Our poor boating community has taken a real beating these last few months on Kootenay Lake. We have gone from warm, mild, winter weather, to freezing, windy, cold weather. Many of the boats in the area have become casualties of this ice and wind combination, so I thought I would put together a few tips on how to keep your boat safe during this time.
If your boat is out on a pin right now, the best thing you can do is ensure that your mooring lines are secure and in good shape. Yes I said lines. Plural. Make sure you use strong lines with a bit of stretch to take some of the load off of your bow cleats (such as nylon lines). There are many boats out there that are not correctly tied to their moorings, which is why so many lines are breaking and boats are adrift. The best way to tie your boat to the mooring ball is to use two separate lines through the top metal loop in the ball and then back up to your bow cleats (going through your chalks as well). It is a bit difficult to explain, so here is an article with photos: https://theboatgalley.com/connecting-to-a-mooring-ball/. When you use this method you will not be relying on one line to secure your boat and your lines will not get wrapped and tangled around each other as the boat swings and you now have 2 lines securing your boat.
Docklines & Fenders
If you are at a dock right now, there are several things you should be doing. Fender up! Put out as many fenders as you think are needed along the beam of your vessel (the widest part which is against the dock). Make sure you are using weighted fenders (read this article on fender selection) and make sure that the base of the fender is at the water line and with a bit of extra slack in the line — unless your dock is high, then make sure the dock is half way up the fender or withing the bottom 1/3. If you put the fender too high it will just land on top of the dock as the boat rocks up and down in the slip and they will not protect the hull.
Docklines should be checked and retied as needed. Look at which lines are taking all of the load and see if you can add an extra line to lesson the load on that one cleat or spot on your boat. Check the cleats on the dock for wear and tear. I know we would like to put all of our faith in these little things, but many of them are only held down with lag bolts at the most and with a 7,000 lbs boat pulling on them, they will break. Make sure you tie the boat tight enough to not rub on the dock in places (like your bow hitting the top of the dock), but loose enough that the boat moves around within the slip.
Snow & Ice
As a responsible boat owner you should be checking on your boat — provided it is safe to do so. Snow can be swept off of your deck; leaving it there will just cause it to potentially get heavy and weigh down the boat or it will melt off and get into the cabin through that pesky leak you have not managed to locate. In my opinion ice should not be hammered or scraped off of the boat as you are more likely to damage your gelcoat or fiberglass by doing this. It depends on the situation, but if the ice is not threatening to sink your vessel or damage something else on the vessel (engine), leave it to melt off.
Bilge & Self-Bailing Cockpit
You should check your bilge for any excess water. This could mean you have a leak. While checking on the bilge you should be checking that your bilge pump works (many are battery operated and die over the winter when the batteries die). If you have water in the bilge, bail it out. If it appears to be excessive water, start checking under your floorboards to find the source of the leak.
Many sailboats go down over the winter because their self-bailing cockpit gets blocked (San Juan 21s seemed to be plagued by this). Check on your cockpit thruhulls and self-bailing holes to make sure they are not iced up or full of debris. Perhaps find something to poke through the holes to make sure water can get through.
These are just a few tips to make sure your boat makes it through the winter so you can enjoy a wonderful summer on the water. It just takes a few trips to the boat (maybe once a month depending on the weather), and it takes a few minutes to check on your lines, fenders and bilge. However, in the end it can save you from having to salvage your boat from the beach or the bottom of the bay come Spring.
What other winter boat storage tips do you have to share? Let me know!