The Cost of Winterizing Your Boat
I get asked a lot of questions about the cost of owning a boat. Not so much the price tag of the actual boat (although I get that a lot too), but more about the cost of operating it.
I was answering this question in a forum the other day, and thought it would be a good time to explain winterizing a boat and the associated costs in more detail. I thought the best way was to simply post my latest invoice from last year. I’ll attach it to the bottom of this post for you to see.
Before we begin, I should note that a lot of people winterize their own boats without the help of a mechanic. There are risks with that if you’re inexperienced – and I’ll talk a bit about those risks. First, we should talk about what winterizing is, and why it’s important.
Unlike a car engine, many boat engines are cooled by sucking up water from the lake or ocean, cycling it through the actual engine on older boats, or just through the heat exchanger on a closed cooling system on newer boats. The water is then spit back out. Either way, both systems draw in water for cooling. You can read more about engine cooling systems here.
Cars on the other hand use a closed cooling system that cycles through a chemical coolant. The coolant, or antifreeze, is reused constantly (not spit out after use) and is designed to be efficient at heat transfer. It also has the added benefit of a freezing point that is well below water. This is why your car engine doesn’t crack in winter.
Boat engines do crack – as I found out first hand. So it’s important to get all the water out of the engine before the winter freeze. My winterizing was done by a professional, which meant they covered the cost of replacing the engine. If you do the work yourself, you’re on your own. It’s very important that you make sure you know what you’re doing as there are stories every season around my marina of someone cracking a block from doing their own winterizing – or not winterizing at all.
You’ll also need to get the water out of any other systems on your boat that have it – including air conditioner, RV water system (faucets, etc), head system (toilets, holding tanks), your generator (often water cooled as well) and anywhere else water may be hiding.
Now just pulling the plug that holds water in isn’t enough for these systems. Draining is a first step – but once you’ve drained the water, antifreeze is then run through the system and drained to ensure it won’t freeze/crack. This will vary by boat, but is very common.
Most people also change their oil once a season too (or every 100 hours). I, like most boaters, do this with the winterizing instead of in the spring. That way it sits with fresh oil over the winter – and any problems will be spotted then.
The cost of winterizing depends on how many engines, along with the number of these other systems, you have on your boat. The cost will also depend on where you boat. Some regions are more expensive than others to hire a mechanic and service. The size of your boat will also affect this if you want to get it shrink-wrapped and store it on land over winter.
My situation: I own a single engine 29 foot boat. I boat in fresh water. I only put on about 50 hours a year, max. No air conditioner. No generator. I do store on land over winter. I do get it shrink wrapped – as tarping the boat myself was a huge disaster.
Many people save money by doing all the work themselves, leaving it in water at their slip over winter, and not shrink wrapping (just using boat canvas). There are pros and cons to all the options – and if you google for opinions, you’ll find a million of them.
That said, here’s my winterizing invoice from last fall:
This year, we may leave it in the slip all winter, as land storage has gone up dramatically in price at our marina. That comes with a whole different set of issues I’m sure we’ll talk about on this website in the future.
Feel free to comment about how you handle your boat over the winter.