Boat Winterizing Season Is Here

September 21, 2023
Photo by Marine Repair Solutions Boat winterizing in progress at Marine Repair Solutions

The start of fall in Wisconsin means it’s time to plan for the maintenance and care of the boats we enjoyed throughout the spring and summer. Robert Hunkins, owner of Marine Repair Solutions in Waukesha, has already begun his 20thwinterizing season, beginning his career as a boat mechanic apprentice directly out of high school.

Hunkins advised that it’s best to run fuel as low as possible at the end of the boating season and then top off the tank in the spring. He explained that gas is in its prime for 30 days and degrades between 60 to 90 days. Over 90 days, octane levels drop further and can clog fuel systems over Wisconsin’s typically long winters.

Each boat type has slightly different winterization requirements, but each one begins with adding fuel stabilizer to the tank which breaks down any water in the fuel and slows oxidation.

Outboard Engines: Pontoons & Fishing Boats  

Hunkins commented that outboard engines are the easiest to winterize. After fuel stabilization, the next step is winterizing the engine. Hunkins hooks up the engine to a winterizing tank filled with 110 octane fuel and two-stroke engine oil to drain water out of the engine and lubricate it. He changes the gear lubrication and disconnects the battery. If the engine is four-stroke, its oil should be changed annually. For fishing boats, any live-wells need to be backflushed with RV and marine non-toxic antifreeze which is readily available at both local hardware and some big-box stores.

Inboard Engines: Ski & Surf Boats     

Hunkins said ski and surf boats with either direct or V-drive engines are more time consuming to winterize because of their more complicated engine systems and because they typically hold more water. In addition to most of the preventative maintenance steps for outboard engines, any ballast tank on ski or surf boats must be flushed with RV and marine non-toxic antifreeze. Gear lubrication does not need to be changed. After draining all water out of the engine systems, those systems also need to be backflushed with the non-toxic antifreeze. Stern-drive and jet boats have the same winterizing requirements as ski and surf boats without the ballast work, but also should have gear lubrication changed.  

Winter Protection & Storage

Before covering and storing your boat, Hunkins recommends opening all seat cushions and removing all life vests and carpets, if possible. The fewer items in your boat that hold moisture, the better. While there are opposing perspectives on the effectiveness of using dryer sheets in and around your boat to deter rodents from gaining entry, Hunkins recommends using them. He has several clients who have had successful results with this tactic. 

He also promotes shrink wrapping boats and leaving them outside throughout winter over some indoor storage options. “I’ve seen indoor storage buildings that sweat and have tremendous rodent problems,” said Hunkins. Outdoor storage with shrink wrapping is cost effective, but needs to be done properly. Hunkins first places moisture absorbing bags inside the boats to alleviate dampness.  He then both vents and tents the shrink wrap with 2×4’s so the encased boat can breathe over the winter and so snow loads slide off easily.  

Boat Trailer Maintenance Matters Too

Some people take great care of their boats, but forget preventative maintenance of their boat trailers. “People will park their trailers in tall weeds over the summer which isn’t good for the brakes and allows mice access to chew trailer wires,” Hunkins commented. He recommends not only keeping trailer tires properly inflated, but also ensuring they do not have dry rot or weather checking or cracking indicating the tires are deteriorating. Wheel bearings and lights should be checked at the beginning and end of each boat season. 

Protect Your Investment

“Engines are more complex and expensive now. The days of simple, two-stroke engines are gone. Boat owners need to use good quality marine products to protect their investments, because that’s what many boats have become – investments,” Hunkins advised.