The time has come
Summer's over, and it's time to lay your boat up for the winter. Be it a skiff or a luxury yacht, you've had a lot of fun with it; but now, unless you live in the deep South where boating is a year-round activity, you'll probably have to get it out of the water and give it some necessary care. There are 5,000,000 pleasure craft of all sizes and shapes in this country and most of them will be going into some kind of storage before winter sets in in earnest.
The time for lay-up in your area will depend primarily upon the weather but also on your insurance. We aren't meteorological experts, but insurance men who study weather with a view to marine policy limits usually write their policies for northern areas to cover the navigation period from May 1st to November 1st. Insurance costs for operating pleasure craft after that are expensive for most yachtsmen, so November 1st is probably your limit.
If you own a big boat (35 feet or more over-all), your only recourse is a shipyard, where the necessary equipment—cranes, winches, rail sidings, etc.—is available. For smaller craft, many sailors do their own lay-up or get assistance from their yacht club at extra cost.
Cleaning and stripping
Once your boat is out of the water, clean it right away. If you've been operating in salt water, hose the craft thoroughly with fresh water to get all the salt off. Scrub all surfaces with fresh water and detergent (regular soap is all right but must be completely rinsed off). Remove all loose articles and have them cleaned, dried and stored away in a dry but well-ventilated place.
Painting and covering
To lengthen the life of your boat, it's best to give it a quick coat of marine bottom paint or linseed oil as a winter preservative as soon as you've cleaned and dried it. Varnish the bright work. Store your small craft upside down and off the ground to insure proper ventilation which will prevent rotting. If you keep it outside, cover the boat with canvas, tarpaulin or a good tar paper. A sturdy cover is absolutely necessary. It helps prevent weathering, including plank shrinkage that allows water to penetrate the wood if the hull becomes excessively dry. If you have a larger boat, an old waterproof cotton canvas sail or awning will do, but you'll be smart to invest in a made-to-measure cover by a sailmaker. Their cost ($13 to $26 a square yard, depending on locality and quality) is well worth it and they should last six or seven years in rugged winters. Have your cover made with vents for good air circulation. The canvas should be porous—not airtight—so the wood can "breathe." If you keep your boat indoors, a cover is advisable to keep the dust off.
Flush out the motor with fresh water and make sure it is clean, especially if you have been operating in salt water. Let the motor drain dry. Remove the spark plugs, put some oil in each cylinder and turn the motor over once to make sure the oil coats all parts and the cylinder wall. Store the motor in a warm, dry place, so that your ignition system will not rust or corrode. If you must store it in a cool or moist spot, remove the electrical parts and keep these warm and dry at all costs.
Although it's not absolutely necessary, you'll do well to remove the mast, especially in a small boat. Store the mast in a dry place where it can lie flat for easy cleaning and will not be subject to strain and pressure. Beware of wet places where water can seep into it, freeze and cause a lot of damage. If your sailboat has removable parts, take them out for dry storage. Remove the centerboard (if you can) and inspect the pin for rust or wear. Take off the tiller and rudder. Examine rigging and gear for signs of weakness and heavy rust. Clean and lubricate yacht blocks (pulleys). Put lubricating jelly in all roller bearings. Look over halyards, lines, pins and sheaves for wear. Replace worn wire rigging with new galvanized or stainless steel wire.
Get the salt out of your sails promptly by scrubbing with fresh water and detergent. Salty sails will wear, rot and attract rats. Cotton sails should be mildew-proofed at least every three years. Most sailmakers use a solution of sugar, lead and powdered alum for this and soak the sails in it for 24 hours. You can buy new mildew-proofing products and apply them yourself, or you can get a good sailmaker to clean and mildew-proof your sails for seven to 12 cents a square foot. Dry your sails after cleaning, fold and lay them flat and store them in a dry, airy place.
The bigger babies
For larger craft, procedure is roughly the same, with a few added problems. Take good care of your upholstery and brass articles. Keep your cushions and mattresses dry and be sure to protect foam rubber from water or it will stay wet for weeks. In places where upholstery cannot be removed, use antimoisture bags ($1.30 per pound). Use lubricating jelly to cover brass and chrome fixtures that must be left aboard during the winter. Empty your water tanks. Knock out bilge plugs, drain water and clean the bilge.
Be particularly careful about gasoline tanks. Some owners prefer to leave them filled during lay-up but the best advice is to empty and clean them completely. Remove combustible fumes by spraying carbon dioxide into the tanks. Spray it in slowly but thoroughly to displace all the gasoline fumes. Close all openings except an air vent—and be sure your pipe, cigar or cigaret is out!
The last time you run your boat, change your oil for spring, flushing the crankcase thoroughly. Don't let old oil stand in the engine over the winter. If you're operating in salt water, run fresh water through the water jackets. Drain jackets thoroughly. Then fill the cylinder block with alcohol, kerosene or permanent antifreeze. Some shipyards advise using the old oil you drained from your engine, or fuel oil. Then pour a little light engine oil (No. 10 or 20) in each cylinder through the spark plug hole and turn over the engine to lubricate the walls and guard against corrosion.
Prices vary tremendously from one part of the country to another. In most shipyards, hauling costs about $1 to $3.50 per foot of over-all length for outside storage, up to $8 a foot for inside storage. For a 28-footer, count on a day's work for lay-up at labor costs of about $2 to $4 an hour. Painting bottom and topsides of a 28-footer ranges from $115 to $200. In some yards, you can paint topsides yourself. There are other miscellaneous charges for lockers. It's an expensive job, but it's worth it. If you belong to a yacht club, you may get help to haul and store your boat. It costs anywhere from $5 to hundreds per year to join. You'll do most of the lay-up work yourself, which will save you money. Small boat yards are still cheaper. They'll haul and store for as little as $10 to $20, but many are unreliable; a few are good.
Courses and books
During the winter, you can enrich your knowledge with courses given by the U.S. Power Squadron or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. They are virtually free and give excellent instruction in boat handling, navigation and seamanship. Courses are given all over the country and they are well worthwhile. For lay-up details, some insurance companies offer decommissioning pamphlets, and for long winter nights buy a copy of Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling by Charles F. Chapman (Motor Boating, $4), the bible for small boat owners.
See you on the water next spring!