Winterizing Boats

It's your ship. You can call it what you want. Every guy secretly thinks of his boat as the SS Enterprise, I suppose. "Warp factor 6, Mr. Screw Loose. Satellite sensors on. Power storage on line. Full boogie." And so on. Mine's more like the shuttle craft. Better suited to short missions. She's small but slow.

And well taken care of. Winterized it last week. I know, I know. Most fishermen where I live winterized their boats a month ago or more. But the ramps are still free of snow, and the rivers are still open. I squeezed every minute I could out of that extended fall weather but finally had to surrender to 6 inches of ice on the lakes. But lots of  people continue fishing open water where ice generally reigns by now. Just talked to my friend Tim Dawidiuk of Wisconsin. His brother, Richard, is still muskie fishing. The week before Christmas.

When you get around to it. No hurry. Hang in there. When the time comes, winterize that guppy. Winterizing produces longer engine life by making certain no water or condensation sits on gears, shafts, pistons, or engine walls. It keeps fuel lines clean and protects batteries. If you're a first-time boat owner, here's the process:

Hook up a water hose to the fitting on your outboard or, if you have an older model outboard, trim it up, put a garbage can under it, and trim it back down. Fill the can with water until it covers the intake jackets on the lower unit. Start the engine and leave it in neutral. After idling for 10 minutes, disconnect the fuel line at the engine and leave it running. When it tries to stall, choke it. Keep it running long as possible, getting all the gas out of the lines.

With the lower unit still in the water, pull all the spark plugs and spray fogging oil into each of the cylinders while turning the key or otherwise engaging the starter to roll the engine over. I use Sta-Bil Fogging Oil, and I mix Sta-Bil Fuel Stabilizer into the gas in the amount recommended on the bottle. Put a small dab of lithium grease on the threads, replace the plugs, and tighten firmly.

Disconnect the hose or dump the water, clean and towel dry the lower unit, then change the lower unit oil with the type and viscosity recommended in your manual. Most call for a marine-grade 90W or 80W-90 gear oil. Two standard-style screw heads open the top and bottom channels for oil. Look on the side of the lower unit for the top opening and look underneath for the bottom one. Open both, bottom first, and drain the old oil into a bin you can transport to an oil recycling station. Seal up the bottom opening and fill with the amount of oil recommended in the manual.

Take off the prop, apply marine-grade bearing grease to the shaft and teeth, and replace the prop. Vacuum the boat, buff out the waterline stains, throw on the cover, and it's prepared to store. I take the battery out and put it in my basement on a trickle charger. Freezing a battery is not a good idea. Letting it discharge without recharging is another really bad idea, and they can discharge quickly in below-zero temperatures. Batteries last years longer when you take the time to baby them a little bit. Nothing's worse than running 12 miles upriver, fishing until dark, and finding out you've drained the battery to exhaustion with just a few easy hours on the trolling motor. Been there. Hate that. Winterize the Enterprise or don't even dream of going where no man has gone before.

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