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Tips for boaters in the off-season

There’s nothing worse for a boating enthusiast than to sit idly through the winter months in painful anticipation of warmer weather (even if you do have some sort of beautiful northern getaway complete with log products, bear skin rugs and a nice fire place). That’s why Manitou has consulted some of the best names in boating to compile a list of ways to keep busy in the off-season. Take a look at our tips for off-season maintenance, inventory and fun to make sure your boat is ready to go the moment spring arrives.

Winterize

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zabethanne/108937580/sizes/m/in/photostream/

First things first: You must make sure your boat is in safe storage. Make sure that snow does not accumulate on top of your boat, if stored outside. Even boats that have been shrink-wrapped during the winterization process can be damaged by extensive snow and ice accumulation. Wyatt Hanks, Education Manager for the Marine Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Florida sums up what successful winterization looks like with these tips:

  • First make a checklist of all winterizing tasks that need to be accomplished.
  • Check the owner’s manual of your boat and motor(s) for manufacturer’s recommendations on winterization.
  • If you are a new boat owner, perhaps you should employ the assistance of a friend with experience in winterizing—or, hire a professional to do the job.
  • When it comes time to de-winterize, remember that each boat will vary in what is required, so consult your boat’s owner’s manual or boat mechanic.

Take inventory

First things first: You must make sure your boat is in safe storage. Make sure that snow does not accumulate on top of your boat, if stored outside. Even boats that have been shrink-wrapped during the winterization process can be damaged by extensive snow and ice accumulation.

Next, take an inventory of your safety kit with these guidelines from Manitou. Make sure you have all that is required by your state to be legal on the water for the upcoming season. It’s also important to ensure your fire extinguisher is in working order. Make sure:

  • The pressure is at the recommended level – On extinguishers equipped with a gauge (such as that shown on the right), the needle should be in the green zone—not too high and not too low.
  • The nozzle and other parts are not hindered in any way.
  • The pin and tamper seal (if it has one) are intact.
  • There are no dents, leaks, rust, chemical deposits and/or other signs of abuse or wear – Wipe off any corrosive chemicals, oil, gunk, etc. that may have deposited on the extinguisher.

Beautify your boat

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spigoo/42625155/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Now is one of the best times to make sure your boat’s interior and exterior features are in tip-top shape. Johnny Ramirez of Ramirez Boat Service LLC offers some tips for keeping your boat beautiful and in good condition.

  • Get the hull waxed before you put it in the water – Use wetland compound if gelcoat is too oxidized.
  • Get the topsides waxed – You could do this after you’ve been in the water, but it might require wetsanding and compounding if oxidized.
  • Wax all your metals – This will prevent any type of rust buildup from prior years and keep them looking good without replacement.
  • Apply two coats of varnish to any teak wood on the exterior – Do this as a precaution. Remember, it’s easier and less expensive to maintain a boat than to run it down and make replacements.
  • Have your interior steps and companionway checked out – They may need some varnish while the boat isn’t being used and able to dry completely.
  • Clean the bilge – This will prevent any unwanted odors.
  • Have the interior detailed – This will curb mildew problems and also prevent any odors.

Here are a few more tips for a good-looking boat from Wyatt Hanks:

  • Wash your boat at least once a week – This will ensure the finish lasts longer.
  • Routinely inspect and clean the bottom of your boat – It comes into constant contact with the water and needs special attention. This tip may even save you money on fuel.
  • Spend regular time cleaning the boat’s carpet, upholstery and wood accents to preserve the value of your boat.
  • Grease all parts that require it.

Keep things running smoothly

Of maybe the most importance in off-season boat care is engine maintenance. We suggest these tips for winter maintenance:

  • Change all spark plugs – Spark plugs are cheap and easy to replace, so taking this precaution can save you time and money once boating and fishing season actually starts.
  • Check and tighten belts if needed, especially the alternator belt – A belt that’s not tight will wear faster. The belt should fit snugly in the pulley grooves. If not, the belt is worn and needs to be replaced.
  • Change the fuel filter, making sure the fuel line is not cracked – those in warm climates are lucky as the winters aren’t extremely cold. But, for some other climates, the combination of cold weather and several months of dryness can crack the fuel line. The fuel filter should be changed yearly as a precaution.
  • Check the oil – This falls under the obvious category, but it’s still necessary. Oil has a tendency to gum after several months of disuse. It may be necessary to drain the old oil and replace with a totally new batch.
  • Check the battery – Use a battery tester to see if the batteries still have a charge. Also check for corrosion, being careful not to contact any leaking acidic substances. This is important. You don’t want to be on the middle of the lake, or, worse, the ocean with dead batteries.

Have some fun

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/airwaves1/3189961116/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Aside from making sure your boat is in beautiful, functioning condition, there are plenty of others ways to pass time in the off-season. Andrew Canepari of The Daily Boater encourages enthusiasts to get revved up for warmer weather in a few fun ways.

  • Attend boat shows – The off-season for boating is the busiest time of year for indoor boat shows, with convention centers displaying the latest and greatest boats and marine gear all over the world.  Boat shows not only have a wide array of boats and products all in one place, but you can usually also find pretty good deals as exhibitors will often have special offers to maximize their marketing budget. Check the boat show calendar on FirstBoat.com for current and upcoming boat shows near you. http://www.firstboat.com/boat_shows.html
  • Listen to nautical-themed music – It puts you in the boating spirit when you can’t get out on the water. The obvious choices are the likes of Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney, but we also love nautical songs performed with passion by independent artists, ocean conservationists, and anybody that mentions water in their lyrics. Tune in to the Daily Boater for our Sea Song of the Week every weekend to see our suggestions. http://www.dailyboater.com/p/sea-songs.html
  • Brush up on boater safety – Whether or not your state requires boating safety education, courses by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Power Squadrons are usually inexpensive, and will give you the chance to brush up on your nautical knowledge and make you a safer sailor. Take advantage of the off season and take a course on boating safety or seamanship. Start at the boating safety page on Firstboat.com to find resources for courses in your area: http://www.firstboat.com/safety.html
  • Plan ahead – If you are going to trailer your boat to new destinations make your plans and reservations now. The most popular boating destinations fill up fast. The sooner you call, the better chance you have of finding the ideal spot for you and your boat.

You might also enjoy these good-time tips from Wyatt Hanks:

  • Go Fishing – There is usually good fishing in the off-season. Talk with local fisherman and see if they know of any good spots to fish. Find out what type of bait they use and any other tips they might be willing to share with you.
  • Find some projects – This may also be the best time to do any restoration jobs that may have your boat out of commission for a period of time.

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