Made worse, by insecure lashings & infrequent checks.

Winter storage – how to do it right

It really does come a surprise to a lot of boat owners, but Winter, in all its guises, returns every year. Yes, it does. Funny that.

And I’m always surprised by the number of people who actually are caught out by this. So, here I’m laying out what a prudent boat owner ought to do when the end of the season approaches and how this ought to be planned.

Firstly – how much money do you want to hand to your sailmaker in the following Spring?

Serious question. In every boatyard, quay, compound, and tideway, at least 50% of all the boats have their canvas and sails left up all winter. Which, lets face it, is doubling their exposure to UV damage and tripling the weather stress, as well as allowing all that nasty green algae to get a foothold in the fibres of the fabric, algae which is difficult to remove.

And every spring, owners return to find grubby covers, sprayhood windows turning misty, and buckets of green sludge smearing the Shadow Cloths on rolled up genoas. And they express surprise, and mutter about the expense of renewal, and traipse grudgingly along to their local sailmaker and then have to wait in growing queue in the spring.

How to avoid this trauma? Read on.

1 – Remove all sails and canvaswork.

Simple enough. Once your boat is finished with for the season, remove all the fabric items, especially above deck. Un-bend the sails, main off the mast and genoa off the foil, bag them, and then, bring the along for a service.

Same with all the canvas work. Sprayhoods carefully removed, stackpacks, dodgers and sailcovers brought along with everything an anything else to get a service. More on this below.

Have a motorboat or sport-boat of some description? Same applies.

Using the summer tonneau cover as an all-year winter cover is never the best idea, and though most boat covers can double up as both, the resultant mess in the spring time means you either put up with it or join the queue at the loft.

2 – Cover the boat with something.

Yes, this is obvious, but what are the real options?

A GRP boat will have few real coverage needs, to be honest. Maybe the wooden cockpit benches, maybe the tiller, or whatever varnished brightwork like companionway hatch boards are prized. Most GRP boats don’t have varnished rubbing strakes of hand rails, so really only the cockpit needs to be covered at most. If you can even take things like the varnished tiller and hatchboards off home, leaving the boat security in the hands of a more solid one-piece hatch, so much the better.

Many just drape a cheap plastic tarpaulin over the boom, or stretch a small one across the cockpit. This is great – for a few months. But essentially cheap tarps have no strength in their eyelets, and no reinforcing to think of, so one good breeze and the chances are they will flog themselves to bits. A solid winter gale ripping through a boatyard will remove all the cheap tarps in one night.

So, having stripped off all the woodwork, is their actually any point? On a GRP boat, not much. A winter’s collection of leaf mould in the corner of the cockpit is easily scrubbed off – you just have to like the elbow grease involved.

But, for a wooden boat…

…or any type of boat with a lot of woodwork or brightwork, some form of effective winter covering is vital.

Do not rely on cheap tarps to cover a boat. They invariably fail. If you have to leave varnished woodwork exposed, cover it with something to at least keep the UV off, even taping bits of tarp round the grab-rails will work. Same with painted and GRP covered decks. chances are micro cracks in the paint and fibreglass aren’t visible to you, they will be visible and discoverable to the rain, and that will eventually lead to rot, in your best laid teak & plywood deck, in your fibreglass covered deck, in your deck. If you think a proper cover is expensive, just wait till you get the shipwright’s bill for repairs.

So, what’s to be done?

3 – Air circulation is vital.

Remember, you will need to ensure ventilation throughout the boat, so even if you have a stripped out racing machine, take as much home with you if you can, including cushions. Even foam-backed lining benefits from having a dry boat, so make sure you have reasonably sized openings at either end of the boat so the air can circulate freely. This makes sure that if any stray water gets in , it dries fast enough not to cause damp problems anywhere.

With canvaswork stored elsewhere, plan to have somewhere dry you can store this – and an attic works well if you can easily squeeze berth cushions into the hatch. Greenhouses and damp sheds are best avoided for obvious reasons, if nothing else because they gather spider dirt, which also needs proper cleaning, and mice will absolutely LOVE chewing through sails, covers and foul weather gear to make a nice warm nest for the winter. Make sure whatever cover solution you use is done right.

Next Time…
Varieties of cover solutions for varieties of boat. Cheap winter covers and how to maximise their effectiveness and longevity.


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