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. And that could still happen and it would be but a reminder that many months of kindly weather are behind us and many months of dark, cold and dreary weather are ahead of us. 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 in here that you will want to be aware of. This column is about that.

“On the Hard” or In The Water?

Clearly, there are some basic steps to de-commissioning and one of them is to get the boat safely “onto the hard,” as the old-timers call dry-dock. Storing your winterized boat in the water can only be done in a very controlled environment with, generally, professional and near-constant attention. Even with signs of global-heating all around us (I think “global warming” sounds too benign), the creeks and coves “Out East” freeze up for much of the winter. Even Moriches Bay itself has frozen across over the years and I am talking about recent years. The only upside to storing your winterized boat in the water is that you don’t have to pay to haul the boat and return it to the water in the spring. I still believe that that can be penny-wise and pound-foolish if this watery winter berth isn’t a very controlled environment… Recall that 80% of boats that do sink do so at the dock. So, let’s focus most of this column on spending the winter “on the hard”…

Making a List and Checking It Twice

If you’re handing the boat over to the dockmaster, do so with a written checklist, especially if you intend to do some of the work yourself. As you’ll see, the advice below is not 100% extensive. I’d need most of this magazine to give you a checklist that could be used by every boat. (If you want a copy of the Boat-US/Seaworthy article on winterization, email me below and I’ll send a copy to you.) So, 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:

1. Change the oil and oil filters

2. Change the lubricant in engine transmission or the outboard lower unit

3. Apply fogging if called for by manufacturer

4. Fill the boat’s fuel tanks completely full

5. Add biocide and/or stabilizing agents to fuel

6. Change the fuel filters

7. Add antifreeze to the engine’s cooling system

8. Add distilled water to batteries, charge completely and disconnect

9. Charge batteries to capacity

Before thinking about covering the boat with shrink-wrap or canvas, inspect the hull. Any blisters in the gelcoat? If so, that has to 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, a la the gelcoat blister, won’t fix that one. It’s structural. As to washing and waxing the hull, I opt for cleaning now and waxing in the spring.

Does the boat have a cabin of any kind? Get the “moisture-soaker-uppers”, i.e. desiccants, in there. They’re inexpensive and they inhibit the build-up of moisture that leads to mold. And 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 gasoline-powered 90-HP Johnson outboard. If so, you are going to flush the engine with fresh water (attached a garden hose to the intake and let it flush – engine OFF!), “fog” the engine with lubricating oil (be sure the fuel system is disconnected from the engine when you start the process), clean/replace the spark plugs and fuel filter, lube the carburetor and anything else that moves – choke, cam, starter linkage etc. Don’t forget the lower unit (what the prop comes out of). Replace the lube oil. 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…

So that’s your outboard. Did I ask if you had a diesel engine or an I/O? Does the boat have a transmission? Inboard water system (sink/shower)? Air conditioner? Electronics going to stay aboard or come home with you? So, as you can see, the list is far more extensive than the short list above. But have fun! She’s your boat!

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 is 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, even when trimmed up. And it will freeze long before the seaway does…which could crack your engine.

So, what to do? Don’t trim your engine up. Let her sit in
the water just as she does when you are underway, and you won’t have to worry about a cold snap cracking your outboard engine’s lower end.

Second, this implies that any water sitting in your boat can freeze – tanks for potable water, 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 mooring line from my mooring ball to my bow – just in case there is a good, wintery blow and, instead of stretching just a bit, the mooring line snaps…

So, remember – have fun – but have “situational awareness,” as we say in USCG Forces! She’s your boat – and it is getting colder!

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

The Captain of the Port and Sector Commander for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound is Captain Eva Van Camp Schang. CAPT Van Camp Schang is responsible for all active-duty, reservist and auxiliary Coast Guard personnel within the Sector. As a Commodore in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary First District, Southern Region, Vin Pica works closely with CAPT Van Camp Schang and her 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.

Editor’s note: Weekly updates for the waters from Eastport, ME to Shrewsbury, NJ including discrepancies in Aids to Navigation, chart corrections and waterway projects are listed in the USCG Local Notice to Mariners. Log onto, scroll to “Current Operational/Safety Information,” click on “Local Notice to Mariners” then “LNMs by CG District,” and click on “First District.” ■