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by Christopher Murman


If you live in the more southern areas of Australia, it won’t be too long before you notice the warm sunny days cooling down as the cold chill of winter begins to take hold. And with the change of seasons comes the need to contemplate the winter maintenance program for your boat and the coming period of inactivity. A number of issues need to be considered. You should start by compiling a checklist of tasks before you place your boat in hibernation.


The severe wood rot in this bulkhead was caused by a lack of ventilation over several months.

Adequate ventilation is essential in order to maintain the soundness of the internal fittings and equipment. Timber needs a constant supply of fresh air to prevent the onset of rot. Fresh air also assists in keeping the temperature constant, thus reducing expansion and shrinkage in timber work.

Cupboard doors should be wedged open to allow a free flow of air, while squabs and cushions should be stood on their edge to allow air to flow around them.

The ship-board electronics, electrical systems and all metal components also benefit from adequate ventilation as the reduced moisture content in the air helps prevent corrosion.

A flow of fresh air also inhibits the development of mould throughout the vessel.


Inboard Applications:

If the engine is not going to be used for a considerable period of time, it is wise to perform the following preventative maintenance:

1. Run the engine until it is hot, then shut it down and replace the lubrication oil and filter.

2. Drain the exhaust system of any residual water and fit a plug into the through-hull skin fitting from the outside. This will inhibit corrosion throughout the exhaust system and also in the cylinder(s) in which the exhaust valve(s) remain open.

3. Drain the fresh water cooling system and refill with fresh water and coolant additive. Always use one brand of coolant additive and mix to the recommended concentration. Combining coolant additives from different manufacturers is not recommended.

4. When the engine is cold, spray an anticorrosion agent all over the engine, gearbox and metal components of the shaft coupling.

5. Inspect the shaft coupling carefully for signs of wear, cracking or other damage.

6. Lubricate the water pump and bearings.

7. Close the saltwater intake seacock. Drain the trapped seawater if possible, or alternatively add an anti-corrosion agent.

8. Replace the sacrificial anodes in the engine’s raw water cooling system, heat exchanger and engine block.

9. Nip up the packing gland to prevent any seawater drips. Remember to loosen it again before engaging the engine, otherwise the gland will quickly overheat.

10. The steering gland should also be nipped up to prevent water ingress. Again, remember to loosen it before attempting to move the steering as the additional friction will put strain on the steering system and may make it difficult to operate.

11. The steering system linkages should be lubricated and the wire (often used on yachts) covered with a light coating of grease to prevent corrosion. If the steering system is hydraulic, apply a light coating of grease to the exposed hydraulic ram shaft.

12. All raw water sea cocks throughout the vessel should be closed. Inspect each one carefully for signs of corrosion, cracking, leaking or other damage. Pay particular attention to any plastic skin fittings as the plastic breaks down over time and can become very brittle, thus making it very susceptible to failure. Wipe a light coat of grease over all bronze sea cocks.

13. The engine should have a drip tray under it to catch any oil or diesel leaks and spills. At the same time, inspect the engine for signs of oil or diesel leaks.

14. Inspect all hoses for signs of wear, abrasion, cracking and perishing, paying particular attention to the areas around the hose clips as this is where rubber hoses often split. Also ensure all of the hose clips are in good order and replace them if in any doubt.

If you intend using your vessel over winter, it is still advisable to perform many of the above engine maintenance tasks, to keep the engine in top condition. If the engine is maintained regularly it will be more economical and reliable.

Outboard Applications:

Outboard engines, likewise, require some attention if they are not being used for extended periods of time. If you want your outboard to start first time the next time you head out on the briny, you need to look after it with some sound preventative maintenance.

First, thoroughly check the entire engine for signs of damage, oil leaks, cracks or corrosion. Lift off the engine cover and clean any oil, dirt, salt or corrosion from the engine and surrounding area. Consult the engine manual for a list of recommended general maintenance procedures.

Flush the engine again with fresh water. And wash the entire engine to remove all signs of salt, grease or oil. Drain all the water from within the engine. You should also thoroughly coat the engine and electrics in a quality moisture repellent spray such as CRC. Don’t be shy about coating everything, as it’s amazing how a little pocket of corrosion can spread while the engine is not being used.

Now is a good time to check your propeller(s) as they work hard and frequently suffer damage from collisions with objects in the water or contact with the bottom. If a blade is bent or has a piece missing, it should be fixed as a matter of urgency. A damaged blade not only reduces the efficiency of the propeller; it also causes excessive vibrations through the gearing and drive shaft all the way back to the engine; all of which can suffer damage as a result.

And it is a good idea to cover the entire unit to keep the sun and rain off it. Another advantage is that it keeps prying eyes off your expensive outboard.


If you don’t intend to use your vessel over winter, disconnect and take all electronic instruments and radios off the boat and store them in a warm, dust-free and dry location. If any instruments are to be left aboard, put a gel bag inside the casing to absorb moisture and remember to remove the bags and dry them out from time to time. It is also a good idea to put a lightly oiled cloth over the instruments to further inhibit corrosion. The cloth also prevents damage from the sun and hides the instruments from prying eyes. Never use a plastic bag as it will only encourage condensation and corrosion.

Take the radio aerials down and store them somewhere dry. This prevents unnecessary damage from the sun and discourages theft.

All compasses that are permanently mounted on deck or in an open cockpit should be securely covered to prevent damage from the sun. Ideally, they should be removed, but this may not be practical.

All non-essential electrical circuits, for example, lighting and engine starting should be isolated from the batteries. The only ‘live’ circuits should be those for battery charging (from solar panels or a wind generator) and the automatic bilge pumping system. The condition of the wires and connections to the automatic bilge pump should also be inspected, as these often live in the bilge and are frequently submerged. Any damaged, frayed or corroded wiring or connections should be replaced immediately as they can cause serious corrosion and drain the battery. The condition and operation of the float switch should be checked, as they tend to clog up with use. The float inside the float switch unit can also fill with water after a long period of service.

The terminals on the batteries and any other bare metal connections should be cleaned and covered with a smear of petroleum jelly or a moisture sealing agent. The battery case and battery box should also be thoroughly cleaned. Dirt holds moisture, which leaks current away.

The batteries should be checked from time to time, as they will fail if left without sufficient water or charge. Batteries that have been drained of current will quickly become useless and need to be replaced. And marine batteries are not cheap.


If you are running a diesel engine, the quality of the fuel in the tanks should be checked. Open the tap at the bottom of each fuel tank and drain out any water, sludge or algae. Leave the tap open until clean fuel flows freely. If you find algae in the tanks, they should be drained and thoroughly cleaned out. The algae, which looks like long, dark strands of maiden hair seaweed and is often referred to as diesel bug, lives in the water at the bottom of the tank and feeds on the diesel. If it gets into the fuel lines, it will cause repeated blockages. It can also damage fuel injectors, which is often expensive to repair.

The fuel lines should also be flushed to prevent any remaining algae getting into the filters and the fuel injectors. The fuel filter bowl should be wiped out and a new filter cartridge fitted. When the tanks are refilled, a diesel additive (sometimes called Alflock, although this is a brand name) should be added to prevent any further growth of the algae. If you are leaving the vessel for an extended period, the tanks should be either left full (or “pressed” as it is called) or completely empty to prevent further condensation, however it is better to press the tanks. This also applies to petrol-powered vessels.

An easy method of cleaning the water tanks is to partially fill them with fresh water and add a suitable cleaning agent. Leave the water in the tank to slosh around for as many days as possible before emptying it out completely. If possible, you might even want to motor out for a run for a few hours to let the tank get thoroughly washed. Empty each tank and then refill with clean water to rinse it out before emptying again. Make sure you open the tap at the bottom of the tank to ensure it is completely empty. Again, the tank should be left either pressed or completely empty. As water tends to go stale if stored in a tank for long periods, it is best to leave fresh water tanks empty if the vessel is not going to be used.


The sea cocks should be turned off, which is very important as many vessels have been flooded through the head. The holding tank should be pumped and partially filled with clean water and a sanitiser should be added to inhibit the growth of bacteria and odours.


This mast step requires urgent attention before further corrosion sets in.

A thorough inspection of all standing and running rigging is a good idea. It should include looking for cracks in all of the stainless steel components and signs of corrosion or pitting, as well as any signs of wear or abrasion. Look for corrosion between the stainless steel fittings and the aluminium mast. An inspection should include a close examination of the chainplates, as they are subject to very heavy loads and are frequently overlooked. And don’t forget mast fittings such as the mast cap, mast hounds and spreader tips. While examining the mast cap, carefully inspect the halyard sheeves. It is wise to replace any sheeves that are showing signs of wear or damage, as they are subject to heavy workloads during use and can break down quickly, leaving you unable to raise or lower the sails.


A thorough examination of the mast crane is always recommended. The halyard sleeves also need to be carefully inspected. It is wise to replace any sheeves that are showing any signs of wear or damage, as they are subject to heavy loads during use and can break down quickly if not replaced, leaving you unable to raise or lower the sails.   Closely examine all of the stanchions and supports for signs of damage or corrosion.

Having enjoyed many days of sailing over the summer months, you will be aware of any small tears, abrasion or stitching that has worked loose. It is a good idea to take the sails to a reputable sail loft and get them repaired, or do it yourself. Any sails that have not been used for some time, such as the storm sails, should also be thoroughly inspected.

If the vessel is not going to be used for an extended period of time, it is a good idea to take the sails home. The sail battens should be removed, and all control lines (for example, the leech line) loosened. The sails should then be washed with plenty of fresh water and thoroughly dried, before being stored in a dry location out of direct sun light.

All sails stored on a furler should be removed, as they tend to collect wind-blown dirt and pollution, which fosters the growth of green or brown mould. This looks unsightly and may damage the sailcloth or stitching. While inspecting a vessel for a customer recently, I found the furled headsail almost completely covered in green mould. As I unfurled the sail, a cloud of dirt rained down. The sail had obviously not been used for a considerable time.

Wash all sheets and other lines in fresh water before thoroughly drying them and storing them below decks or at home. Use a temporary line to restrain the boom, thus preserving the main sheet.


Many manufacturers recommend that winches be serviced twice a year. This is an ideal time to carefully disassemble the winch, clean it, removing all of the old grease, and any trapped dirt before re-greasing and reassembling. Winches should be covered to prevent the ingress of water and dirt. And make sure you always follow the manufacturers’ maintenance guidelines and instruction manuals.


The LPG system should be closed off. It’s also a good idea to disconnect the bottle and remove it from the boat. Remember to plug or tape the connecting pipe to prevent the ingress of moisture, dust or other debris.


The anchor winch tends to be one of the harder-worked components on most boats and now is the time to thoroughly check it over and lubricate it as required. You should also check the cable connections and the foot switch. Put a spanner on the anchor winch fastening bolts and ensure they are still tight.

The anchor locker should be emptied and washed to remove all mud, sand, dirt and rust flakes. Also ensure the locker drains are clear. If the vessel is not going to be used for a while, wash the anchor(s), chain and line with fresh water to remove all mud, sand and salt.


Wherever possible, all blocks should be removed and washed in fresh water, dried and lubricated as required, before stowing to prevent further deterioration.

Check all tracks and other fittings for corrosion. Wash with fresh water and then coat with silicon spray to prevent further corrosion. The silicon spray will also ensure smooth operation next summer.


All safety gear should be inspected for signs of wear and tear, mould, corrosion, abrasion, etc. Items to check should include: Life jackets; Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs); safety harnesses; all wet weather gear; jack lines (should be removed and stored below decks); horse shoe and donut life buoys; dan buoys; pushpit, pulpit, stanchions and the life lines.
Some safety equipment has a limited life span, or requires regular servicing. These items should be checked for currency and updated as required, including: Fire extinguishers (also check to see if they are still fully charged); EPIRB; batteries for portable items such as torches; all emergency flares; first aid kit and life raft.

Remember to thoroughly check the fastening points for the jack lines, as these are paramount to the functionality of the safety lines.

Dinghies also require regular maintenance and repair, especially if they have suffered abusive treatment during the summer.


Once the vessel has been prepared for winter it will still need to be thoroughly inspected at least once a month to ensure all is well. The more frequent the visits and checks, the greater the chance of finding problems before they develop into something more serious. A vessel should always be visited after heavy rain and/or strong winds to ensure all is well.


For trailer boat owners, now is the time to take care of your silent workhorse. Trailers can tend to get overlooked in the overall scheme of things and may get little thought or attention (except maybe at registration time). As winter approaches, it is a good idea to look at the condition of the trailer and perform some preventative maintenance.

The trailer frame should be checked for signs of rust. Even if the frame is galvanised, it’s still a good idea to check it over. Look at the less obvious places, such as inside any open members, especially where salt water can penetrate during the launching and retrieval process. To extend the life of the galvanising, it is a good idea to paint it. Galvanised surfaces should only be painted once they have a slightly dull look. After thoroughly washing all surfaces, apply a metal primer coat and follow with coats as per the paint manufacturer’s recommendations.

The trailer hitch and safety chain are fundamental to the safe operation of the trailer. They should be closely examined for signs of excessive wear, cracks or rust. Remember, it’s cheap insurance to replace the hitch or chain, instead of your boat and trailer. If they are in good condition, spray them with an anti-rust.

The wheel bearings live in a tough environment, are subject to heavy loads, high temperatures and vibration and are regularly dunked in salt water. Unless they are properly maintained, they will quickly fail. Bearings should be checked at the end of summer and repacked with high-temperature, marine-grade grease if necessary. While the bearing is apart it is also a good idea to check for excessive wear and any marking of the bearing races. Replace them if you’ve got any doubts. You might even want to take them to your local garage or marine shop for a second opinion.

Trailer lights are also subject to harsh treatment. If there are any signs of rust, cracks, or water damage, replace them. The same goes for the wiring. If replacing the lights, go for waterproof items specially designed for boat trailer use.

And while you’re going over the trailer, check if the registration is current. It’s an easy thing to overlook, but can be costly if forgotten.