To say that a boat is better off stored on land is to assume it will be resting on something that provides adequate support. In most cases, damage ashore occurs slowly as hulls get distorted due to a lack of support, creating problems ranging from poor engine alignment to broken stringers and bulkheads. To prevent that damage, pay careful attention to exactly how your boat is laid up.
Custom-made cradles are designed specifically to support critical areas of a boat — its engines, bulkheads, and keel. Custom-made cradles provide better support than any of the alternatives, but don’t store your boat on a cradle that was built for a different model boat. Steel cradles are best, but wooden cradles will also do the job if they have been inspected for deteriorated wood and corroded fastenings. Shipping cradles are probably OK, but most will require some modification to improve lateral support before they can be used for winter storage.
Storing cradles in the off-season is problematic at crowded boatyards, which instead rely on a combination of screw-type jack stands, blocks, and timbers to support hulls. Your boat’s manufacturer may be able to supply you with a blocking plan, indicating where blocks and jack stands should be placed to provide the best support for your boat. Or you can work with the yard manager to devise one yourself using a diagram of your boat. Save the plan and give a copy to anyone who hauls the boat in the future.
Jack stands should be placed as far out from the boat as practical to support the boat in high winds, with at least three per side for boats over 26 feet and additional supports at overhangs. The weight of the boat can easily force a jack stand base deep into mud, sand, or asphalt. Even clay that seems brick hard can become a quagmire in heavy spring rains, allowing stands to loosen, shift, and spill the boat. Placing a sheet of plywood under each base and using safety chains to connect the stands will help to stabilize the support upon which your boat rests.
Jack stands stabilize the boat, but most of the boat’s weight usually rests on its keel. Some boats have specific requirements to support the keel, and at least one manufacturer warns against putting weight on the keel. If the marina manager isn’t familiar with your boat, check your manual or contact the manufacturer.
Keels must be supported by wide timbers or blocks – the wider the better to distribute the load. On power-boats, additional support is usually recommended under inboard engines, fuel tanks, and heavy machinery. With outboard and sterndrive boats, weight should be taken off the transom by lowering the drive units onto a block.
After the boat is blocked, sight along the hull and keel to make sure the jack stands aren’t depressing the hull. (You should also check in about two weeks, after it has settled.) The boat must also be level, or water could pool and cause stains, mildew, and/or gelcoat problems.
Dry Storage Racks
An increasing number of boats are being stored ashore on dry storage racks. These racks are designed for “typical” boat hulls, but can’t always be adjusted to support unusual or atypical designs. If you have doubts about the support provided by a rack, consult a marine surveyor or consider an alternative winter location such as a trailer, which has adjustable rollers or pads that can be adapted to different boats. If storing your boat in a dry storage rack, whether in a climate-controlled facility, a shed, or outside, check with the boatyard about specific requirements for fuel tanks to prevent fires.
In addition to being adjustable, trailers have the advantage of being mobile. Ideally, you’ll take your trailerable boat to a gated, secure storage facility for the winter. If that’s not an option, store it somewhere that avoids overhanging tree branches, which can break off in winter storms. Don’t park too close to buildings with sloped roofs, or an avalanche of ice and snow may cause considerable damage to your boat. If storing a deep-draft sailboat on a trailer, you will need to provide additional lateral support using extra jack stands along each side. To reduce windage, unstep the mast of any trailerable sailboat.
Storage on lifts can be the best of both worlds, with most of the advantages of hardstand storage while still allowing you to use your boat when the weather is balmy. But the BoatUS Marine Insurance claim files show that lifts do not fare well in hurricanes and strong nor’easters. Wind, waves, and surge can shift the boat, and torrential rains or heavy snow can increase the boat weight to the point of breaking the lift. If you live in an area with strong winter storms, or if your lift is exposed to fetch from the direction of the prevailing storm winds, it’s better to store your boat on its trailer. Otherwise, make sure the hull is properly supported and will drain efficiently, and inspect your lift wires, chains, and fittings carefully before tucking your boat in for the winter. A cover is even more important for a boat stored on a lift (see “To Cover Or Not To Cover” for more on covers). As with boats stored on the hard, the hull is exposed to the air, so make sure to winterize well before the freezing temperatures arrive.
Winter Battery Care
On small boats that aren’t left in the water, you may want to take your batteries home and put them on a trickle charger. If you choose to keep them aboard, here are some tips: Top up wet-cell batteries with electrolyte. Make sure battery cable connections are tight and free of corrosion — clean them if necessary with a pot scrubber or emery board. Coat the connections with a corrosion inhibitor like Boeshield T-9. Leave the batteries hooked up to a marine charger that has a float setting or leave them unplugged but charge them up completely at least once a month.
Batteries left on an automotive trickle charger for long periods of time run the risk of boiling off the electrolyte and, at the extreme, exploding. Today’s batteries do best when charged using a marine “smart charger” that varies the charge based on differences in battery chemistry and matches charging voltage to what the battery can accept at different stages of the charging cycle. When buying a marine battery charger, look for the following features:
- A three-stage charger with bulk, absorption, and float stages (or a four-stage charger with an additional pre-float stage) and battery type selection
- Output of 25-40 percent of the battery bank capacity in amp hours
- Temperature sensing at the batteries for automatic adjustment of charger output
- Equalization phase for use with flooded cell batteries
- Ignition protection if installed in a gasoline engine room space