Well, we’ve had quite a lovely summer and some fantastic cruising but all that is coming to an end for a lot of boaters. Many parts of the system will be restricted (if they are not already) due to the annual lock closures and maintenance programmes. Mustn’t grumble – soon be spring!
What we have to do, is to ensure that when spring returns, we are not caught out with burst pipes and any of the other things that winter can throw at us.
Now I know that to many of you, the words Granny and Eggs will be in your minds but believe me, even the most experienced can be caught out and a timely reminder will do no harm. We have been lucky in that the last couple of winters have been quite mild but none of us knows what this winter will bring so give it a little thought and just to get you going, here are a few basic reminders:
If you have the time, dealing with any rust patches, even as a temporary measure, will pay off. A rub down, a rust treatment and a bit of paint with help to stop further spread over winter.
Ensure that the antifreeze levels in both your engine and in your heating system is up to the job.
Make sure that the tank isn’t full to capacity. If it does freeze, it will only be the top few inches so leave room for expansion. You needn’t drain it completely but lots of boaters do. Turn off the main stopcock from the tank then turn on the shower and galley tap until the pump runs dry. Isolate the power to the pump to shut it down (leave it switched off). Open all taps and then if there is any residual water and it expands due to freezing, it has somewhere to go and won’t burst your fittings.
If you have a Morco or similar lpg boiler, it is essential that you open the drain cock and drain it down. The pipework in boilers is quite fragile and as it is well above the water line it is more likely to freeze.
Have a pumpout now; come spring you’ll be glad that you did! (Prevent solids from building up and being difficult to get rid of later).
If you have a pumpout toilet, drain water from the bowl then it won’t freeze and damage seals. Cover the ball valve with a piece of clingfilm to prevent back odours (be sure to remove it in spring and don’t flush it away, remove it completely!)
Fill your diesel tank to prevent condensation and water contamination building up.
Grease whatever needs greasing: Stern gland, tiller bearing, fuel and pumpout fittings, and any other parts that need it.
Give the studs and the zips on your cratch cover a bit of a treat with Vaseline. Do the same to any padlocks.
Top up your batteries with distilled water (just above the plates), clean and apply a light coat of Vaseline or suchlike to your battery terminals and make sure that the batteries are in a good state of charge. It pays to visit the boat and top up battery charging a couple of times during idle winter months.
Marinas sell more batteries at the start of the season than at any other time (and I mean shedloads)!
Check mooring lines for condition and security. You may want to change your normal running lines for secondary ones. Your lines will retain water which will freeze and cause damage. If you have centre lines that can’t be removed, consider packing them in plastic bags to keep as much water off them as possible. Be mindful of rise and fall as levels fluctuate.
Ensure that any roof gear (top plank, poles, boathooks etc.) are either stored below or well secure against the wind. It isn’t just a case of losing them, they can and do cause damage to other nearby boats. I’ve twice seen incidents in a marina where planks have blown off and smashed someone’s windows.
Dry the bilges as much as possible and ensure that the bilge pump is in good order. At times when you may be away from the boat for lengthy periods, you may consider an automatic bilge pump directly wired (and properly fused) if you don’t already have one.
Tools & Stuff:
Put away all non-essentials. Don’t leave tools to go rusty in the lockers. Clean them and give them a light spray with WD40 then store them somewhere dry. Electrical hook up lines will suffer if left lying in a locker so stow them somewhere inside. If you remain “hooked up” during winter, apply Vaseline to the casings and points where the cables are vulnerable (where they leave the plastic connector)
Remove chimneys (if you can) and/or make sure that the outlet is covered; a couple of plastic bags taped on will do an efficient job if you don’t use a winter cap.
Solid fuel stoves:
Make sure you leave the fire grate door slightly open. If left secured, the seals can become fused to the stove and when you next open the door, the seal will tear away.
Leave some ventilation through the boat (a hopper window for instance) to keep a good airflow and prevent mould building up.
I am sure that many more tips are available and if you have any, send them to me for inclusion in this list. Not everyone will have the benefit of your years of experience.
Hopefully the weather will not be too severe (but you never know) and I hope that when you return to your boat all is as it should be. Time to cosy up by the fire with a good book methinks!