Man de-winterizing a boat with fresh coat of paint

How to De-Winterize a Boat

Most boat owners  are aware of the need for winterizing a boat for storage during the colder months when boating season has ended. So when the weather begins to warm up again and the season for boating approaches, it’s important to also undergo the process of de-winterization so your boat is ready for the water. This guide will cover everything there is to know about how to de-winterize a boat so you’re ready to set sail this summer.

What Does It Mean to De-Winterize a Boat?

When it comes to owning a boat, de-winterizing is the process of taking your boat out of storage and assessing any maintenance needs in order to have it ready for the upcoming season. This process of de-winterization is fairly common for seasonal investments, such as your winter home or other vehicles stored away during the colder months that require special attention to prepare for use.

Jump to FAQs about boat de-winterization:

How to De-Winterize Your Boat

There are many steps to de-winterize a boat and the process can take quite a bit of time. Despite the time or money needed to winterize and de-winterize, boat repair expenses for serious damage make it far less costly than the alternative. Failing to winterize and de-winterize a boat every season can have catastrophic results.

Here are the key steps to follow to de-winterize a boat properly and ensure it stays sea-worthy for years to come:

Check for pests

It’s possible that animals or other pests got onto your boat during the winter. Covering it well with a good quality cover goes a long way to preventing this. However, they’re small and determined so no cover will be 100% effective. For added insurance, some people like to use an electronic repellent device. Be thorough but incredibly careful anytime you de-winterize a boat as some of these animals can be dangerous.

Uncover all surfaces

After a long winter stored away, it’s expected to find some dirt, dust, or leaves that got under the cover. Dirt and dust especially are so small that keeping them out completely is nearly impossible. Having a good shop vacuum on hand can help. Make sure to vacuum any surface that may have gotten dirty. As you clean, look for any damage that may have occurred. If any of the upholstery is damaged, patch it well.

Use a checklist for inspections and repairs

One of the most important parts of learning how to de-winterize a boat is learning to conduct a thorough inspection and proper boat maintenance.

Use this handy boating checklist to cover all areas that need to be checked and cared for upon taking your boat out of storage:

  1. Surface: Examine the surfaces inside and out for signs of dents, scratches, or other issues. Repair any problems you find.
  2. Trailer: Study the trailer for signs of rust or corrosion and replace any worn parts.
  3. Engine: Check the engine for any cracks caused by trapped water expanding when frozen. Get it ready to start up again, avoiding any unnecessary wear and tear by introducing the proper additives to the oil when you change it.
  4. Fuel: Replace it if it separated or became otherwise unusable.
  5. Cooling systems: Inspect all the parts for holes or other damage, clear the strainer, then fill it up.
  6. Thermostats and water pumps: Unlike other parts that should be well-maintained with the goal of extending their life, these parts should be replaced every time they hit 200 hours in use.
  7. Hoses: Check all the hoses for splits and replace any broken ones immediately. Any parts made of rubber are more likely to degrade quickly.
  8. Belts: You’ll know your belts need replacing if you see an accumulation of soot or excess slack when pressure is applied.
  9. Battery: Make sure the battery still holds a charge, clean any corrosion, fill any fluids, or replace it if it’s too far gone.
  10. Electronics: Test all the electronics and install them correctly with care.

Inventory safety equipment

As part of your checklist to de-winterize, boat safety should be a priority. The safety equipment you’re required to have by law depends on factors like the location and jurisdiction of your boating destination and the kind of boat you have. The Coast Guard, state and local governments, Park Services, different federal agencies, etc., each have a different set of minimum safety regulations for each boat size, age group, and activity.

You must always be aware of where you’ll be and what minimum safety requirements apply. Remember, those are minimums. It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-protected. As you de-winterize, boat safety supplies should all be checked to ensure no items are damaged or expired. Emergency flares and fire extinguishers do expire or become ineffective so keep records of when you service and replace them.

Wash, paint, polish, and wax

When you de-winterize, boat cleaning and polishing may seem superficial. However, proper maintenance includes washing to prevent erosion over time. Lightly power washing can loosen stubborn grime and mildew. Regular anti-fouling paint maintenance can prevent hull rot. For teak boats, apply fresh teak oil and allow it time to soak in completely.

Add personal items

Don’t forget to put back the personal items and boat accessories you removed before storing. Something always gets forgotten until the moment you need it most. Making a checklist of things you remove as you winterize avoids this. Then, as you de-winterize, boat accessories will be at the end of your checklist, so you won’t miss anything.

Additional Boat De-Winterizing FAQs

Owner scrubbing the finish of his boat

Do You Need to De-winterize a Boat?

Yes! If you don’t take the time to properly de-winterize, boat damage that goes unnoticed worsens and can lead to injury.

How much does it cost to de-winterize a boat?

The cost to de-winterize a boat depends on many factors. Firstly, size. The bigger the boat, the higher the price. Geography is a factor as well. The most unpredictable variable concerns issues found while de-winterizing. If it only requires basic maintenance like fluid changes, it will be much cheaper than something like the engine needing repairs from freezing damage. On average, most people only spend a few hundred dollars.

When should I de-winterize my boat?

It’s not safe to de-winterize a boat until after the last frost of the season. When your area’s temperatures remain above 32 degrees consistently, you can safely de-winterize your boat.

Can you start a boat that has been winterized?

You can’t take a winterized boat out of storage and immediately start the engine without risking serious damage. To start it safely, you must de-winterize a boat before starting the engine.

The Importance of Storing Your Boat

Now that you know how to de-winterize a boat, it’s important to remember the reasons to winterize and de-winterize a boat in the first place. If you don’t store your boat properly by having a cover securely in place, using indoor boat storage whenever possible, and keeping it well maintained year-round—yes, that means even in the summer it needs maintenance and storage—you’ll be in for a rude awakening.

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Leaving your boat unprotected, no matter the season, often means paying for needless and expensive repairs likely to easily top the cost of a storage unit. In the summer, UV rays can damage surfaces, animals can enter more easily, humidity and salinity may harm the wood, and marine life like algae, fish, and barnacles can wreak havoc on the hull. In the winter, water expands with incredible force as it freezes. The extreme temperatures and pressure can rip holes in hoses, create rust, and even crack your engine.

Proper storage and maintenance keep everything in working order longer. You’ll also save the time and money you would have spent on lengthy, high-priced repairs. Keep in mind as you de-winterize, boat maintenance is incredibly precise, but for good reason. Each step is necessary. Boats are four times more likely to sink while docked than in open waters! Half of them are caused by leaks that might have been discovered during proper inspection and maintenance. Don’t let your desire to spend more time using your boat cause you to lose it.

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