While Texas weather is generally mild in the winter, especially compared to northern and Midwestern states, it may still take a toll on unprotected boats, personal watercrafts and even your dock. But don’t panic! There are still several things you can do before the cold weather hits to make sure your watercraft and dock will be in top condition when spring rolls around.

In the north, boat owners are well aware of the need to winterize their boats and usually take the proper precautions. In the south, unfortunately, it’s easy to overlook the need to winterize or simply not anticipate unusually cold weather, and boat owners may not notice any problems until the spring. Fortunately, long-lasting deep freezes are rare in Texas, but the state does experience the occasional cold snap, so preparing and protecting your boat can prevent problems in the future.

Repairing damage caused by freezing temperatures can be time consuming and expensive. Winterizing your boat takes far less time and is relatively inexpensive.

At a minimum, winterizing your boat means you should drain any water on board. You can also add antifreeze just in case we experience a lingering cold snap. The Boat Owners Association of the United States notes that fresh water expands in volume by about nine percent when it freezes, and it can push outward with a force of tens of thousands of pounds per square inch. The result can be a cracked engine block, damaged fiberglass or impairment of other systems on the boat. 

Where to keep your boat

The best protection would be to store your boat in an indoor, climate-controlled storage area. However, for many people, that isn’t an option. The next choice is whether to remove your boat from the water or leave it in its slip.

If you leave your boat in the water, there are several things to be cautious about.

  • If you don’t consistently check on your boat, underwater fittings can become vulnerable to failure, and in worst case scenarios, the boat may even sink.

  • Storm damage is more likely to affect boats left in the water.

  • Leaving the hull in the water year-round can cause blistering, because the boat doesn’t get a chance to dry out.

If you keep your boat in the water, you will need to take precautions to prevent damage. Thru-hulls, or fittings designed to accept pipes, hoses or valves to allow water to pass in or out of a vessel, should be protected by closing seacocks and gate valves. If there are thru-hulls below the waterline that can’t be closed, it is best to store your boat ashore for the winter.

Also, if you decide to keep your boat in the water, it’s best to plug exhaust ports to prevent pests from using them as a place of entry. Check you bilge area to make sure it is free of debris and operating properly. This can help prevent a boat from sinking. Keep the drain plug out for the winter to prevent freeze damage.

A dock line can actually cause your boat to sink if strong winds push the boat under the dock. It is best to center the boat in the slip and use long dock lines and spring lines to help maintain distance between the boat and the dock.

The national boat owners association notes that fewer insurance claims are filed for boats kept out of the water for longer time periods.

However, there are some advantages to keeping your boat in the water. Water retains heat longer than air, so boats surrounded by air are more susceptible to sudden freezes caused by rapid temperature drops.

Boats kept ashore should be winterized earlier than boats kept in the water.

In addition to covered storage areas, there are multiple options for storing your boat out of the water:

  • Custom-made cradles.

  • Jack stands

  • Dry storage racks

  • Trailers

  • Lifts

Options for covering your boat

Covering your boat can also help prevent damage, but simply placing a plastic tarp over the boat may not be enough to protect it if strong winds damage the tarp. Moreover, if ice forms on the tarp, even more damage can be done.

The best covers are custom made from canvas material coupled with a wood or aluminum frame to promote air circulation and also to help prevent pooling on the cover. Vents in the cover will help with air circulation and will also help prevent mildew.

Some boat owners choose to shrink-wrap their vessel; however, this can actually cause more harm than good unless it is done by a professional.

Protecting docks

The list is much shorter for dock protection tips, but important nevertheless.

Checking dock cables is important, because if the weather gets icy, that can cause weaknesses in the cables, which will need to be repaired or replaced.

It’s also important to check your lift to make sure there aren’t any weak spots. If you aren’t sure what to look for, consider hiring a professional to help you evaluate and maintain the structure. Those who build docks also can provide expertise in making repairs, as well as offer advice on how to avoid problems with your structure.

Autumn, before the winter weather hits, is a good time to clean the surface of your dock to remove dirt, debris, algae or fungus.

Mild days during the fall also offer an opportunity for you to spray the dock with water to see how it beads on the wood’s surface. If the wood doesn’t adequately repel water, you may want to resurface it.

You can also apply a de-icer to prevent winter ice from damaging the wood.

Although it takes some time and effort to maintain your boat and dock, preventing problems is much easier than dealing with the aftermath of winter’s difficulties.

For more tips on keeping your boat in tip-top shape through the winter, visit http://www.boatus.com/seaworthy/winter/. The website also has a two-page checklist for winterizing your boat.