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‘Springerizing’ your boat

Posted on March 26, 2013

Mike SchoonveldEveryone knows they need to winterize their boats each fall to keep them from suffering from ice damage during the winter months. But what about this time of year, which can feature as much weather with above freezing temperatures as below? What precautions do early-season anglers need to take to keep their boats from ice damage? After all, it doesn’t take a month of below freezing weather for residual cooling water inside an engine block to freeze, expand and crack something.

Depending on what part of Michigan you live in, the last “boat-breaking” frost may not occur until late April or even late May. You’ll be missing out on some great fishing if you delay that long.

Freezing water is the danger,  so drain everything ASAP after a late-winter or early-spring trip. There are three main areas of concern: the engine, the bilge and any water-holding compartments.

If you have an out board the chore is simple. Once the boat is on the trailer, lower the engine into the down or run position. Most if not all of the cooling water will escape. I like to engage the kill switch so the motor won’t start, then crank the engine over a few revolutions as an extra measure of safety.

On an I/O, lowering the lower unit will drain the water from the outdrive, but not from the motor. The engine block and exhaust manifold each have a drain plug. On V6 and V8 motors each side of the block and each side’s exhaust manifold has a drain. Open the drains and let the water out. Depending on the design of the engine compartment and accessibility this may be simple or require a contortionist.

An alternative is to park the boat close enough to a plug to insert a heater in the engine compartment. My boat requires a contortionist to remove the drain plugs so I go with a heater. I use a good quality ceramic block 1500W unit with thermostat, tip-over switch and plug it into a GFI receptacle. Others simply insert a trouble light with an incandescent bulb into the engine compartment. The heat from a 40W bulb is enough, but a trouble light doesn’t have the safety features I demand.

Drain the bilge by removing the transom plug and elevating the bow of the boat to make the water run to the stern end. Water freezing in the bow can damage rivets on aluminum boats, and rivets and stringers in fiberglass boats.

Drain any built-in coolers, livewells or other compartments that can hold water. Once you are out of the water, operate the livewell pump, the bilge pump and/or washdown pump for several seconds to ensure they are not filled with water.

Then wait for the next warm day when you can replace the drain plugs and get out for another “pre-season” trip.

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