covers should be supported by a frame to keep weight off the windshield and prevent snow and ice from building up on top of the vessel. Unsupported covers can lead to cracked glass and other damage. Winter covers should also be tightly secured, or they will chafe the hull or topsides when the wind causes them to flap.
Winter covers need to be secured around swim platforms and outboard engines where large gaps can create inviting passageways for animals, like raccoons, which have been known to use a boat’s cabin, cushions or upholstery to make a nice nest.
To ensure next year’s boating season gets off to a trouble-free start, it’s important to remember that little issues can become expensive surprises by the time the boat is uncovered in the spring.
Chuck Warren is a freelance boating writer and licensed captain who lives in Grandville. He’s worked around boats for 40 years.