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Winter Checklist for Boaters

Posted by Isaiah Brown on Jan 30th 2020

Winter Checklist for Boaters

If you’re a boater living somewhere that experiences a long, painful winter, you know how important it is to get the most out of boating season. Although you aren’t able to enjoy a long day out on the water, the winter months can be the perfect time for boat maintenance to get things ready for opening day!

From cosmetic details to mechanical maintenance and more, there’s always something you could be doing to get your boat ready for spring. In this article, I’ll lay out a few projects you can work on throughout the winter that will save you valuable time come late-April when the ramps open up.

1.      Shine it Up

Due to exposure to water and sunlight, keeping your boat’s exterior in pristine condition is no easy task. While there are a number of methods for getting the perfect shine, it’s crucial that you buff and wax at least once (preferably twice) per year to maintain your boat’s gelcoat.

Oxidation, the cloudy, chalky buildup that occurs due to exposure to sun and water, can make any boat look old and unattractive. Avoiding this unfortunate process is as simple as regular maintenance. If you’ve never done it before, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need:

Buff and Wax 101

  • Buy a buffing compound and a wax (preferably from the same manufacturer). If your boat is already showing signs of oxidation, there are a range of different products that can help remove it.
  • Make the investment in a waxing orbital buffer. A good one isn’t cheap, but it makes the job easier and more effective.
  • Plan out half a day (at least). Take your time and watch a couple videos on how to do it. There are several different methods, so try out a couple and decide which works best for you.

2.      Check the Electronics

Water and electronics don’t always get along. Neither does a beautiful day on the lake and a stereo system that isn’t working properly. Get out ahead of any potential issues by doing a thorough check of all your electronics while you’re confined to dry land.

Step one of making sure everything is prepared for the upcoming season starts with the battery. Plenty of inexpensive battery tenders are available that you should be utilizing in the winter (and all throughout the year) to make sure your source of power is in good condition.

Step two, after hooking up the battery to the boat, is to flip all lights to make sure they’re working properly. Boating after dark is a great time but can become dangerous quickly if you’re unable to be seen by others out on the water.

In addition to checking the lights on your vessel, do a quick run-through of your trailer’s lights as well. Not only are brake lights and turn signals required by law, but they’re also crucial for safety when traveling.

Finally, make sure your blower and bilge pumps are in working order. A broken blower prevents you from being able to dispel potentially harmful gases from your engine, and I don’t need to explain the danger of a faulty bilge pump. This component of winter boat maintenance can save you a lot of trouble on the water.

3.      Safety Equipment Required by Law

All boaters are required to have a kit of safety equipment on board. It can vary slightly based on where you live, but all of the following are good, if not legally required, to have onboard:

  • Visual distress signals: These are typically flares. In the case of an emergency, it’s crucial to have a method of getting the attention of other boaters. If you’ve had the same flares for several years, consider replacing them.
  • Life vests: It’s required that there be a life jacket for each member on your boat. The easiest way to make sure you never run into a problem? Store enough so that in the event that your boat is filled to capacity, everyone will still have one available.
  • Horns, Whistles: A blow horn or whistle is necessary to have in case visual flares don’t work in an emergency. They’re also required by law on any boat under 40 feet.
  • Fire extinguisher: Also required by law, boats under 40 feet should have a fire extinguisher handy. Most boats have a holster around the captain’s chair.
  • Oars or Paddles: If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’re on the water and the engine won’t start, you know how important these can be. If you’re concerned about saving space, a number of telescoping paddles exist that make storage convenient.
  • A bucket of hand-bilge: Nobody wants to think about a situation where their boat is taking on water. Having a device to bail out water could be the difference between making it to the dock and capsizing.

Not only are all of these pieces of equipment potentially life-saving, but they’ll also save you some money should you be inspected by a patrol boat. Most items on this list are inexpensive, and are worth it for the peace of mind.

4.      Paperwork

If we’re being honest, doing paperwork is probably the exact opposite of a day on the lake. However, it’s a necessary evil to maintain legality and protection. Here’s a list of everything you should have in order prior to opening day:

  • Up-to-date registration: There are two parts to displaying a properly-registered boat. First, the sticker of your state with the year indicates that you’re up to date. Second, the series of 12 numbers, known as the hull identification number (HIN) should be attached to the upper right of the transom or on the starboard (right side) of the stern. Keep in mind that your trailer must have proper registration as well.
  • Titles: If you’ve bought a boat second-hand, you may or may not have received a title with your purchase. If you didn’t, go to a title office and get both the trailer and vessel registered. It’s an inexpensive and relatively painless process.
  • Insurance: Law requires boaters to have insurance that covers any damage to someone else’s boat or property. Boat insurance is much cheaper than car insurance, and can often be packaged with your existing insurance provider for around $50 per month.

Once you have all of the above winter boat maintenance requirements taken care of, you’re ready to hit the lake! As a side note, it’s a good idea to keep copies of everything as keeping documentation in your car, boat, and home is advised.


Spring fever takes on a new meaning when you’re waiting to get the boat out of storage for the winter. Complete everything on this winter boat maintenance checklist and you won’t have to waste any time when opening day arrives!