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How to Winterize a Pontoon

Freezing temperatures and icicles are perhaps the last things you think of when you think about your pontoon boat. Nevertheless, it's important to prepare your pontoon boat for the worst of the winter months so that you can be worry and hassle-free when the spring thaw arrives. Although many businesses offer winterization services for pontoon boats, they can be costly; especially when all they offer are easy techniques you can do yourself. If you plan ahead and take these few easy steps, you can save a bit of cash and protect your craft and your investment over the winter months. Also, you'll have the pleasure of unwrapping a sparkling and ready-for-fun pontoon boat for the spring season.

•  Liquids. First, consider the fuels onboard that can be adversely affected in chilled temperatures.

•  Gasoline. Fill the gas tank on your pontoon to about three-quarters capacity. This minimizes the space for air condensing in the tank, but leaves room for the gas to expand during colder months. Add a fuel stabilizer to your gasoline tank. Also, stave off internal corrosion by switching off any valves and sealing off any exhaust ports.

•  Oil (for 4-cycle motors only). You also need to manage another vital fuel on your pontoon boat—oil. Turn on your engine for a few moments to warm it up and replace the oil in your pontoon boat with fresh oil before storing it for the winter. While doing this, replace your oil filters. Also, flush your engine to get rid of internal water that could lead to corrosion. Be aware that oil will settle in your engine over the winter months and will expose pistons and valves to damage. Avoid this situation by removing and spraying "fogging oil” into the spark plug holes. Finally, spray the inside of the engine's carburetor with this same type of spray and replace the plugs without reconnecting the spark plug wires. Don't turn your motor over with the wires removed, as this may damage the ignition system.

•  Circulate the fluids. If you have an outboard motor, make sure you cycle the motor up and down at least twice. In addition, leave it down when storing.

•  Inspections. Include some preventive maintenance during the winterization process so you can jump right back into the fun when spring arrives. Use this as an opportunity to remove any items that might need inspection, service, or replacement, such as lines, flares, or fire extinguishers. You should inspect the condition of your pontoon boat's hub and propeller. After a long season of fun on your pontoon boat, your prop and hub can sustain minor and common wear and tear. The prop can suffer bends or nicks and the hub can show wear. If you notice any of these signs, replace the prop or the hub before storing your pontoon boat for the season.

•  Battery . Your battery will need to be charged before storing , but here you'll be faced with a decision. You could remove the battery and store it indoors over the winter months. However, if you plan on leaving your pontoon boat in the water rather than dry docking it for a few months, we advise that you only disconnect the battery rather than removing it off your pontoon boat entirely. If you decide to leave the battery onboard, hook it up to a trickle charger.


•  Dry Dock. You may consider removing your pontoon boat from the water during the winter and putting it in dry dock. Many experienced pontoon boat owners advise this step because it eliminates the risk that ice could crack the hull. An ounce of prevention with the effort of removal and dry docking could pay off in the great reward of avoiding costly hull repairs to your pontoon boat.

•  Cover. The number one most important step for winterizing your pontoon boat is a quality cover or seal. Whether you store your pontoon boat indoors or outdoors, on your own property or in rented storage, a seal or cover will protect your pontoon boat investment. If you plan to store your pontoon boat outdoors, moisture will be the biggest threat, so invest in a quality canvas that fits your boat snugly and is waterproof. Even if your pontoon boat will be stored indoors, be sure to find a cover that seals tightly to keep out dust, insects, and other debris. The most extreme, yet secure way to cover your boat is "shrink-wrapping” the entire craft. This will ensure that absolutely no water can leak in and it is impossible for high winds to remove such a seal. You can purchase shrink-wrap kits or you might consider allowing a professional service to seal your pontoon boat for the winter months.

•  Rodents and Insects. Depending on how and where you store your pontoon boat, be aware that invaders such as mice, rats, and insects can work their way into the interior of your pontoon boat. Mice can shred through most pontoon boat covers and seals and the teeth of rats can gnaw through steel girders, so know that your winter seal might do little to dissuade a dedicated rodent. Prepare for this possibility by positioning mice and rat traps and poison in addition to mothballs, in the interior of your pontoon boat. Of course, this might lead to a few gruesome discoveries come spring, but you'll be glad you took the initiative to protect your pontoon boat's furniture, seats, carpet, and other non-removable pontoon accessories. If you have a soft spot for dealing with these unwelcome guests, a more humane and certainly more fragrant solution is to mix a few cups of water with a dozen or so drops of peppermint oil in an empty spray bottle. Liberally spray the interior of your pontoon boat, especially along the edges of the floor and in any corners—places where mice love to scurry and congregate. Mice are allergic to peppermint and avoid the smell, so this cheap solution can help discourage them from taking up residence in your pontoon boat. Also, this solution will insure that your pontoon boat smells as good as it looks when you unwrap it for spring fun!

•  Security. Your pontoon boat may also be host to an entirely different kind of tenacious invaders that are immune to traps, poisons, and peppermint. Although it is regrettable, you may want to factor into your winterization plans the possibility of theft from your pontoon boat. Some owners remove their pontoon boats from the water and store them on their private property. Others prefer to store their pontoon boats in public facilities. Only you can know the level of security afforded by your pontoon storage location, but consider a few things in your preparation. It's always a good idea to secure valuable removable electronics from your pontoon boat. Remove any other removable accessories, such as pontoon furniture, pontoon seats, ladders, or tables. If you plan on storing your pontoon boat on a trailer, put the trailer on blocks and remove the tires. Finally, if possible, remove one of the most inviting targets for theft—your pontoon boat's motor. While these steps may be time-consuming, most would agree that the few hours of work are worthwhile in order to protect thousands of dollars in pontoon boat necessities and accessories.

•  Store Accessories. You'll want to remove, or otherwise be sure to protect, the many pontoon accessories common to pontoon boats that are susceptible to winter's chilly temperatures. Clear out any items that could be damaged by cold weather like electronics such as depth finders and other nautical equipment. These sorts of pontoon accessories are especially vulnerable to the same sort of damaging condensation that can plague other items on your pontoon boat.

•  Final Cleaning. The interior of your pontoon boat should be spotless before you seal it for the winter. This isn't just for looks; it also serves a practical purpose. Dirt and moisture can combine and form mildew which can damage or ruin your pontoon boat's carpet and decking. This problem can be especially important, because when you cover and seal your pontoon boat for the winter months, darkness and ventilation can contribute to a mildew disaster. Take pride in the exterior of your pontoon boat by giving it a thorough cleaning before storing it for the winter. Scrape off any scum, sediment, or barnacles and add a few layers of polish to protect it from the elements. You'll be thankful you spent the extra time when you unwrap a sparkling pontoon boat after the spring thaw.

While this list of chores necessary to properly winterize your pontoon boat might seem a bit intimidating, winterizing your pontoon boat is a form of delayed gratification. The payoff is a beautiful and well-kept craft, ready for fun in the warm sun.