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Boat Maintenance Checklist: How to Care for a Boat in Storage

boat maintenance checklist

The average boat lasts between 10 and 25 years, depending on how well you care for it. Therefore, it’s essential to create a quality boat maintenance checklist.

Many boat owners don’t realize that good boat care and maintenance also means taking care of the boat while it’s in storage. Neglecting boat and boat trailer maintenance while your boat is in storage can leave you with costly problems by the time you retrieve it in spring.

Avoid these expensive repairs by investing in the right kind of boat storage and creating a good boat maintenance checklist. Use the list we’ve put together below to get started!

End-of-Season Outing

When you’re preparing for boat storage, we recommend taking it out for one last end-of-season ride, especially if you haven’t for a while. This is a great way to get one last bit of enjoyment from it before the year ends, but that’s not all.

Taking your boat out before storage is vital for one last routine boat inspection and ensuring everything is operating as expected. You don’t want to miss taking care of any problems that may worsen as it sits in storage.

Signs of Damage

Start your end-of-season boat ride as usual—with a pre-departure check. Make sure there are no signs of damage to the interior or exterior parts of the boat.

Take a quick look around the engine and internal components, including the bilge, the battery, and the gas tank. Overlooking these areas can leave you stranded during your outing, so make sure you look before every ride.

Safety Equipment

The last ride of the season is the perfect time to ensure your safety equipment is in good shape. Ensure your life jackets and floatation devices aren’t damaged and that your fire extinguishers haven’t expired.

If you don’t use your emergency signaling devices regularly, such as your horn or navigation lights, then this is an excellent time to test them as well. If anything isn’t working, be sure to replace them before the next boating season.

Signs of Operational Problems

When out for your last ride of the season, test your boat thoroughly. Make sure it starts, runs, and shuts off as you expect it to. If you don’t test your boat well, you could miss signs of serious problems.

For this reason, it’s not enough to just turn your engine on and test it in a large bucket of water. You might not realize that your boat has trouble running for more extended periods. So, do your due diligence to avoid problems later on.

What Is Boat Winterization?

Boat winterization is the process of preparing your boat for winter. When boats sit unused for long periods in cold temperatures, they can develop problems. Some problems can ruin parts of your boat, resulting in expensive repairs.

Do I Need Boat Winterization?

If you live in an area that hits temperatures below freezing, boat winterization is essential. However, even if you live in mild climates, we still recommend winterization.

Even periodic freezes can wreak havoc on your boat’s internal components. If you don’t want to face expensive repairs in the spring, we recommend ensuring your boat is always winter-ready when it comes time for boat storage.

Pre-Storage Checklist: Winterization

Investing in winterization is the best boat maintenance cost to prevent costly repairs. It’s also easy if you have a thorough boat maintenance checklist. You can winterize your boat yourself, or you can take it to a trusted boat mechanic.

Flush Water

The first step on our boat engine maintenance checklist is to flush your engine and coolant systems with freshwater. Flushing these systems helps remove salt and dirt, which can cause problems during boat storage.

It can also help fight against corrosion which can break down different mechanisms in your engine. After flushing, be sure to put antifreeze back into your coolant system.

Replace Engine Oil

Winterization is also the ideal time to deal with your engine oil. In general, you should replace your boat’s engine oil at least once per season but may need to do so more frequently if you use the craft often. Don’t forget to change any oil filters, either.

Check Fuel

One of the most critical boat maintenance costs to consider is the cost of maintaining your fuel. At the end of the season, you should either drain the boat of any fuel or add a fuel stabilizer. Allowing fuel to set causes it to rot and eat away internal components.

Grease Moving Parts

Lubrication helps prevent rust from exposure to the elements. Ensure to thoroughly lubricate parts such as latches, hinges, and components such as the propeller. This sometimes involves removing the part (if possible), lubricating, and then reassembling.

Remove Personal Items

Once you’ve worked through your boat engine maintenance checklist, it’s time to move on to the boat itself. Be sure to remove any personal items before boat storage, such as electronics, life jackets, and other equipment.

This helps deter potential theft while your boat is in storage. It also helps keep your belongings from getting damaged if exposed to certain conditions.

Get Your Boat Clean

An essential part of boat care and maintenance is keeping your boat in good condition by cleaning it after every outing. This is especially important if you use your boat in saltwater or travel between different bodies of water.

Before boat storage, you should use soap and fresh water to clean the hull. Make sure you remove any barnacles or debris. Finish up by cleaning the interior, ensuring it’s wiped down and dry.

Don’t Skip Waxing

Another essential boat maintenance cost is waxing. Applying a marine wax to the hull helps protect it from rust and other damage. Don’t skip this step.

Choose a Boat Cover

Regardless of the type of boat storage you choose, you should invest in a quality boat cover. Custom-fit boat covers or boat shrink wrapping are the most secure options, especially if you’re choosing uncovered boat storage (which we’ll discuss shortly).

Using makeshift boat covers such as tarps is not as secure and is unlikely to fully protect your boat from things like water damage or frost.

While proper boat covers are a high boat maintenance cost, they can save you money in the long term. Replacing water-damaged interior elements such as seating is a costly investment. It’s cheaper to prevent damage than it is to fix it.

Types of Boat Storage

The type of boat storage you choose affects your boat maintenance checklist. The different storage options offer different levels of protection, ease of access, size, and cost.

The two main types of boat storage are covered and uncovered. Deciding between the two depends on the boat you have and how you want to take care of it.

Uncovered Boat Storage

Uncovered boat storage gives you access to an open parking area. As the name suggests, the storage area is exposed to the elements, and your boat will be parked next to other vessels. If you haven’t seen uncovered boat storage, think of it as you would a large but secure parking area.

Pros of Uncovered Boat Storage

One of the top benefits of uncovered boat storage is the cost. It’s about half as much to invest in an uncovered boat storage area than a covered storage area.

Your boat is stored in a fully fenced facility accessible via a keypad. It’s also under video surveillance. However, you don’t lose access to your boat since all lots are available seven days a week.

Uncovered storage is the best option for those with huge boats. Covered storage has height and depth limitations, which you don’t have to worry about with uncovered storage.

Cons of Uncovered Boat Storage

Since this type of boat storage is open, your boat is exposed to the elements. This shouldn’t be a problem if you have a quality boat cover—except for severe weather. Without proper protection, your boat could face severe weather-related damage.

This is also not ideal if you plan on keeping your boat stored for the long term, especially if you can’t check on it regularly.

Covered Boat Storage

Covered boat storage is similar to what a carport is. While not fully enclosed, covered boat storage offers a roof over the parking spot. While it may not seem like this makes a significant difference, you may notice a difference when you retrieve your boat in the Spring.

Pros of Covered Boat Storage

Investing in covered boat storage is best for practicing good boat care and maintenance. With this type of storage, there’s a much lower risk of your boat taking on weather-related damage from rain, snow, or ice.

This is especially beneficial if you don’t have a custom-fit boat cover or shrink wrapping. However, covered storage can also help extend the life of your boat cover since it will also receive protection.

Uncovered boat storage can make it harder to work on your boat in peace. With covered boat storage, fewer boats or stored RVs will be in your immediate area. This can give you more privacy to focus on your boat maintenance checklist.

Cons of Covered Boat Storage

One of the significant downsides of covered boat storage is that it’s not meant for large boats. Covered boat storage has a maximum clearance of 13.5 feet and cannot accommodate all boats.

Another downside of covered boat storage is the cost. It is almost twice the cost to park a boat in these storage spaces. However, you have to decide if the price is worth your boat’s added safety and longevity.

In-Storage Boat Checks

Boat care and maintenance don’t stop just because your boat is in storage. If you want to keep boat maintenance costs low, we recommend making a schedule to look over your boat in the off-season.

Consider looking over your boat at least every few weeks, especially if you’re keeping it in uncovered boat storage. This helps you stay on top of any damage or signs of wear that could lead to costly repairs if not treated quickly.

Plus, this is the perfect opportunity to make repairs or perform routine boat maintenance. Some repairs and maintenance are difficult to do while your boat’s in the water. With your boat on a trailer, some areas are more easily accessible.

Exterior Boat Maintenance Checklist

We recommend starting with our exterior boat maintenance checklist while your boat is in storage. Start by entirely removing your boat cover to give you the best view. You might be tempted to just do a quick pass around the boat while it’s covered, but you might miss something hidden underneath.

If you’ve opted for boat shrink-wrapping instead of a custom-fit boat cover, your boat inspection will be much more difficult. Once you remove your shrink-wrapping, you have to have the process completed all over again.

For this reason, we recommend a reusable boat cover over shrink wrapping. However, if you opt for shrink-wrapping, make sure you’re twice as thorough during the winterization process or prepare to have the shrink-wrapping redone.

Signs of Hull Damage

First, check for signs of hull damage. This can be as obvious as large scrapes or as subtle as minor wrinkles. Blistering, peeling, or cracking can either be signs of issues with your boat’s structural integrity or a problem with the paint.

Propeller Maintenance

Next on your boat maintenance checklist should be your propeller. This should be detached, inspected, and greased for winterization. However, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s still in good condition periodically.

Exhaust Ports

If your boat has exhaust ports, don’t forget to ensure these were sealed during winterization and remain sealed during boat storage. This helps keep pests such as mice from making nests or causing damage inside your boat.

Interior Boat Maintenance Checklist

The next part of your boat maintenance checklist is checking the boat’s interior. While some boat owners may be tempted to just peek under the boat cover for this part, we recommend fully uncovering the boat.

As with the exterior, the boat cover can hide signs of damage. For a clear view, roll back the cover completely while you check the interior.

Drain As Needed

Once you’ve uncovered your boat, we recommend checking for signs of water damage and standing water. This recommendation is primarily for boaters using uncovered boat storage or less-than-perfect-fit boat covers.

However, this is a good idea even for covered boat storage. Extreme wind conditions can blow snow and rain underneath the covered storage area, so removing any standing water before it causes damage is essential.

Interior Wear

Whether you’ve had your boat in storage for a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, mold and mildew can proliferate and wreak havoc. That’s why we recommend thoroughly checking your interior for signs of damage and wear.

Materials such as canvas and leather are the most sensitive to moisture and the quickest to grow mold. If possible, you should remove any canvas or leather features in your boat before storage. If it’s not possible, be sure to check them periodically.

Boat Engine Maintenance Checklist

After you’ve checked the exterior and the interior, it’s time to move on to the boat engine maintenance checklist. This can be the most labor-intensive part of your in-storage boat check, but it’s also one of the most important.

For this part, consider having a professional boat mechanic check over your boat at the beginning and end of boat storage. They can help ensure it remains in good shape and alert you to any necessary repairs before they become expensive problems.

Battery Charge

It’s much easier to prevent battery problems than replacing them once they’re ruined. That’s why we suggest disconnecting your battery from time to time and checking its charge.

Even better, we recommend disconnecting it entirely while in storage. This is the perfect time to clean and grease the battery terminal and cable ends.

You should also make sure to check the battery’s charge periodically. If the battery’s dead, charge it before putting it back in the boat for storage.

Gas Tank

This is less of a concern if you’ve emptied your gas tank. However, if you choose to add a fuel stabilizer instead, you’ll have to consider your gas tank during your boat check.

Water can build up in gas over time, especially if your boat’s exposed to heavy moisture. Consider adding a fuel stabilizer every once in a while and ensuring the tank is topped off, so there’s no room for water to seep in.

Signs of Leaks

Checking for signs of leaks as part of your boat maintenance checklist can help alert you to severe problems while your boat’s in storage. This includes leaks from your fuel lines, fuel tank, oil system, and coolant system.

Check around your boat’s engine and electrical components for pools of liquid. You can also check your bilge for signs of contamination. If you notice signs of leaks but can’t pinpoint the location, consider taking your boat to a boat mechanic for repair.

Boat Trailer Maintenance

When it comes to boat storage, many people neglect boat trailer maintenance. It’s easy to forget about the trailer because they’re so focused on the boat or don’t think it’s essential.

However, checking your boat trailer is just as important as checking your boat. Overlooking problems can result in damage to your trailer, your boat, or your vehicle. It can also cause injury to you or others if things go wrong while you’re driving.

Tire Check

The first part of boat trailer maintenance is to check your tires. Ensure they maintain the recommended pressure and have an appropriate level of tread for all types of road conditions. This includes checking (and having) the spare tire.

You can also check your wheel bearing protectors at this time. If you don’t have wheel-bearing protectors, we recommend investing in a set to keep any contaminants out. These also help your bearings remain greased after being in the water.

Brake Check

If you have a larger boat, your trailer likely has its own set of brakes. It’s vital to ensure these are in good working condition to avoid any problems with launching or retrieving your boat during the boating season.

Start by checking for any signs of corrosion. This is a risk for boats used in salt water, especially if you don’t make it a habit to rinse them off with fresh water after each use. You also want to make sure the brake pads or shoes aren’t due for service.

Signs of Rust

When your trailer starts to rust, you could start experiencing problems with its function. Check the trailer coupler and the surge brake actuator. Make sure it’s adequately lubricated so that it’s easy to use.

Make sure all mechanisms are functioning correctly and easy to move. If functional parts are allowed to rust, you may experience sudden malfunctions while in use.

Light Check

Another common problem experienced by boat owners has to do with their trailer’s brake lights. Ideally, the brake lights are checked every time the trailer is hooked up, but it’s good to review it periodically as well.

Check the metal pins for signs of corrosion and apply special grease for these kinds of components. You should also make sure the trailer is properly grounded. Otherwise, you may have trouble with the operation.

If the lights aren’t working correctly, start by replacing individual bulbs before looking at the wiring. If you aren’t experienced with electrical wiring, we recommend hiring a professional to avoid making problems worse.

Get Started on Your Boat Maintenance Checklist

Use the above boat maintenance checklist to ensure your boat stays in good working order before and during boat storage. Practicing good boat care and maintenance is easier and more affordable than making costly repairs.

If you’re ready to find a suitable boat storage space, review your options and get renting today!