Not only does Kevin Van Dam have an amazing track record as an accomplished bass angler, he’s also someone who takes really good care of his stuff. For anyone who’s seen KVD and heard him articulate what he’s found to be tried and true, we’re betting you’re not surprised by that, so it’s our pleasure to share his advice all about boat winterization.
How to Winterize your Boat: KVD’s Expert Boat Winterization Tips
Showroom-Fresh and Ready for Storage
Normally you’d see Kevin Van Dam’s Nitro Z-21 bass boat hooked up behind his Toyota Tundra but when we caught up with him for the video above, he had his Regency pontoon boat trailered so he could get it ready for storage. We know he and his family love their pontoon and enjoy taking it for a ride every time they can, so even though it may not be their favorite time of year, it’s the perfect time to take good care of it and make sure it’s ready for winter.
In the article below, we share his sage advice so anyone can be ready for the offseason with steps that can be completed in the driveway, the garage, or wherever the conditions are right.
Whole Boat Winterization
There’s much more to boat winterization than just taking care of the engine and the batteries; you really want to take care of the whole boat. This includes more obvious stuff like general care for your engine and electrical system, but it also includes your trailer, your fuel system, your onboard storage spaces, your seats, and various surfaces around the boat.
Whether you live in the south, the north, or some other location where the cold sets in, you can follow the process below. And when you do take that whole boat approach, it’ll help make sure you don’t have any headaches in the springtime.
Winterizing Your Outboard Motor
It’s a good idea to start with your motor because it’s the workhorse that gets you where you need to go. Besides, as KVD rightly pointed out in the video, some of the processes can take a while, so you may be able to start on the motor, switch to something else, and revisit the motor to finish up.
“You don’t want any of those seals going out, and fishing line can really do some damage. If you use a Prop Wrench with a Prop Stop, it will make it really easy to get it loose and take a good look behind the propeller.”
Motor Winterization Tip #1: Remove Your Propeller
Even if your outboard doesn’t require removing the propeller to access the screws that drain your gear lube, it’s an important time to take the propeller off and make sure there isn’t any fishing line, weeds, or anything behind there.
Motor Winterization Tip #2: Check Your Skeg for Damage
Skegs get damaged more often than many of us realize, so check your skeg for signs of wear and tear. If it needs replacement or repair, this may be the easiest time to do that.
Motor Winterization Tip #3: Drain Old Gear Lube from Your Lower Unit
With a pan below to drain into, the propeller removed, and the drain screws removed, trim your engine down so gravity can help do the job. Bear in mind that it can take a while for it to finish draining, so you can switch to other boat winterization tasks while the gear lube empties out.
Motor Winterization Tip #4: Consider How Your Gear Lube Looks
Before you switch to any other tasks though, look at your gear lube for signs of water or anything that seems off. It will likely be colored dark from a season of use — that’s normal and a good reason why it needs to be changed out — but if it has water or you notice any other potential problems, the offseason is a good time to get it serviced.
Motor Winterization Tip #5: Stabilize Your Fuel
This is a critical boat winterization tip. Look at how much gas you have in your tank and add the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer. Then run the engine a little bit with that in there. If you don’t need to fog the engine, you definitely want to get that stabilized fuel all the way through the engine.
As a way to take care of this with each fillup throughout the season, consider adding something like Star*Tron Enzyme Fuel Treatment every time you’re at the pump. It keeps the engine running smoothly, makes sure you don’t get any moisture build-up in there, and it’s a really good way to keep your engine fit. It also acts as a fuel stabilizer so if you use this, you don’t have to put any fuel stabilizer in at the end of the season.
Motor Winterization Tip #6: Fog the Engine if Storing Your Boat Outside
Fogging oil coats and protects surfaces inside your outboard. By spraying fogging oil into key areas inside your outboard, you can prevent corrosion (like rust) and make sure that engine components are ready to work again in the spring.
To start this process, you typically want to run your engine until the fuel is just about gone (you’ll likely hear your engine starting to run rough), and, as this happens, you then provide a nice, heavy spray of the fogging oil into the air intake of the carburetor. This will make sure internal surfaces are fully coated.
You may also want to repeat this for your spark plugs and other vulnerable areas.
Motor Winterization Tip #7: Pump New Gear Lube into Your Lower Unit
When all of your old gear lube is drained, it’s time to fill it back up. To do this, go back to where you removed the screws in your lower unit and where the old lubricant has been draining out. With your gear lube pump in hand, start from the bottom hole and fill it until the lubricant comes out the top hole.
Motor Winterization Tip #8: Let the New Gear Lube Overflow a Bit
It’s a good idea to pump the new lubricant in until it overflows a bit. Doing this helps work air out along with any other remnants of the old grease. Then that lower unit should have all the gear lube it needs before you put the drain screws back in. Just make sure you put the gasket (washer / gasket / O-Ring) back in there. That’s why many manufacturers make them bright yellow — they’re easy to lose.
Again, if you have a smaller engine, an older engine, or any other engine with the screws on the side of the gear case, it’s the same process aside from not having to gain access behind the propeller.
Motor Winterization Tip #9: Dispose of Your Waste Oil Properly
As you put that prop back on and clean up, be sure to dispose of your waste oil properly to keep it from running off into the waters we fish.
Winterizing the Outside of Your Boat and Trailer
For another set of simple but important boat winterization tasks, be sure to check your trailer and the outside of your boat. From keeping it safe to keeping it clean, each of these can go a long way toward having a boat that is in its best shape when it’s time to launch again.
Boat Exterior & Trailer Tip #1: Check Your Trailer Lights
When you check your trailer before winter, make sure all your lights are working: the blinkers, brakelights, side marker lights — everything. It needs to be working with nothing broken for it to be safe. Depending on how your trailer is rigged, it may also be important to check wires and connectors for signs of damage, too.
“It doesn’t matter if you only pull your trailer a few miles or you travel all over like we do — trailering it all over the state, going down south, and putting a lot of miles on it — you never want to have a trailer issue that puts people or property at risk.”
Boat Exterior & Trailer Tip #2: Check Your Trailer Tires
You can quickly get a good gauge of your tire pressure and tread, so that’s usually a good place to start this part of the process. Then you can either take care of tire repair or replacement before next season or make plans to do that before it becomes something keeping you off the water.
Boat Exterior & Trailer Tip #3: Lubricate Your Wheel Bearings
Next, make sure to check your bearings and add some grease. This usually just involves removing the cap in the hub of each tire and giving it a few pumps of grease. Even if you don’t see any issues, it’s an effective way to ensure that everything is good.
Boat Exterior & Trailer Tip #4: Clean the Boat Before Your Store It
When you’ve kept the boat in at the dock and you take it out at the end of the year, maybe it has algae growth on there, some sprays of aluminum cleaner can help take it right off pretty quickly and easily.
You might need to use a power washer if it’s been a while since cleaning it, but scrubbers and brushes can go a long way. If you spend about 15 minutes doing this, as KVD suggests in the video, you can keep it from accumulating too much hard-set dirt, and it will look great when it’s done.
Boat Exterior & Trailer Tip #5: After Cleaning, Use Aluminum Polish and Aluminum Protector
Polishes and protectors not only keep your boat looking nice, but they can also help prevent blemishes and certain types of wear and tear that could otherwise get worse over time.
Winterizing the Inside of Your Boat
Wherever you store your boat, you’ll want to take care of your batteries, seats, surfaces, and storage following the advice below. It’ll help keep your boat working reliably and help prevent costly interior repairs.
Inside the Boat Tip #1: Remove Your Batteries
If you have your boat shrink wrapped or stored in some other way that isn’t temperature controlled, it’s best to take the batteries out. You want to take them out, take them inside, charge them up, and keep them where it’s a nice and stable temperature. Then you’ll be a lot happier in the spring.
Inside the Boat Tip #2: Keep Your Batteries Topped Off
Even if your boat winterization routine means your boat is stored inside with your batteries on a disconnect switch, you’ll want to use a battery charger that you can flip on and you’ll want to check in a few times over the winter to make sure the batteries are topped off.
Inside the Boat Tip #3: Check Your Terminals and Electrical Connections
If your terminals or connections need to be cleaned or replaced, the off season is the best time to take care of it. The usual culprits tend to be corrosion on the connector wires (you can often clean these with vinegar) and wiring that’s fraying or losing its insulation.
Inside the Boat Tip #4: Clean and Protect Before You Store Your Boat
Your boat is naturally going to be affected by sun, wind, bugs, humidity, temperature changes, and everything else it’s exposed to outside, but these challenges often linger during the off season, too. To minimize the negative effects all that can have on your boat, it’s a good idea to clean and protect before it goes into storage. This can help prevent existing issues from getting worse and it can also help prevent new problems from arising during storage.
Thankfully, most of them only require a few minutes to take care of, too.
Inside the Boat Tip #5: Clean Off Bugs and Nature the Easy Way
You’re going to get some bugs on the seats and surfaces, especially if you trailer it and take it down the road. To help with that, KVD loves to use Xtreme Clean. It’s a great way to get all cleaned up any time of year and definitely at the end of the season.
Simply wipe down the seats, wipe off any stains, bugs, or anything like that, and, as KVD will tell you, it cleans it up just like magic.
“I’ve had my Regency Pontoon Boat and we've gotten four hard seasons of use on it, but it still really looks like I just took it out of the showroom. That’s due in large part to using the right products on it to take care of the vinyl.” — KVD
Inside the Boat Tip #6: Use Vinyl Guard
Vinyl Guard moisturizes the seats, gives them UV protection, and before you put the boat away for the winter, it keeps those seats from drying out. This is critical, especially if you have it covered up or shrink wrapped with variable temperatures and exposure factoring in. Just spray down all the seats and wipe the Vinyl Guard so it covers evenly and it will do the rest.
Not only will this improve the look, it will also help protect your boat from needing expensive upholstery repairs, too, especially if you do this a few times during the season and then as part of your boat winterization checklist.
Inside the Boat Tip #7: Use a Mildew Stain Blocker
After cleaning surfaces on your boat, spray them with Mildew Stain Blocker. It will help provide an additional barrier against unsightly mildew spots and growth.
This can even cover a variety of surfaces, including fiberglass, vinyl, plastic, rubber, carpeting, and many other surfaces.
Inside the Boat Tip #8: Hang a Moisture Absorber and Dehumidifier
In every boat, especially pontoon boats, you really want to watch moisture in storage spaces like those underneath your seats.
This can even be an issue in a garage, so if your boat will be facing temperature changes and varying humidity, these absorbers can really take care of moisture in the boat and protect everything inside these compartments. It’s a great step to include in your boat winterization checklist. Simply hang one of these in each of your storage spaces and you’ll be good to go.
Inside the Boat Tip #9: Place One or Two Mildew Odor Control Bags in Your Boat
Especially if your boat is getting shrink wrapped or covered, a Mildew Odor Control Bag can keep it smelling fresh. They’re incredibly easy to use, too, and one is probably sufficient for most boats.
Much like the Vinyl Guard, Mildew Blocker, Moisture Absorbers, and Dehumidifiers, it’ll be working in your boat all winter long.
Your Next Steps with Boat Winterization
It really doesn’t have to take you long at all, but it’s incredibly important to follow the right boat winterization steps and get your boat ready for storage. When you take a few minutes to prep your boat for the off-season, it will definitely save you a lot of headaches in the spring!
For more information about the products mentioned in KVD’s video, here’s where you can find them.