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Do I Need to Winterize My Boat? 5 Factors to Consider

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

As the term implies, winterizing a boat is the procedure completed for preparing a boat for long-term storage. For example, if you live in a climate where the lake is annually certain to be covered by ice, prepping the boat for the freezing off-season is almost mandatory. If left to freeze, water trapped in an engine block, water tank, or other onboard plumbing can cause significant and very expensive damage.

This may not be an issue for a boat kept in a more temperate climate, but even when it’s unlikely that the off-season temperature will drop below freezing, there are still some good reasons to follow the procedure for long-term storage.

Here are 5 factors to consider before answering the question, "Should I winterize my boat?"

Consider It Part of 'Annual Maintenance'

In cold climates, many boat owners combine the “winterization” process with annual maintenance. This usually includes:

  • Changing the engine oil and oil filter

  • Checking or changing the gearcase lubricant in an outboard or sterndrive

  • Changing fuel filters or spark plugs

  • Testing the batteries

  • And any other maintenance specified by the engine or boat manufacturer.

Regular maintenance is usually required either annually or every 100 hours. Even if you don’t fully winterize your boat, you should take care of annual maintenance.

Fuel Care is Crucial

Treating fuel in the boat’s fuel tank and in the engine is also a step in the off-season storage routine. Even if you decide you don’t need to have the engine flushed of water if the boat will be sitting for more than a month, “winterizing” the fuel tank will help ensure that the engine will start and run smoothly when you’re ready to hit the water again.

Don't Trust the "It Never Freezes Down Here" Mindset

The year you don’t winterize your boat will almost certainly be the year you get an unexpected cold snap. That’s just the way life goes. Remember the big freeze in Virginia in the winter of 2021-22? One leading marine insurance carrier reported that, historically, the Midatlantic states are the top states for winterizing-related insurance claims.

The climate is changing, often in unexpected ways. Better safe than sorry.

Utilizing a Heated Storage Option

A heated off-season storage space is a real luxury, one that some boat owners use as an excuse to skip draining the water systems and engines and displacing any water with antifreeze. This can save some time and money until that big ice storm blows through and knocks out power. Now your warm storage may not be so warm. The expense and inconvenience of a cracked engine block or fractured gearcase are simply not worth taking the chance.

The Dilemma: "What If There's a Nice Day in February?"

If you live in an in-between climate there may be some warm weekends during the winter, and it would be fun to go for a boat ride.

If you have a self-draining outboard, jet boat, or personal watercraft (PWC), it may be fine to take advantage of the nice weather. Just be sure to return the boat to its long-term storage state—fuel treated, engine drained, battery maintained—after your warm-weather fling. It may be weeks or months before you use the boat again.

If your boat has a sterndrive or inboard engine that has been treated with anti-freeze, and there’s a chance of more freezing weather, you’ll need to have the engine winterized again if you launch the boat. This is an inconvenience and expense that deters most boat owners from taking a mid-winter cruise.

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