How to Prepare Your Boat for Winter
The August bank holiday has been and gone, but there should still (hopefully!) be just enough good weather left to get your boat ready for winter. We’ve pulled together a list of vital odds and ends to get sorted before the winter really hits. These tips are aimed at liveaboards who will be on their boat throughout winter, although many are applicable to leisure boaters too.
Rain, rain and more rain
Making your boat rainproof is one of the first tasks to undertake when getting your boat ready for winter.
Sealing Boat Windows
Summer downpours should have made any leaks in your windows apparent. Windows should have a good clean, particularly of any moss growing along the seals. If they are leaking from the frames, a small (very, very small) amount of sealant can be used to repair this. We use tiny dots of sealant in a line, like a row of tadpoles, and use a clean finger to smooth. Done carefully, this sealant will be visually undetectable. Check the sealant is over-paintable before use. Make sure the area is clean, rust-free and dry before sealing. The same process can be applied around roof vents. Remember it is a lot easier to add some more sealant than it is to take excess away.
Sealing boat hatches and door frames
For hatches and door frames, draft excluding tapes are in common use. These degrade and crumble over time. You can pick up replacement draft excluding tape from most hardware shops. Cracks in wooden doors can be temporarily repaired with filler, again less is more when applying this. In time you will need to replace wooden doors of they are already showing cracks and rot, but you may be able to squeeze another winter out with some care. Apply wood hardener, before sealing with a two component wood filler
Treating Boat Covers
Cratch and stern covers are a useful addition to keep your outer living areas dry in winter. Fabric cratch covers can be cleaned and treated with NikWax or other waterproofing treatments. There any many boats out there which were built with the intention of having a cover fitted at all times, so have no drainage on the stern or bow decks. Allowing these decks to fill with water leads to damage to the boat from rust, this can be avoided by getting your boat ready for winter and the coming bad weather. For new & replacement covers we recommend Nikki from canvascovers.london
Deck boards and deck drainage
If you have a cruiser or semi-trad stern with no stern cover, now is the time to check the deck boards and drainage are in good condition. Wooden deckboards become frayed at the edges with use, holes appear which allow rain to fall straight in the bilge. Many narrowboats have boards sat on top of drainage made from u channel steel. Check this drainage is clear, much like you would clean the guttering on a house. There are quite often plastic hoses running from the drainage to skin fittings on the hull, clear these hoses with wire to ensure water can run freely.
A boat with a clean bilge is a boat ready for winter. Despite cleaning your drainage and repairing deckboards, you will probably still get some rainwater in your bilge when the heavens open. If your bilge is clean and environmentally safe, this rainwater can simply be pumped overboard. Ensure your bilge is clean and free from contaminants such as old engine oil and diesel – see our post here. Check your bilge pump is in good working order and that automatic bilge pumps are functioning. It is a lot cheaper and easier to safely dispose of a few litres of old engine oil than it is to dispose of 400l of oil contaminated water. Excessive water in the bilge has also caused several boats to sink.
Preparing boat paintwork for winter
Your exterior paintwork may also need attention before the winter sets in. Primer and undercoats are not waterproof in the same way that topcoat is. It is not unheard of for boats to rust under the primer, especially if left unfinished for the full season. Any rust spots should be treated with Owatrol Oil or Vactan, see our post here. Finally, make sure you give your boat a good clean. Dirt and grime accumulated from dusty summer towpaths traps water against the paint, causing it to degrade much faster.
Powering Through The Wet Seasons
Preparing your boat engine for winter
One of the first signs of winter on the canal is hearing a chorus of spluttering engines coughing into life. Get your boat ready for winter and get the engine serviced in good time. Cold diesel engines are already harder to start, make sure yours is purring along before it gets really tested in the harsh winter conditions on the water.
Preparing fuel tanks for the cold and wet weather
Keep your diesel tank full throughout winter, take advantage of any coal boats passing by. If the diesel tank is full, less condensation can form on the steel of the tank. Condensation leads to water in the tank, which provides a breeding ground for the dreaded diesel bug. Clean your tank if needed and treat any new diesel you add with Marine 16. This will prevent new diesel bug from building up. – see our post here. If you have a water drain point on your tank (we don’t see many on canal boats) then use this to get rid of any existing water. On petrol tanks, check these are clean and rust free. Treat any rust and use fuel stabilisers like Redex or Seafoam.
Solar panels during winter
Give your solar panels a good clean, with the shortening days and weakening sunlight, you will need every last drop of sun. If you have a cheap and inefficient regulator on them, now is a good time to consider upgrading to a better one. The more efficient regulators allow more energy into your batteries.
Marine batteries in cold weather
Batteries are another consideration when getting your boat ready for winter. If you have a sinking feeling that yours are irreparably damaged and no longer holding a charge, you may want to consider replacing them. When batteries are cold, they are even worse at holding a charge. The chemical reactions inside them which release an electrical current are slowed down by cold temperatures.
Stoves and heaters
Many narrowboats and barges we see have a solid fuel stove as their primary source of heating. Get this serviced by a competent marine heating engineer before the first cold snap to beat the crowds. All stoves and diesel heaters should also be serviced yearly, get these looked at before they go wrong.
Marine gas installations
Cold showers are no fun when it is 0°C, so get your system and appliances checked by a boat Gas Safe engineer. Regulators have a finite life, if you can’t remember the last time yours were changed it is probably a good idea to change them now. Freezing water in the regulator expands and contracts, causing damage. The rubber hoses which attach the regulator to the rest of your pipework also degrade over time, these should be changed with your regulator. It is possible to change these rubber hoses and regulators yourself, but we would recommend contacting an engineer anyway as they can check up on the rest of your system.
Clean your vents before using your stove!
Clean out any vents on your boat. They get blocked up with dirt and spiderwebs, early autumn is peak spider season. During winter, we often close all the windows and doors on our boats. If the vents are also blocked while an LPG, diesel or gas appliance is running, there is a real risk of running out of air. This causes the fuels to burn incorrectly, leading to Carbon Monoxide being produced. Carbon Monoxide is deadly poisonous – there are multiple deaths every year from CO poisoning. Ensure you have functioning, correctly fitted CO alarms on your boat and check them regularly. Not all CO alarms are suitable for marine use, check the BS number on the back of yours. All alarms CO alarms will say BS EN 50291, but those specifically for boats are BS EN 50291-2. The -2 is very important, check it is present.
Getting your boat ready for winter can be a bit of a chore, but the pay off is worth it. Once you’ve made your boat tight against the weather, all that will be left to do is get the extra blankets out of the cupboard and stick a stew on the stove and enjoy cozy evenings on your boat.