Tips for winterizing boats and trailers


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Last week we got an outboard motor ready to spend the next few months cold and alone. This week we’ll turn our attention to the boat and trailer that go with it.

But just in case some of you are so busy this morning you only have time to read the first few paragraphs, by way of preamble, here’s a tip that’s worth the price of a subscription to this publication all by itself: Take your time and make sure that everything that can be done in the way of maintenance is done. Believe me, you’ve got more disposable time now than you’ll have when the fish start to bite next spring.

I like to start by taking bait bucket aerators, flashlights, spotlights, fish weighing scales and anything else that runs on batteries out of the boat.

Cold weather and a lack of regular use are hard on both conventional and rechargeable batteries.

Completely discharged batteries – including those advertised as “leak proof” – often leak equipment-ruining acids. Hint: I make this task easier by keeping as many of these devices as possible in the same waterproof container stored under the front deck.

Call me wasteful if you chose, but I discard all of the conventional batteries that have seen use during the past season and replace them with fresh ones just before the new season begins. It only costs a few bucks and keeps my flashlight from going dim at midnight when I’m miles from the boat ramp.

Disconnect the lead/acid 12-volt battery or batteries that power the outboard’s starter, the trolling motor and other major electronic gear and store them where temperatures will not dip below freezing. I know a fully charged battery shouldn’t freeze under anything but the most severe winter conditions, but I also know that Murphy was an optimist. Besides, having the batteries indoors makes it easy to top off their charges immediately prior to their first use next spring.

Clean all corrosion from the battery terminals and from the cable connections attached to them. Then coat both with a liberal layer of petroleum jelly. (Hint: I have it on good authority that it’s safer to buy a separate jar of jelly rather than to use the one in the bathroom.)

Given they are designed to be unplugged from the boat’s wiring system, remove depth finders and other electronic devices and store them inside the house where any traces of moisture can evaporate. Coat exposed connections with petroleum jelly.

Give the boat a thorough cleaning inside and out. For some anglers and most recreational boaters, this will be an easy task. And then there are those of us who spent a lot of time catfishing in 2015. Ah well, just think how much faster our boats will run without the weight of all the mud that’s ground into the deck and semi-clogging the bilge.

Almost all boat trailer wheel hubs are equipped with spring-loaded devices that allegedly keep water from getting into the bearing raceway. They’re a big help to be sure, but none of them work perfectly. Grease wheel bearings until the spring is more than half compressed but check the rear of the wheel often during the process to make sure the rear seal isn’t being forced open.

Squirt a pump or two of grease onto a rag or paper towel and use it to grease the inner surface of the trailer hitch receiver. Very few people think to do this, but you’ll be amazed at how much difference it makes in how the trailer handles.

Pump the trailer tires up to full pressure. Some experts recommend putting jack stands under the trailer’s axle to take some – but not all–of the weight off of the wheels during long term storage. I’m going to give it a try this year, because I already have a set of stands somewhere in my ultra-organized garage.

I’ve covered my boat with a tarp every winter but one since I’ve owned it. At least for aluminum boats like mine, I’m not sure the tarp is essential, but I do think it’s worth the effort.

What to do with leftover fuel is a quandary to say the very least. As I noted last week, modern gasoline is unstable and has a relatively short shelf life.

Marine grade fuel stabilizers do help, and if the fuel tank can be taken out of the boat and stored in above freezing temperatures, it might start your boat next spring. And then again, it might not. Frankly, the best way to deal with this year’s leftover fuel is to add it to your land vehicle’s gas tank at the rate of about a gallon or so per tankful and use it up over the winter.

With that job out of the way, I think I’ll see if Happy wants to chase a bunny or two before firearms deer season gets here. I’m pretty sure I can talk her into it.

Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]

Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]

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