Despite the exceptionally mild start to the winter, the threat of a sudden cold spell may be just a forecast away. If we get another beast from the east, or even just a standard seasonal cold snap, is your boat prepared? asks Neale Byart, editor of Motorboat Owner.
Winterising is the act of protecting your boat, its equipment and contents from the ravages of the winter weather. Failing to carry out any preparation for winter can result in expensive damage to the engine, domestic water system and even your soft furnishings.
While many marinas, such as MDL, offer lifting capabilities and boat yard services at heavily discounted berth holder prices to help keep your pride and joy in tip top condition with hull scrubs, anti-foul and other maintenance, there are practical steps you can take while berthed.
Here we break down the process of winterising your boat into three categories. First, there is the ‘must dos’. These are the jobs that you should carry out as an absolute minimum, and look after the areas most likely to be affected by a cold spell and most costly to put right. Next we have the ‘good to do’ list. These are jobs that it would be worth considering, as they will keep other parts of your boat fresh and undamaged by winter ravages. Lastly there is the ‘also consider’ list. These are jobs that are good to get done at this time of year. Possibly because they will give you an early ‘heads up’ if anything is wrong, allowing you plenty of time to get things fixed before next season, or maybe just because it means your boat will be in a better state of readiness to go in the spring when the weather finally breaks, meaning you can get back on the water with the minimum of work.
The most important, and expensive, item on your boat is its engine or engines. Seriously cold weather can cause water in the cooling system to freeze and expand. This in turn can crack any part of the cooling system, including the engine block itself.
On a raw-water cooled engine you can choose to simply drain all cooling water, but if the water is salty, you will still be leaving behind a certain amount of potentially corrosive mixture. Far better is to mix up a solution of antifreeze and run it through the engine, either by pouring it into the raw water strainer, lowering the sterndrive into a container containing the mix or by using some engine flush muffs.
Engines with an enclosed cooling system will still have some raw water inside certain parts of the cooling system, such as heat exchanges and raw water pumps. Again this can be drained or purged using the same method as above.
Even though engine blocks with an enclosed cooling system are protected by the antifreeze that the coolant should have within it, it is worth remembering that this should be changed every couple of years to ensure its efficiency. On an engine with an enclosed cooling system, you should, at least, test the enclosed antifreeze mixture to ensure it is capable of doing its job.
Domestic water system
Perhaps the most common form of frost damage experienced is to the boat’s domestic water systems. The best thing you can do to protect this part of the boat is to completely drain it. You can simply run your taps until the tank runs dry, and this will remove most of the water from the system, but there will still be enough trapped water inside the pipe work and taps to cause damage. Once the tank is empty, take the supply hose from the tank and using a dinghy pump blow water out of the system by opening one tap at a time. Don’t forget any taps out in the cockpit or on the transom, as these are the most vulnerable. You can then leave all taps open to allow any remaining water a bit of expansion room, if required.
Don’t forget to drain your water heater. If you have a calorifier, just take off the lower hose. If you have a gas water heater, it should have a drain cock that you can simply undo. Check your owner’s manual for its location.
If the worst comes to the worst and something does goes awry, many marinas offer boat maintenance and engineering. MDL’s network even welcomes outside contractors onto marinas with its open yard policy, plus for MDL members there is often substantial discounts from onsite tenants.
Good to Do
Make the most of winter offers which are offered by marinas like MDL and get ahead of the game with a quick lift and check for hull damage, scrubbing and anti-fouling. Plus, your marina manager or onsite chandlery will be able to tell you which anti-foul you should be using in the local area.
Soft furnishings can take a bit of a beating in a cold and potentially damp environment. If you can, take them off the boat and store them at home somewhere dry. If you can’t take them home, or have nowhere to store them, you need to ensure the boat remains as dry as possible. Fix any leaks, ensure all covers are in good condition and all cover fixings are in place. You could consider running an electric dehumidifier for a few hours a day if you have access to a reliable source of power. If not, you may be better off ensuring good ventilation through the boat by leaving a hatch or porthole or two open. Just make sure that they are ones that won’t let rain in.
The boat’s exterior is fully exposed to the worst of the weather so consider giving the boat a final wash and then apply a generous coat of a good quality wax. You don’t have to polish the wax off until the spring, when doing so should reveal a nicely preserved and shiny boat beneath.
If you have any grey or black water tanks, have them pumped out and flushed through, leaving them empty and clean ready for the next season. Don’t forget the little grey water shower sumps. These should be emptied, which also gives you an opportunity to clean the filter to ensure another year of trouble-free service.
Using a good corrosion protection product, give the engines, mechanicals and any exposed electrical items a good spray. While you are working in these parts of the boat, perhaps also grease any movable linkages and squirt some grease into any grease points.
The subject of fuel tanks is a thorny one. Our recommendations would be to leave petrol tanks as empty as possible and diesel tanks full. A full diesel tank will ensure there is minimal internal tank surface left for condensation to form on, keeping your fuel as free of water as possible. Petrol, on the other hand, does not keep well, particularly in a vented tank, so you would be better off starting the new season with a fresh tank of fuel. Adding a fuel stabiliser to any petrol that does remain in the tank should help ensure it keeps it fresh enough to start the boat in the spring and get you to the fuel berth.
To ensure that your batteries make it through the winter, check the electrolyte levels, top up if required, and ensure that they are fully charged. If possible, give them a trickle charge, or a sporadic short charge, during the winter to keep them in top condition.
These are not really winterising jobs, but are good to do now for a number of reasons, but mainly because it means that, come spring, the boat should be in a ‘ready to go’ state with no nasty surprises lurking.
Change the engine oil. Old engine oil contains contaminants that can harm the internals of your engine. If you change the oil now, the clean fresh oil will coat and protect the internal running surfaces. It will also provide an early ‘heads up’ of any problems such as water or fuel contamination.
Change your sterndrive or outboard gearbox oil. It is not uncommon to find water contamination here, so you don’t want to leave that water in contact with your gears all winter. It will also give you a few months to get the source of the problem fixed, making use of a quieter time of year for most marine engineers. If you leave it until spring, you may find yourself at the back of a very long queue.
Check your props for damage. Like good engineers, the people who refurbish propellers get very busy in the spring, so get the prop off and in for repair early, if required.
Lastly, check your safety equipment. Items such as lifejackets, liferafts, PLBs, EPIRBs and firefighting equipment all have service requirements and/or expiry dates. Winter is a good time to get these items serviced, or hunt out some well-priced replacements.
If you’re berthed at a great marina, you can always ask for advice from the marina staff. MDL’s marinas offer members a a 30% discount on boat yard services and have 13 boatyards across the UK network – with lifting capabilities for all types of boat. The company offers inclusive storage ashore and with 500 tenants across its network, MDL always knows someone who can help.
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There’s no need for the end of the summer to be the end of your sailing season says Jake Kavanagh, yachting journalist. If you follow these top tips, you’ll be comfortable whatever the weather brings.
Why put the boat ashore when there is so much great cruising to be had during the winter? Many berth-holders are now opting to keep the boat afloat from November onwards, and only have a brief lift out in early spring to scrub-off and change the anodes.
As one sailing instructor remarks: “With modern clothing, great insulation and blown-air heating systems, there is no real end to the boating season.”
Extending the boating season is one of MDL Marinas’ specialties as its extensive network offers some really attractive winter berthing packages, with fully serviced pontoons allowing a boat to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Dry stack customers are particularly good at making the most of a sunny winter’s day, as one phone call has the boat afloat and waiting for them as soon as they arrive at the marina.
The speed of service means that when settled weather arrives, those crisp, sunny days can be exploited to the full, even though the daylight is relatively short. It’s been known for UK boaters to go sailing in T-shirts in January when a clear sky allows the sun’s radiant energy to warm the decks, with perhaps a gentle southerly breeze wafting up from the Sahara. As winter boaters cruise along the coastline, they will find popular summer anchorages largely deserted, harbour moorings plentiful, and vast expanses of water with not another boat in sight.
So although daylight hours are shorter the spirit of exploration and adventure can remain the same, especially if owners take advantage of schemes like MDL’s Freedom Berthing. This offers complimentary stays in over 120 marinas in the UK, France, Italy and Spain allowing passages between marinas during the short hours of daylight before enjoying all the comforts of home at your destination.
Here are some top tips to get the most from your boat with off-season cruising:
1: Have the right clothing
Most boat owners already have a good set of wet weather gear, but it pays to invest in a layered system underneath. Many manufacturers have their own dedicated system of breathable fabrics for maximum effect. Several thin layers beneath a fully waterproof outer layer are much better at trapping heat than a couple of thick ones. Most heat is lost through the head, so don’t forget a comfortable wooly hat!
2: Keep a well-stocked galley
Winter sailing requires regular hot food and drinks, especially on a longish passage. One-pot meals are always popular, and usually comprise of tinned ingredients that can be poured into a pan, heated quickly, and served in a bowl so it stays warm in an exposed cockpit. There are plenty of good cookbooks that suggest these instant meals.
3: Switch to propane
Boaters who cruise all year round – or who are planning a blue water adventure - often change their cooking gas from butane to a propane system instead. This is because propane has a higher calorific value and freezes at a very respectable minus 40oC, whereas butane succumbs at just minus 4oC. If there was an overnight frost, the butane in the regulator would freeze and there would be no gas until it had thawed. Propane, however, will still light easily, even if the sea itself has iced over! Most cookers will happily use either gas, although a different regulator will be needed. Long range cruisers often carry both types of bottle and regulator to cover their options.
4: Keep those fingers warm
Cold fingers stop working very quickly; not good when it comes to handling ropes. Invest in a good pair of gloves, and keep those extremities warm. Fingerless gloves are a sort of compromise in summer, but ideally the finger tips should be protected at all times in cold weather. A mitten works well, as you can still steer, throttle and wind winches, but the hand can be easily slipped out of it for tasks requiring more dexterity.
5: Embrace the hot water bottle
The hot water bottle is a major asset afloat. Choose a fleece-lined one, and keep it tucked under your jacket to warm the inner core. Also great at night – as the thicker the bottle’s coat, the hotter the water you can use and the longer it will stay warm. They are great around your feet under the duvet if you haven’t got a heating system.
6: Why not fit blown air heating?
Talking of which, why not fit a blown air heater? Arguably the safest way of heating a boat, it is free from potential carbon exhaust emissions within the cabin. (Running the gas stove all night is highly dangerous, unless there is excellent ventilation, which rather defeats the object.) A blown air heater burns small amounts of diesel from the boat’s main tank, with the combustion gasses exhausted over the side. A small electric motor then drives the hot air from a heat exchanger throughout the accommodation. A good tip is to insulate the heating duct between outlets, and to reduce the diameter of the duct as it travels further from the heater to maintain velocity. (The duct can be left un-insulated as it passes through hanging lockers to help damp clothing to dry). Check out products from manufacturers such as Eberspacher and Webasto, to name just two, with prices highly competitive due to the volumes made for the trucking and RV industries.
7: Indulge in a luxury sleeping bag
Warm bedding will make a big difference to your comfort afloat, so look for winter sleeping bags or duvets with a high tog rating. This rating is a measure of thermal insulation, and the higher the number, the warmer you will be. A lightweight summer duvet, for example, will have a tog rating of between 3.0 to 4.5. A spring/autumn-weight duvet will score between 7.5 to 10.5tog, and the one you will want for mid-winter will be between 12.0 to 13.5.
8: Run a dehumidifier
Condensation can be a problem in the winter months, especially when the warm air inside the boat meets the windows. With little insulation from single-pane glass (although you can make insulated covers) the cold air outside promotes condensation and can cause annoying runs. The same thing can happen on uninsulated headlinings.
If you are taking advantage of MDL’s Freedom Berthing, you can expect to connect to shorepower every night and run a small dehumidifier. These inexpensive machines strip all the excess water from the air and transfer it to a built-in reservoir, whilst some can drain directly into the galley sink. It is best to get a reputable make, and keep an eye on it, as some cheaper ones have been known to burn out if used excessively. Even a relatively small unit will make a big difference aboard and some 12-24V versions are also available for use at anchor.
9: Get the most from Freedom Berthing
MDL’s complimentary berthing scheme allows you to check out marinas in the UK and participating marinas in southern Europe with a series of free visits. In addition, some of MDL’s marinas have partnered with hotels ashore, such as Southampton’s Ocean Village and the 5-star Harbour Hotel within the marina complex. If your partner is reluctant to sail in the midst of winter, then a stay ashore in such luxury should make a chilly sail worthwhile.
Plus, when you use MDL’s network, you’ll benefit from 24/7 marina staff and security, and great onsite restaurant and bars. All the marinas are experienced with looking after off-season cruisers, and offer warm showers, warm clubhouses and a warm welcome.
10: Don’t forget to take pictures
The winter offers some dramatic seascapes, with brooding skies, glassy reflections and spectacular sunsets. For those who hate getting up early, then the late sunrise is rarely missed. Keep your phone and camera handy, as the winter offers some excellent photo opportunities. If you are into astronomy, then crisp clear winter nights reveal the magnificence of the Milky Way and other northern constellations away from the light pollution of towns and cities.
11. Keep the tender available
The downside of a winter cruise is that some of the summer services, such as a water taxi, may not be available. Make sure your tender is accessible and easy to deploy, as this will allow you access to the shore when you have no choice but to anchor off. However, such will be the lack of crowds that some quayside pubs and restaurants may also throw in alongside overnight berthing even through they usually have strict time limits during the summer. The dinghy is also a great way to go creek crawling, and explore those places you missed during the season. But if you’re staying at an MDL marina you obviously won’t need a tender as you can step straight from boat to pontoon.
12: Take a course
Many sea schools do a brisk trade off-season as students like being able to practice their skills in empty harbours and anchorages. There are very few onlookers, and plenty of room to manoeuvre. Another big advantage is the short daylight, allowing them to practice night navigation for several hours and still manage to get back in time for a leisurely pub supper. Prices are generally cheaper, too, and will allow new boaters to gain confidence and skills before the busy summer season. MDL marinas always has a list of approved RYA sea schools available, with many operating out of each marina. Ask the dockmaster who they can recommend. Or visit www.mdlmarinas.co.uk/services-directory
And that’s it. You’ve invested a lot of money in your boat, so make the most of it by enjoying every fine day during the winter.
We’re delighted to announce a great package of winter offers across our extensive marina network, offering boat owners excellent quality and great value berthing, dry stack, lifting and storage packages. With these winter offers, boat owners can put their minds at ease as the nights draw in.
Highlights of the offers include savings of up to 40% on winter scrubs and storage ashore at a number of boatyards including Hythe Marina Village in Southampton and Queen Anne's Battery in Plymouth. Great-value short term berthing is available in the finest UK marinas, including the chance to enjoy three months berthing from just £649 at Shamrock Quay in Southampton, available on boats up to 8m.
“It’s very important to keep your boat well maintained, especially during the winter season when it tends to be used less frequently and is most at risk from adverse weather conditions,” says Adrien Burnand, MDL’s head of marketing.
“Our lifting and storage packages give owners the chance to carry out essential maintenance work and prepare their boat for next season. For those seeking a safe and secure home for their boat during the winter months, our berthing packages give peace of mind with boats looked after around the clock. We’re always keen to welcome new members too. Offers like these are a great way to come aboard our network, experience our renowned customer service and get a really good feel about what we offer. Once owners have taken advantage of a winter deal, we’re very happy to talk to them about what we can offer year-round.”
Read more about our full range of winter offers.
MDL Marinas is delighted to reveal that within its hospitality lounge overlooking the main boat show marina (E052), Salcombe Gin will be hosting daily taster sessions and teach the art of distilling, while the five-star Southampton Harbour Hotel spa team offers complimentary head, neck, and shoulder massages.
Known across its extensive network of over 120 marinas for its excellent customer service, prime locations and top of the line facilities, MDL Marinas is applying its key ethos of relax, enjoy and discover to its stand at TheYachtMarket.com Southampton Boat Show.
“We’re recreating the excellent experience people enjoy at our marinas,” says Dean Smith, commercial director for the European-wide group of marinas in UK, Italy, France and Spain. “There’s always something exciting happening onshore, so it makes sense to continue that at Southampton Boat Show. We’re delighted to be welcoming two partners to the stand.”
Salcombe Gin, a traditional copper pot, one-shot distiller based in Devon, will host a tasting session every day between 4 and 5pm on MDL’s stunning members’ waterside hospitality lounge. Distillery demonstrations will take place on both Sundays (16 / 23 September), and Wednesday (19 September) between 3 and 4pm.
Southampton Harbour Hotel's HarSPA, will also be offering complimentary head, neck and shoulder massages throughout the show, as well as foot pampers. Known for their deep tissue massages to ease muscle aches and areas of tension, HarSPA therapists offer Lava Shell, Bamboo and Lomi Lomi massages in the five-star hotel.
Relax, enjoy, discover
MDL is looking forward to welcoming over 4,000 members and their guests to its stunning waterside hospitality lounge. Visitors are encouraged to use the area as a meeting place, or somewhere to take a well-deserved break. With free WiFi, refreshments and massages from the Harbour Hotel’s spa staff, the lounge is the ideal place to relax in comfort.
Helping its members to explore with friends, MDL will showcase its impressive network of over 120 marinas. Visitors will also be able to discover the exciting benefits of becoming an MDL member such as Freedom Berthing which gives access to the marinas in the European network at no extra cost, and upcoming offers that feature options for winter marina berthing and storage. Plus, it’s the ideal opportunity to discuss Beds On Board, the accommodation scheme designed to unlock the economic potential of members’ boats.
Additionally, the boat show offers a great opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the end of the season. On the members’ balcony overlooking the marina, MDL’s hospitality lounge offers a buzzing social environment, complimentary refreshments and fundraising events for the two great charities that the company supports.
“We love the Southampton Boat Show,” Dean continues. “It’s a great opportunity to touch base with our members and hear about their marina and cruising experiences. Plus, we enjoy meeting those who haven’t stayed with us before, finding out about their sailing adventures, plans, and letting them know all about the benefits of becoming part of the MDL family. We’re also really looking forward to sharing more information about the great work we’re doing with the Blue Marine Foundation, the Ocean Youth Trust South and our Sail Training Awards. It’s going to be a great show!”
Make sure that you plan time in your day to visit the stand (E052), enjoy the view and learn more about MDL Marinas.