It’s getting that time when the kids go back to school and the mornings are cooler – time to think about winterizing that sterndrive or inboard boat.
Sterndrive and inboard engines use lake water (raw water) to cool while in use, these systems need to be drained of water to prevent freezing and causing extensive damage to them. Some engines have a closed cooling system but they too rely on raw water to cool in some way and not draining and preparing it for the winter can be a very expensive mistake.
We have seen over the years the cost of not doing this service, thousands of dollars and many missed weeks of fun in the next boating season. Some say “My boat stays in a heated shop so I don’t need to do anything” and this too has cost many lots of money when the heat goes out and winterizing is much more than just draining water.
Engine oil is very critical, we all know that and as it is doing it’s job of lubricating parts it also acts as a catchall for contaminants that are created in the combustion process. These contaminants can cause damage to surfaces due to acids etc. Changing your oil in the fall removes these contaminants from the engine and allows your engine to sit all winter in clean oil, protecting surfaces. We recommend changing your oil in the fall when winterizing.
Every boat has some kind of drive system to get the engine power to the propeller, these systems use oil as well and are often submerged in the water when operating. They are designed to keep the oil in and the water out. Sometimes this does not happen and we see water enter the lubricant, these kinds of oils are formulated to suspend water to protect the surfaces but can only handle so much before breaking down. When the sealing system fails to do its job, often the water fills the unit and the oil goes away and then we not only have a lack of lubrication we have another area that can freeze and cause major damage. The solution is to change your driveline oil every season and by doing so in the fall it keeps the unwanted surprise of having water in it that can freeze and break housings etc. Even if no water is present, again having the surfaces bathed in clean oil for the off season protects from further damage. Gear lubes perform under high stress and can burn black over time. By following the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance you will save money. We recommend changing sterndrive gear oil in the fall when winterizing.
The fuel system is another area often over looked and with today’s gasoline blends we are finding more and more fuel related issues each summer. Water can also enter the fuel system and cause problems so many manufacturers use a fuel – water separating filter to help remove normal amounts of water from your fuel. These filters will clog up and it’s easy to do when doing the winterization process. Fuel stabilizers help keep fuel fresh and should be added to the tank and then have the engine run to get the new stabilized fuel in to the many fuel systems parts on the engine, just adding it to the fuel tank will help the fuel in the tank but not help any fuel in the lines, injectors etc. We recommend changing your fuel filter and adding fuel stabilizer when winterizing.
There are many different systems on engines and cooling components to allow the draining of raw water. Engine manufacturers have added components to allow easy drain of the system in the last few years, early sterndrive and inboard engines required more knowledge and work to access these drain points. In some boats accessing these drains could be difficult due to tight spaces and interior design, new systems allow this task to be done easier. Draining the water from your engine is a careful process, just simply opening a hose or plug can’t always assure that there is not some debris blocking the water to flow out the drain. This is where an experienced Technician comes in, with experience Technicians can judge the amount of water that drained out and decide if that makes sense that that is all there is but Technicians also blow these passages with compressed air to be sure. After the system is drained, RV antifreeze is pumped thought the cooling system to help stop corrosion of internal parts and give that added insurance that it can’t freeze. You can just run your engine on RV antifreeze until it’s at operating temp but this requires lots of it and if you do have sand or something else trapped in the chambers it’s not removed. RV antifreeze is nontoxic and comes in various strengths, we choose the lowest temperature rating to help with our cold Alberta winters. If your engine has a closed loop system, draining and pumping RV antifreeze looks after the raw water side but we need to be sure that the closed side is protected as well, these systems use the same antifreeze that automotive engines do and it needs to be checked for proper strength and condition, this coolant needs changing as well but tends to be a less frequent interval.
Engine fogging, air has moisture and can rust metal parts, the lubricating oil coats many surfaces but in some areas the film is very thin and cant withstand sitting for a long time so we add a special oil that coats these areas to protect them. This process is known as fogging, fogging oil is usually sprayed down the air intake or carburetor to coat the valves and cylinders, this causes a white smoke out the exhaust when you fire up in the spring but is formulated to not gum up moving parts.
Batteries also need care for sitting, batteries will lose charge just sitting and if left discharged can freeze and be destroyed. Battery maintainers are cheap and easy. By removing your battery(s) and attaching a maintainer you can just ignore it all winter and it will be fully charged and ready to go in the spring. Some boats are hard to get the battery(s) out so you can just disconnect the cables and install the maintainer as long as you can get power to the device. Keep in mind batteries can give off gases and should not be stored or charged in any area that is not well vented and should not be where it can be exposed to an ignition source. Putting the battery in the basement of your home on a maintainer or charger is not recommended. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the device and you will have many years use out of your battery.
And finally, boats have many different systems that use raw water, ballast tanks & pumps, heaters, showers, these all need to be drained to protect them. Technicians do more than just winterize the engine so the more systems your boat has, well the more it’s going to cost. If you like to do it yourself then careful methodical process will keep your investment safe. There are many sources of information on the web to help you through the process but don’t believe everything you see. We can offer general advice to you but without seeing your boat and understanding every system on it we could miss telling you something as well. Remember the sand pockets mentioned earlier? What if you think it’s drained and a lot of water came out but it was not all of it – risky gamble. When the process is done by a Technician you have the peace of mind knowing its done right. There are some people offering the service at your home – very handy for sure but will they be there if a mistake is made – a reputable shop that has a mobile service would be the way to go if you don’t want to haul it in.
One more thing, winter is the best time to get your boat fixed, maybe it was not running right or something needs replacing or you want to add accessories, winter is the time to do it. Marine shops are very busy during the boating season, this causes long waits and lost time on the water. Sure stuff can still break down but if most is caught and done in the off season then you should be good for next summer. Many shops can offer you a discount and monthly payment plans – this makes it easier to get some major items done – ask about what’s available.