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
|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.
If the engine is not going to be used for a considerable
period of time, it is wise to perform the following preventative
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
MAST AND RIGGING
|This mast step requires urgent attention before further corrosion
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
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
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.
ANCHOR WINCH AND LOCKER
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.
DECK RUNNING GEAR
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
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
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
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
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.