A primer on how to best take care of your boat during the winter


December 13, 1992|By NANCY NOYES

Even for those whose boats are up on cradles for the winter, a number of things need to be done to help maintain the health and well-being of the crafts in the off-season and to reduce the expense and hassle of getting started sailing again in the spring.

This general overview will be the first in a series of examinations of winter maintenance tricks of the trade, in which local experts on hulls, rigging, sails, equipment and overall conditioning will share their favorite tips for winter projects designed to prolong the overall life of a sailboat and its gear and to save time and money in the spring rush.

For starters, most professionals in the marine industry agree that it's important to remove a lot of the gear from the boat for storage in a dry and secure place.

Mildew is an enemy, so cushions, life preservers and all other soft goods that can be stored somewhere else -- in the rafters of the garage, in the attic or basement, in a rented storage locker -- should be taken off of the boat, where condensation or leaks can produce trapped moisture, rot, and mold.

Standing the cushions up against a bulkhead so they can receive a better airflow than they would if they were lying flat on a bunk is an option, but things probably still will be soggy in the spring if routine airings on clear and sunny days during the

winter aren't possible.

Too many boaters leave already-damp life jackets crammed into corners and lockers on winter-stored boats, and this can wreck them.

These should be checked now, and again in the spring, because a damaged life jacket quickly can become a liability rather than a life-saver.

Coast Guard Auxiliary members recommend a simple test to determine the health of a standard kapok-type PFD -- put it on a hard surface and press down firmly on each compartment in turn. A hissing sound of moving air or a squashy lack of resilience means the jacket has gone bad and should be slashed up and trashed.

While you're at it, check your flares for expiration dates and make sure they also are stored in so they can't get damp.

Sadly, thefts of boat equipment, including high-priced electronics, are still a fact of life, and in a relatively deserted winter-time boat yard or marina, security can be a problem.

Certainly the boat itself should be secured as much as possible against uninvited guests, but it's also a good idea to pack up all easily portable, valuable items such as binoculars, hand-held radios and navigational equipment and take it home.

Many more or less permanently installed radios and Lorans also can be unhooked and taken off the boat for winter securing and will go back on fairly easily in spring when they're needed.

Winter is also a good time to plan for upgrades in this department, because electronics professionals will have an easier time fitting your project into their schedules if you don't wait until the re-commissioning crush in the spring, when you're anxious to get going, too.

Check with your sailmaker about winter washing and storage for your sails. Many lofts can do the job of laundering out the season's salt spray and grime, and most will store your sails in their lofts until you're ready for them in the spring.

Your sails should be kept dry and not have to go through the temperature extremes of keeping them in an unheated hull.

This is also a good time to ask your sailmaker about preventive maintenance and recutting any pieces of your inventory that might be getting tired.

Another time and effort saver for the spring is getting this season's trash thoroughly cleared out of the boat before it turns black and soggy. I have surprised myself with how many old sailing instructions and other wet, ugly pieces of paper and debris survive the winter to haunt me in the spring unless there has been some careful policing when the boat gets put away.

Charts, cruising guides, rule books and other paper products you want to save also should be brought home for storing out of the wet.

Of course, winter storage means pumping the boat dry and sealing it up as much as possible, too, to keep the water incursions down to a minimum and reduce trapped moisture.

It's nearly impossible to prevent a certain amount of condensation from building up inside the boat.

But major leaks -- at the mast step or down the track, at spots in the deck where gear was moved or removed and the caulk has come loose, etc. -- should be addressed and taken care of before the boat takes on several gallons from several months' worth of dripping.

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