Five Great Winter Boat Projects

Admit it—you’re bored. The holidays have long gone and with the Super Bowl over the prospects for any chances at fun are pretty slim until spring comes and boating season is in full effect. If you’re spending more time binge-watching House of Cards on Netflix than thinking about your boat, well, it’s time to snap out of it.

Old, stiff hose and rusty hoseclamps are ideal targets for a winter project.

Old, stiff hose and rusty hoseclamps are ideal targets for a winter project. (All photos: Doug Logan)

Despite what you might think, winter is actually a great time to tackle some projects that can add real value to your boat, not to mention keep you out of trouble during the boating season. Most of these projects focus on systems found inside your boat. All you need is a moderately “warm” day, the correct cold-weather gear, or a safe heat source… or a little of all three. Other projects can be done at home.

So, put down that remote, don your bilge-diving outfit, and consider adding one of these five boat projects to your winter itinerary.

Give Old Hoses and Hose Clamps the Boot

Underappreciated and unloved—that seems to be the life of hoses and hose clamps. That is until one or the other fails and you have a bilge full of holding tank contents. Winter is a great time to make a thorough inspection of all the hoses and accompanying hose clamps on your boat — before trouble happens.

You’ll want to inspect each run of hose carefully and methodically. Any hoses that are cracked, kinked, abraded, or just plain worn out should be removed and replaced. Areas to check include freshwater systems, heads and holding tanks, drains and overboard discharges, raw-water supply lines for generators and engines, fuel supply and return lines, and washdown pumps. You can check the hose clamps at the same time, making sure to replace any that are rusted or suspect in any way.

If you’re unsure of which hose to use for your given application, see Picking the Correct Boat Hose. Confused about hose clamps? Read Hose Clamps for Boats: Below the Waterline for the scoop on which clamps to use.

Inspect your hatch and portlight gaskets. Cold weather can degrade them. Know where to find replacements.

Inspect your hatch and portlight gaskets. Cold weather can degrade them. Know where to find replacements.

Pare Down Your Boat’s Honey-Do List

If you’re anything like me when it comes to home projects, you’ve got a “honey-do” list a mile long that you duck from time-to-time. And while I love working on my boat much more than I do the house, it always seems as if I go into winter each year with a list of pesky items onboard that have gone bad and I’ve put off fixing. Unless you’re hoping to dodge and jury-rig broken gear all season, consider fixing some of these common items in the off-season.

Offer Your Bilge an Upgrade

“That Smell” isn’t just the name of an old Lynyrd Skynyrd song —  it’s often what boat owners think about when they delve into their bilges. But it doesn’t have to be that way—giving your bilge a much needed spring cleaning or refit is a great way to bid those smells adieu.

This engine pan could use a good scrubbing, and most likely the bilge does, too. Oily rags and wash water need to be disposed of properly..

This engine pan could use a good scrubbing, and most likely the bilge does, too. Oily rags and wash water need to be disposed of properly.

Although a thorough scrubbing and rinse will generally do (take care to not discharge any oil- or fuel-laden bilge contents overboard), sometimes a makeover is in order. This involves not only scrubbing, but stripping the bilge of any bilge pumps or pickups, wiring, hoses, etc. before sanding and prepping for the appropriate bilge paint. Keep in mind that you may have to heat the bilge or wait until warmer weather to apply the paint.

Once you’re done, assess whether your old bilge pump is worth saving and reinstalling. If not, read Bilge Pumps: Selecting One With the Right Stuff for tips on buying a new one. Then check out Submersible Bilge Pumps: Installing One Like the Pros to find out how to put it in.

Make Your Wiring Look Wondrous

Ever try to grab something from under the console of your center-console boat and get tangled up in electrical wires? Does the nest of wires wrapped around your bilge pump embarrass you? Is your fishfinder’s transducer lead piled up under your tackle box? Well, there’s no better time than the off-season to remedy what ails your electrical system.

No, this doesn’t mean that you need to rip everything out and start from scratch–unless you have wires that are damaged or broken. Those will need replacing. You can easily neaten up and trace wires from end to end, making sure they are secured at least every 18 inches with the appropriate cable clamps or wire ties. Remember, neatness counts here.

A winter day on the warm side is a good time to neaten up your wiring, check terminals for corrosion, replace them if necessary, and make sure you have good current flowing to your systems.

A winter day on the warm side is a good time to neaten up your wiring, check terminals for corrosion, replace them if necessary, and make sure you have good current flowing to your systems.

Also have a look at your wire terminals and replace any that are corroded. If you find any twist-on electrical connectors like you may have seen in your home, these are a no-no. You can either splice the two ends of the wire together where they meet with a butt connector of the correct size, or, if the wire is in terrible shape or too short, replace it. If wire terminals are voodoo to you, read Boat Wiring: Use Good Terminals and Tools, which describes how to choose and install marine wire terminals.

Promise Your Old Pumps New Life

If you’ve got a raw water washdown that just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore or your pressure freshwater system feels anything but pressurized, chances are the pumps that power these systems are due for a rebuild. Luckily for you, sourcing the repair kits and rebuilding them are relatively easy endeavors.

Removing the offending pump from the boat and taking it into your local marine supply shop is the easiest way to get started with the task. There you can find the appropriate rebuild kit, which generally contains all sorts of valves, seals, impellers, and the like. Once you’ve sourced the kit, you can disassemble and rebuild the pump at home before reinstalling it in your boat.

Other pumps you might consider as candidates for rebuilding include macerator, bilge, and air-conditioning pumps. Don’t remember the last time the impeller in your engine’s raw-water cooling pump was changed? Open the pump, inspect the impeller, and replace it if necessary, but read Water Pump Impeller: Priority One for a primer, before you do.

Winter projects are a great way to stay in tune with your boat in the off-season, and the time you spend will give you peace of mind come spring.

 

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