Winterise your boat
We’ve got to that time of year when the temperatures start to drop dramatically and the country’s obsession with grit supplies takes hold. Summer cruising is well and truly over and for those of you who own boats on Britain’s canals and rivers it’s time to think about winterising your boat.
If you’re going to leave your boat unattended for any period of time you will need to take steps to protect it from the damaging effects of winter. We’ve put together some tips to help you prepare your boat for the colder months ahead.
Inside the boat
The last thing you want when you return to your boat after the winter season are smelly, mouldy furnishings. Over the winter period you should consider moving any soft furnishings to a warm and dry environment.
The best protection for the engine is to change the oil and service the engine according to the manufacturer's instructions before storage. This way all the filters are clean, water has been removed and corrosive elements that build up inside the engine are washed away.
If you have a sealed water system, the strength of the engine antifreeze should be tested and topped up or discarded if less than fifty per cent. This will prevent freezing and also prevent corrosion by preventing air reaching internal components on the engine.
Although this advice covers water cooled engines, which have their own reservoir, it doesn’t cover those that use sea strainers and drag the water from the canal as a coolant. With these types of engine you will need to close all stop cocks and drain the systems.
It is a good idea to place an oily rag in the exhaust outlet and to cover the air inlet to the engine, this stops the air moving through the engine and causing corrosion of the valve gear. Finally give the engine a good spray with WD-40 paying particular attention to the electrical components and wiring - this will keep the damp away and prevent bad connections in the spring.
Water pumps should be disconnected and run dry to remove any traces of water. Water tanks and calorifiers and pipe work should be emptied.
Leave the taps in the open position. It’s also a good idea to ensure the shower is drained and shower head removed, with the valves left open.
Batteries should be fully charged and ideally left on a float charge from a purpose built marine battery charger; if this is not possible then check their charge every month and top up when required. Ensure the electrolyte level is correct and battery terminals are free from corrosion.
If you are moored on the main line where there is a greater chance of craft passing by when the cut is frozen, you can drop planks of wood from ropes into the water to run alongside your hull. The planks will absorb some of the impact of the sheets of ice created when people start ice breaking to get to the water points. These sheets of ice can shoot across the top of a frozen canal and can seriously damage the hull of GRP boats but they usually only scratch the paint or blacking of steel hulled narrowboats.
Consider fitting an automatic bilge pump float switch. Moored boats can rock from side to side as a result of high winds or even the wake of passing boats and take on water. An automatic bilge pump float switch will give you piece of mind as you can be sure that small amounts of water will be removed from your bilge.
Ventilation can be improved by use of wind socks, which are sold specifically for ventilating boats. These will deflect most of the winter weather and allow proper ventilation of the cabins.
Don’t forget to visit
Visit the boat regularly to turn over the engine and charge the batteries. You should run the engine for at least 30 minutes until it reaches its normal operating temperature for 20 minutes. To do less will allow acidic condensation to form which negates the whole point of using clean oil and filter initially.
While you're there you should also pump out rainwater and clear cockpit drains and bilge pump suctions of leaves. Boats should not be left for long periods without some form of inspection by the owner or a friend/boatyard to check on the mooring and condition of the boat.
If you have any tips about winterising your narrow boat please share them with us by emailing email@example.com.
We would like to thank Keith Byatt for his additions to this feature.