Lay Up for Winter

Tips to make the process easier

February 22, 2021
Close up detail of the side of a sport-fishing boat on the water.
Warmer weather ahead: Properly winterizing your boat can mean easier days when it’s time to go fishing again. Chris Rabil

Storing my 52-foot Viking Sport Yacht for the long winter here in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is my ­least-favorite part of the season, and it feels as if it comes sooner and sooner every year. Paying close attention to certain items can mean the difference between having an easy back-in-the-water launch on the first warm day of boating season and having to go through the rigors of doing what you should have done on the last day before winterization, which only eats into the precious days ahead.

Before making the last trip of the ­season, I always do a full engine, ­generator and transmission service, changing the oil and filters and fuel filters, as well as ­making sure the services that appear on the manufacturer’s maintenance checklist are completed. I put one last good run on the boat—about 10 hours—with the services complete before I shut it down for the winter to be sure there aren’t any issues and that I have clean oil and filters to sit on for the six-month lay-up. I also make sure to load-test the batteries and disconnect all the terminal connections before going into storage.

Start Low

I vacuum out all the bilges, the engine room and lazarette, and deep-clean the entire interior going into the lay-up. I leave a little lemon-scented bleach in cups in all my bilges to keep them smelling fresh and clean for the duration of storage time, and use hanging-bag ­moisture absorbers throughout the bilges and interior to help combat any moisture that could lead to mold spores taking hold or mildew forming.


All exterior hatches get cleaned out, and any tools living in the tackle center get a good cleaning and a coat of lubricant, and are stored inside for winter. I remove all the dock lines from my anchor locker and soak them in a mixture of ­fabric softener and laundry detergent for 24 hours, then rinse thoroughly and hang them for winter storage. I find that this helps keep the lines soft and free of odors.

All of the bed linens are removed from the staterooms, and the mattresses are left bare. Each head is meticulously cleaned from top to bottom, as are the wood floors. I put a coat of polish on all my interior woodwork, lock the Bomar hatch shades, and close the window coverings to keep as much sunlight as possible out of the boat to hinder any salon woodwork and fabric fading. Having a few moisture-absorber tubs, such as DampRid, placed in the heads and galley will help tame any moisture. Last, I am sure to remove all food items, beverages and liquor from the boat, turn off all the refrigeration, and thoroughly clean out the ­refrigerators and freezers with a bleach cleaner, ­making sure to leave the doors cracked open for some airflow.

Read Next: Keep your boat looking and smelling great with these techniques.


Pickling Process

Prior to antifreezing the freshwater ­systems, I thoroughly clean and bleach the shower drains and sump boxes. If you leave the soap scum and other assorted funk sitting in the boxes for six months, it’s likely that the float switches will stick when fired back up, ensuring you a less-than-exciting cleanup and possible repair when it’s time to launch the boat in the spring. I run hot water down the toilets, put a mix of bleach/waste treatment and water in the holding tank to get the level up to about 50 percent, and then get one final pump-out. Once empty, I will put in a holding-tank deodorant to help keep the tank fresh.

I then turn off the water-heater breaker and turn on the faucets, ­making sure to empty the tanks and the lines, and then run a nontoxic, propylene glycol antifreeze through the entire ­freshwater system. Never use an automotive or alcohol-­based antifreeze because it’s not only flammable, but it is also toxic to humans and animals, and will damage certain marine plastics as well.

I like to have a nice, dark pink ­antifreeze running through all hoses, faucets and, most important, the three ice machines on board. I’d rather waste a little antifreeze and be ­confident we are covered than to endure costly repairs from a deep freeze come spring.

A sport fishing boat hauled into dry dock for pressure washing.
A good pressure-washing for your winter haul-out is just one step in the right direction toward ensuring an uneventful launch in the spring. Courtesy Viking Yacht Company


While shrink-wrapping your boat might be expensive, it certainly is worth every penny. Not only does a good wrapping prevent rodents and other critters from getting inside, but it also creates a ­barrier to the elements, such as rain and snow, while keeping out leaves, dirt and debris. Wrapping also prevents the sun from baking the hull, superstructure and teak deck, and blistering the faux-painted ­surfaces. We all know how important it is to protect your investment from the harmful rays of the sun.

Don’t be tempted to cheap out and leave your tower and tower-control pod bare, or your external electronics items such as the FLIR camera, radar arrays and antennas; they need to be protected also.

Depending on where the boat is located, there might be an occasion when the outriggers must be removed. If so, the best way to store them is indoors. If that is not possible, storing them on stands under the boat is a good option. You never want to lay them on the ground, for obvious reasons. Now that they are reachable, it’s an excellent time to get a good coat of wax (or two!) on them.


If you are storing your boat in an area where deep freezes are common, I would remove all cleaning supplies and waxes. With such a short boating season here in the northeastern US, I take advantage of the offseason and tackle some of the more time-consuming projects: Upgrade any interior soft goods; replace those problematic pumps; send the props out to be scanned, tuned and balanced; and schedule any engine work that wasn’t previously completed.

Offseason preventive maintenance saves us weeks of downtime in the summer. We have only 10 weekends to fish our canyon season, if we’re lucky, so it is ­absolutely critical that we stay on top of our punch list and have the boat totally dialed in for when we splash it in the spring. The more work you can get done in the winter, the more enjoyable your time will be when summer comes knocking.


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