By Vincent Pica

Commodore, First District, Southern Region (D1SR)
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

Usually, as soon as I write a column on de-commissioning the boat for the winter season, Indian Summer arrives to bathe us in the last warmth of the year. That could still happen and it would be but a reminder that the kindly weather is behind us and many months of dark, cold and dreary weather are ahead. So, here we go – Indian Summer or not! Even if you hand off your boat to your dockmaster and say, “See you in the spring,” there are some tips that you’ll want to be aware of. This column is about that.

“On the Hard” or In the Water?

Clearly, there are some basic steps to decommissioning and one of them is to get the boat safely “onto the hard,” as the old-timers call dry-dock. The only upside to storing your winterized boat in the water is that you don’t have to pay to haul her and launch in the spring. That can be penny-wise and pound-foolish if this watery winter berth isn’t a very controlled environment. Eighty percent of boats that sink do so at the dock, so let’s focus on wintering “on the hard.”

If you’re handing her over to the dockmaster, do so with a written checklist, especially if you intend to do some work yourself. As you’ll see, the advice below is not 100% extensive. I’d need most of this magazine for a checklist that would apply to every boat. Work with your dockmaster in signing off on what will be done by the yard and, if you desire to be involved, by you. Some ideas/categories:

  • Change the oil and oil filters.
  • Change the lubricant in engine transmission or the outboard lower unit.
  • Apply fogging if called for by manufacturer.
  • Fill the fuel tanks completely full.
  • Add biocide and/or stabilizing agents to fuel.
  • Change the fuel filters.
  • Add antifreeze to the engine’s cooling system.
  • Add distilled water to batteries, charge completely and disconnect.
  • Charge batteries to capacity.

Before covering the boat, inspect the hull. Any blisters in the gelcoat? If so, that must be addressed sooner rather than later as that will lead to water infiltrating the hull, making the boat less seaworthy. Stress cracks, which often develop at the bow, need professional attention. Just putting a patch over it and sanding won’t fix it. It’s structural. As for washing and waxing the hull, I opt for cleaning now and waxing in the spring. Does the boat have a cabin? Get some desiccants in there. They’re inexpensive and they inhibit moisture that leads to mold. Don’t forget the hatches, closets and lazarettes.

Other than covering the boat, the mechanical system is the most obvious place to start. Your mechanical system may only be your 90-HP Johnson outboard. If so, flush the engine with fresh water, “fog” it with lubricating oil (be sure the fuel system is disconnected!), clean/replace the spark plugs and fuel filter, lube the carburetor and anything else that moves. Don’t forget to replace the lube oil in the lower unit. By the way, if you open the drain plug and water comes out first (oil floats), you need to replace the seal. Inspect the prop(s). Any dings? Get a professional to look at that. A bad “wheel” can shake your engine apart. Does the boat have a transmission? Inboard water system? Air conditioner? Electronics staying aboard or coming home? As you can see, the list is far more extensive than the short one above.

Keeping Her In?

OK, you want to at least keep her in as long as possible. This, I understand – and do. But here are the risks and what to do about it. First, unless there is ice in the seaway leading from your marina (in which case it’s definitely time to get her on the hard), you have clear passage to all the creeks, bays, the Sound and the ocean. But ice in your boat’s systems is a different matter. For example, we all trim up our outboard engines at the dock or on the mooring to keep sea creatures from building up on – and in – the lower end. But a small amount of water sits in there, and it will freeze long before the seaway does, which could crack your engine. What to do? Don’t trim your engine up. Let her sit in the water just as she does when you’re underway, and you won’t have to worry about a cold snap cracking the lower end. Also, any water sitting in your boat can freeze – potable water tanks, for example. Drain out any and all.

Third, and a bit more insidious, is that when things get cold, like mooring lines, they lose a little of their elasticity. I always add an extra line from my mooring ball to my bow, just in case a wintery blow causes the line to snap. So remember – have fun – but have “situational awareness,” as we say in USCG Forces! She’s your boat – and it’s getting colder.

If you are interested in being part of the USCG Forces, email me at or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at and we will help you “get in this thing.” ■

Captain Kevin Reed is the Captain of the Port and Sector Commander for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound. CAPT Reed is responsible for all active-duty, reservist and auxiliary Coast Guard personnel within the Sector. As a Commodore of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary First District, Southern Region, Vin Pica works closely with CAPT Reed and his staff to promote boating safety in the waters between Connecticut, Long Island and 200 nautical miles offshore. Sector Long Island Sound Command Center can be reached 24 hours a day at 203-468-4401.

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