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What To Look For In Winter Boat Storage


Here are some things to look for when choosing a winter storage site for your boat.

The photo of this boat was taken after it had fallen over and been reblocked. It isn’t too difficult to guess why it fell over. Placing the stands close together at the center of the hull won’t provide adequate support. Note also that the stands are not resting on plywood. According to the surveyor’s report, the jackstands were not chained together prior to the fall.

There are several reasons you might choose one facility over another when it’s time to store your boat ashore for the off-season: convenience (nearby is best), price (everybody likes to save money), and friends (who also store their boats there). Those are good reasons, to be sure, but they aren’t the only considerations when you choose a boatyard for winter storage.

Consider the 43-foot powerboat that was blocked ashore for the winter in North Carolina. It toppled over one blustery, wet night when one of the jackstands supporting the hull sank into the mud. The jackstand should have been resting on plywood, but the boatyard didn’t bother. Other boats have toppled over because jackstands were badly rusted or because there were too few to provide adequate support. These sorts of accidents aren’t unusual; one expert estimates that almost as many boat hulls are damaged by mishandling ashore as are damaged by accidents in the water. Some of the boats, such as the one in North Carolina, were damaged suddenly because they weren’t blocked correctly or were dropped from a Travelift. Many other boats are damaged slowly because they’re stored, year after year, without sufficient support beneath the hull. When a hull becomes even slightly distorted, it causes problems ranging from poor engine alignment to broken stringers, even impaired performance underway. While sudden accidents — dropped boats — are covered by insurance, losses that occur slowly as a result of “wear and tear” are not insured.

Jackstands don’t last forever, especially around saltwater. This badly rusted one failed at the weld and spilled the boat. Had the boat been supported by three jackstands per side, not two, the accident probably would not have occurred.

The most reliable support is provided by a custom-made cradle, which is designed specifically to support critical areas of a boat — its engines, bulkheads, and keel. In other words, don’t store your boat on a cradle that was built for a different model boat. Steel cradles are best, but wood 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 prolonged storage.

Despite the advantages, storing empty cradles during the boating season is often a problem at many crowded boatyards, which rely instead on a combination of screw-type jackstands and timbers to support hulls. Most boatyards do a competent job of positioning the supports, but it never hurts to discuss technique with the yard manager before the boat is hauled.

Jackstand pads should be positioned against the hull so that the boat’s weight is directed down toward the ground. Misalignment of the stands will force them out as the load is applied. Even if the stands are aligned perfectly, safety chains must be used to prevent them from slipping out from under the hull. Jackstands 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 longer than 26 feet and additional supports at long overhangs. Plywood should be placed under each base to prevent it from sinking into mud, sand, or even asphalt. Even when stands rest on clay that seems brick hard, they can be loosened by heavy spring rains, shift, and spill the boat.

Never tie a tarp to the jackstands. The skipper of the boat above put a considerable effort into making sure his boat was prepared for winter, but carelessly  tied the tarp to the jackstands. Later that winter, winds buffeted the tarp and the jackstands were gradually pulled away from the hull until the boat came crashing over on its side.
Yet another problem with stacking cinder blocks for support: All it took to shift this boat dangerously close to toppling over was a spring thaw. The blocks shifted when the ground beneath them got soft. Fortunately, an alert owner discovered the problem in time to have it corrected.

While jackstands must be placed properly to prevent the boat from falling over, the boat’s weight typically rests on its keel. Some boats have specific requirements for support of the keel, but 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, thick timbers — the wider the better to distribute the load. Cinder blocks are prone to breaking and should not be used. On powerboats, additional support is usually recommended for inboard engines, fuel tanks, and heavy machinery. With outboard and outdrive 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 jackstands aren’t depressing the hull. Check again in two weeks, after the boat has had time to settle. The deck must also be level, or water could pool and cause stains, mildew, and/or gelcoat crazing.

The boat’s cover filled with water and the added weight drove the keel-support block into the ground. The block was being supported with a tiny piece of plywood, barely as large as the block. There were too few supports along the chine.  

Never secure the boat’s winter cover to the jackstands or support blocks. There are many accounts in the claim files of boats that fell over after stiff winds filled the covers and yanked the supports from under the boats. Finally, make sure the cover is supported adequately. Poorly supported covers accumulate snow and water, which add considerable weight to the boat. Scuppers and drains should also be left open for the same reason — to channel water from the decks and cockpit.

Storage Racks And Trailers

An increasing number of boats are being stored ashore on dry storage racks. These racks are designed to support “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 and pads to support critical areas. Deep-draft sailboats are an exception. Trailers are designed to support these boats when the wind is on the bow but are rarely wide enough to provide adequate protection for deep-draft boats (typically, racing sailboats) when strong winds are on the beam. To provide additional lateral support, use extra jackstands along the hull and unstep the mast to reduce windage. Centerboard boats probably will be OK on a trailer, especially if they are secured to the trailer’s frame and the mast is unstepped.

Bob Adriance

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine