Those are words I never thought I would hear myself say again, but never say never. We realized when we decided to come back to the Chesapeake for a while that we would once again have to deal with owning a boat in the cold north. We also realized that if we came north it would be the coldest, snowiest winter on record. The decision was made the last time we were here, to not live aboard the boat in the winter months. It was just too much of a hassle and too uncomfortable for us after more than 15 years living in the subtropics. We were fortunate enough to find a good house sitting position for some nice folks that spend the winters in warmer climates like we should be doing. Their schedule worked nicely with ours for hauling the boat and then relaunching in the spring. So with that in mind, when December first arrived, we began the move off process and winterized the boat, most of it done prior to the haul out.
The biggest danger in winter is water freezing in tight places and expanding until it breaks something. Our first step is to empty the water tanks and remove as much water as possible from all of the fresh water lines in the system. Some owners we know like to blow all of the lines out with air and this has been successful, but care needs to be taken that indeed all of the water is purged. We prefer to add antifreeze to the tanks and lines instead. We use the "pink stuff" that is not harmful to the plumbing and will not contaminate the tanks and lines. For our two seventy-five gallon tanks, we add three gallons to each tank once we are sure they are totally empty. The hot water heater is a large container and we don't want to add an additional eleven gallons just to fill it. So it is emptied completely and the fresh water lines removed from the tank and a simple hose connector added to bypass the heater all together. Once this is done, we open all of the hot and cold water handles on every faucet on board, including a fresh water hose bib on deck. With everything open we turn on the fresh water pump and allow it to run until there is "pink stuff" coming out of every faucet. As it comes out the faucets are turned off, one at a time until all of the lines are full of antifreeze, and this includes all shower head lines. Our shower drains into a sump box and discharged overboard so the box is emptied, thoroughly cleaned and more antifreeze is poured in from the shower drain until the sump is pumping it overboard and the discharge line is also full.
The next step are the two heads. For this, we disconnect the intake water lines and stick them in a bucket of antifreeze. Again it is important to use the right antifreeze so as to not damage internal parts sitting over the winter. With the intake in the bucket and the thru-hull set for overboard discharge, the head is pumped until the antifreeze is being discharged. We always use bio-degradable antifreeze for this. Once this is accomplished, the intake hose is reattached to the closed thru-hull. Be sure that the holding tank has been completely pumped out well before all of this is begun. If there is any liquid at all in the tank, antifreeze will also need to be added here.
If possible at this point we try and be sure the bilge is dry and stays that way. Any excess water is sucked out with a wet vac and, with our new dripless system, it stays out. We do add about a half gallon of antifreeze to the bilge just in case some stray water finds its way in over the winter. Now is a good time to check around the engine room for any other leaks, etc. The engine will be the last thing to winterize since we will need it to move into the haul-out pit. At this point, we also like to do an oil change so the engine will sit with fresh oil over the winter and we will not have to do this in the spring. Next on the list is the anchor wash down system and this is done in much the same way as the head. Since the intake is teed into the forward head, we actually do the head and the wash-down system at the same time. The intake line is disconnected to run the wash-down pump until antifreeze is discharged out of the hose bib on the deck and then the intake hose is reconnected to the closed thru-hull.
One of the final steps is to remove anything and everything on the boat that might freeze and burst. This includes soft drinks, paint, cleaning supplies, canned goods, or whatever. Every locker on board is inspected and the contents removed if it is suspect. The fridge is emptied out and everything taken ashore. The it is cleaned, defrosted and the door fixed in a partially opened position. We give the boat a couple of walk-throughs and try to spot anything we might have overlooked earlier. Any sensitive electronics will also be removed and taken ashore for both the potential for harm over the winter but also for security.
The engine will be the last step and one of the most important. If the boat will sit for a while prior to it being hauled we make sure there is heat aboard to protect it. Once the boat is in the haul out pit, the final winterization for it can be done. We make sure ahead of time the the fresh water side of the engine has a good mix of the correct antifreeze. On the raw water side we have a fitting on top of the raw water strainer that a water hose can be attached to. With the raw water intake thru-hull closed, a hose is attached and inserted into a 5 gallon bucket full of the correct antifreeze. The engine is started and allowed to run, drawing water from the bucket of antifreeze, until the antifreeze is discharged from the engine exhaust at the stern. We can also see the antifreeze in the raw water strainer. With all of these steps completed we are almost finished with prepping her for whatever the frigid north land will bring.
The last step we leave to the professionals, and that is to have the boat shrink wrapped. We have left it out in the winter in the past and it is harder on the boat than five years in the tropics. We do have to lower the mast and bimini as well as a few other items prior to it being done. Once the shrink wrap is on, we feel much more secure that it will come through the next few months without major issues. The shrink wrap will also allow us to be able to get on board during inclement weather to do some projects that we might otherwise not do if we are living aboard. And we will keep everyone posted on just what those projects are.