It seems you only put it in the water and the next thing is the kids are back at school and you’re driving home from work with your headlights on. There’s no escaping it, there’s a nip in the air, the Summer boating season is over and boat maintenance raises its ugly head. The whole idea of winterisation can be about as appealing as having a tooth filled – and possibly as expensive – but there’s no substitute for being prepared, and a reluctance to cough up the necessary budget can be a false economy in the long run.
Our guide to winterising your boat will steer you towards those who can do the job for you, or at least give you useful advice so that you don’t end up standing in the dark, cold, wet, and frustrated, with oil on your clothes and an engine strewn all over the driveway.
It may be true that in the depths of winter lies an invincible summer.
Gerry Salmon of MGM boats says that any boater worth his salt will equip himself with enough knowledge about his boat to ensure it’s serviced properly. At the very least, to know the servicing schedule of the boat, whether he does it himself or gets it done elsewhere. “A small percentage will ask for advice, or will watch while it’s being serviced, and I’m more than happy to do that and talk them through it,” says Gerry.
He says it’s very important that your engine is serviced once a year. Diesel engines produce bad contaminants and if they’re allowed to remain they can damage the engine. At the end of the season, oil and filters need to be changed at a bare minimum. A change of anodes is critical, says Gerry, and fuel must be topped up so there’s no room for condensation.
Dermot O’Sullivan in Auto and Marine Engineering in Cork has seen several engines which weren’t serviced for the winter and now, instead of the service costing 300 euro, it’s costing 8k+ to replace. Dermot says “winterising is absolutely necessary, as temperatures can fall to minus 12 degrees inland so if the engine freezes, the engine block goes – you’re looking at a new engine if that happens.”
The introduction of the new generation marine engines earlier this decade has resulted in the necessity for improved diagnostic equipment and factory-trained engineers to deal with more and more complex marine engines.
All over the country, the advice from yards is that engine servicing is probably a job best left to the professionals who can handle the latest diagnostics for mechanical and electrical fault finding, performance analysis and engine software updating.
Engine winterisation involves draining the engine of fluid, stabilising the fuel and fogging the cylinder heads. Sounds complicated? Yes, we thought so too. But at a rough cost of e100-e300 it is a lot less problematic though than a cracked manifold, one consequence of last year’s harsh winter.
Colin Preston of Preston Marine Services at Kinnego marina at Lough Neagh was still dealing with frost damage repairs in August, such was the extent of frost damage. He replaced a lot of engine blocks, especially on American boats, and the typical bill runs in to thousands.
The problem says Tony Chatterton of Portaneena, appeared to be more acute inland where temperatures dropped most. In fairness to many owners though, Tony says once the floods came, it was impossible for owners to get to some boats to deal with them before freezing temperatures set in and did the damage.
Preston, among others, advises that engines needs to be drained at the end of the winter and he offers a specialised service where fuel is stabilised, and cylinder heads fogged.
In County Galway, Leslie Shaw of Portumna Marine, the man behind perhaps the country’s largest undercover storage yard at Connaught Harbour, has the same story. “We did eight refits this season due to frost damage. Five were covered by insurance, three were not.” One of those boats not covered ended up costing e9,000 to fix. It seems a hefty price to pay for the sake of skimping on routine maintenance. Shaw offers this service for as little as 85 euro for speedboats. The work is carried out by professional workshop engineers. He also offers a storage, powerwash, clean up and under-over package for e500.
There’s a lot of small powerboats around now, according to Gerry Salmon of MGM, and they need flushing with water/anti-freeze/coolant before they’re ‘put in the garden’.
“Drainplugs have to be removed, water flushed through the bilge – the boat will have it’s own drain so that must be opened and drained. Water tanks should be emptied if it’s coming out of the water. If it’s staying in the water, it has to have diesel tanks topped up full.”
Gerry agrees engine servicing is a must so that it’s ready for the season ahead: “the work can be done over the winter after all the wear and tear, rather than waiting for April when possibly parts can’t be sourced, etc.”
Bob Killen of Killen Marine in Dalkey says that most boat owners are maintaining what they have rather than re-engining. Bob notices that customers are far more conscious of price and will check out the cost more thoroughly than they would have a year ago, before they agree to have the work done. Unlike a car, an outboard engine or boat repair can’t be exactly quoted for, but experienced engineers or boat builders can give price guidelines in most cases, and Killen Marine do their utmost in this regard.
“You wouldn’t park your car in the garden for six months of the winter without preventative maintainence, never mind something that has been subjected to a harsh marine environment,” says Ian O’Meara at Viking Marine in Dun Laoghaire. “Engine manuals all carry extensive detail on winterising (RTFM); and finally – beware of moisture. The biggest cause of long-term harm is caused by engines being put away for the winter with moisture still in the system: winterising is essentially protecting against water contamination”, he continues.
Other ‘must do’s’ from Ian: “stabilise fuel – there’s plenty of additives available that reduce/remove moisture from fuel; run/flush engine on stabilised fuel; fogging oil in all moving parts (works as barrier to moisture); fuel and oil filters; gearbox oil – must be marine grade; check impellor; store engine in a cool dry place, such as a boiler house, if possible (not too warm as heat can speed up rust); remove portable fuel tanks (stabilise fuel); remove and disconnect battery from boat and store fully charged, not on concrete, go to the pub...”