Winter Lay-up

Keeping your boat in seaworthy condition starts here. It may be the end of the season, but you can’t just lock her up for the winter and walk away. A few simple tasks will ensure she’s snug for the winter and ready in the spring.

My winter jobs include; 

  • Engine Winterisation
  • Sails
  • Rigging
  • Batteries
  • Inside
  • Outside
  • Anchor Chain

Engine Winterisation

Some people leave this to the professionals. However, it’s not a tricky task and can easily be done in a couple of hours.

The aim is to allow the engine to sit comfortably for the winter without coming to any harm. The normal problems lie with leaving the engine sitting in old oil, which is acidic and will eat at the engine parts. The other problem is the risk of freezing, so we need to protect from that as well 

By changing the oil at the end of the season, we ensure that the engine is coated in good clean oil for the winter months. The process I adopt each winter is as follows;

Cooling Water I run the engine up to temperature. Normally the boat is out of the water by now,  
 so I need to sort out a cooling water supply. The technique I employ is to stuff a
 hose    pipe down the inlet side of my raw water filter (having unscrewed the lid first)
 and    opened the engine seacock. The beauty of this is that having turned the
 water on at the tap, the water simply pours out the bottom of the boat through the
 engine seacock until I’m ready.  When I’m ready to start the engine, I simply shut the
 seacock. The water backs up the pipe, fills the filter housing and back down the
 other side to feed the engine.

 I run the engine until it reaches temperature (maybe 15 minutes). Shut down the
 engine and pump out the old hot oil. Once emptied, change the filter and refill the
 engine with fresh oil. Run up the engine briefly to circulate the fresh oil around the
 various parts of the engine.

I now take the opportunity to put a good mix of antifreeze into the raw water side of the engine. (mine is a fresh water-cooled engine, but it is even more crucial to do this with a raw water engine). To do this, I mix up a bucket of water and antifreeze (normally about 25:1), but it will depend on where you live and how high your risk of freezing conditions. Having run up the engine the second time to circulate the clean oil, I now complete the winterisation opening the engine seacock to stop the flow of fresh water into the engine and replacing it by using a funnel and tube to pour the antifreeze mixture into the raw water filter where it is sucked into the engine. A quick blip of the engine to throw the antifreeze around the engine and once water stops coming out of the exhaust I switch off the engine.

Relax belt and impeller Finally, it’s a good idea to relax the rubber bits! Remove the impeller from its housing
 (easier said than done!). This lets its fins straighten out. Slacken the alternator
 adjustment to allow the fan belt to relax, or better still, remove it completely.



Sealing the air intake

 My last job is to remove the air filter and seal it up. I normally stretch a rubber glove
 over the inlet, but just as well, stuff a rag down it.




Exhaust RagI also push a rag up the engine
exhaust to stop any creatures looking for a winter home!

 The engine will now sit happily for the winter months.







Your sails are your main driving force and need a bit of TLC at the end of the season. As soon as my boat is ashore, I remove both sails. These need a good wash in fresh water to remove any salt crystals that can be quite abrasive and cut into the sailcloth. Commercial companies use large washing machines, but I don’t recommend using your domestic machine! Small sails can be washed in a bath; otherwise I lay the sails out or stretch them out between 2 suitable fixings. Wash the sails in lots of fresh water and a mild detergent. I use an anti-mould spray on any mould stains, but do rinse off liberally with lots of fresh water afterwards. Dry the sails thoroughly, fold, and bag (if you have one). Regardless of bag, store in a dry, dark place.

Most sailmakers offer a good service in sail maintenance. They will normally wash the sails, check them over for damage and repair as required and store for the winter. It’s a good service, though of course you have to pay!


All rigging down I treat my rigging pretty much the same as the sails. You need to wash out any salt
 collected over the season and store away from the damaging UV of sunlight. We
 remove all our running rigging, replacing them with mice (thin lines)  that get fed up
 the mast and through the boom. I use fairly cheap string like flag halyard or
 polypropylene rope. However, it does need to be strong enough not to snap as you
 pull it over the sheaves.





Clean Rigging

 We normally wash our rigging in the dinghy. It makes a perfect bath, and cleans the
 inside of the dinghy as well! We soak the rigging for 24 hours or so in cold water and
 low temperature washing powder. Often treading it like grapes in our (clean) wellies.

 It then gets a good rinse in fresh water before being hung up to dry. Once
 thoroughly dry and aired, we store the ropes in a dry dark cupboard until the spring.


Batteries take a lot of abuse in their life, especially on a cruising boat. You can prolong their life by keeping them clean and charged.

Batteries don’t like to be frozen, so if there’s any chance of that, remove them from the boat and bring them home. Don’t put them on a solid floor, especially a concrete one, it could get too cold. Instead sit them on battens of wood to keep them off the floor. Keep them clean, specifically the top surface as any dust and muck could find its way into the cells, contaminating the acid within. Check the electrolyte, making sure that all the plates are covered in water/acid. Remember, if you need to top up, only use distilled water. Give the batteries a good slow charge for 24 hours or long enough to ensure they are topped up. If they’re in good condition they should hold their charge, but natural discharge means you will need to top them up about once a month.


Give her a good clean, she deserves it! A weak bleach mix wipe over all surfaces will ensure you keep the mould at bay over those long winter months. If your lucky enough to have storage at home, take off all the cushions, curtain, bedding, books, charts etc. If not (like us) we plug in a de-humidifier for the winter. It does cost in electricity, but we can now use the whole boat as a storage area. In the last 7 years everything remains on-board, and has never come to any harm. Charts, books and soft furnishings all survive well as long as the de-humidifier is kept running. If your using a de-humidifier, keep all your hatches shut, if not, keep your hatches cracked open a bit to ensure a good throughput of fresh air.


There is not a lot to worry about on the outside until the spring arrives. I normally go over the hull with a scraper to get all the bits the pressure washer has missed, otherwise it will go hard. I check rudder bearing and cutlass bearing, just to be forewarned that I might need to do something to them before the start of the next season. I also take time to de-stain the hull with oxalic acid. It’s 1 thing less to have to do in the rush for a spring launch.

Anchor Chain

Drop Anchor ChainRather than let your anchor chain sweat in the salty moist confinement of the anchor locker, let it out into the fresh air. I lower mine down onto a wooden pallet and flake it out neatly so that the air can get all around it. It will also get a good fresh water rinse when it rains. 

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