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Off-Season Boat Projects
While your boat lies sleeping under a blanket of snow and you long for the new season to start, you could be getting ahead on boat maintenance projects at home and saving yourself from that withdrawal feeling that grows exponentially in relation to the number of days away from the water. So when the season finally gets underway again, you'll have less pressure with fewer jobs to get done. Best of all, you'll be able to get back out on the water under sail faster than ever before. Here are a number of projects that I recommend doing at home over the long winter months—
so let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Clean and refinish
- All of the gear and many parts of the boat itself are removable. These should be taken home or stored in a safe place at the time of lay-up to prevent exposure to climate extremes and allow a leisurely work pace.
- Stuff accumulates during the season. Sort out the dead batteries, broken shackle pins and pieces of this and that gathered in the bottoms of drawers and the backs of lockers. You may even find forgotten treasures among the dregs.
- Unless cared for scrupulously, most tools deteriorate rapidly in a marine environment. Check the contents of the toolbox, removing rust and lubricating as you go. Remove batteries from flashlights and multi-meters. Old tubes of caulking and cans of solvent should be disposed of correctly.
- Now that the tools are in good shape, use them to refinish wood items that may have become dingy with use. Cabinet doors, drawer faces, table tops and even the tiller can be unscrewed and taken home. A little work now with cleaners and sandpaper before fresh coats of oil, varnish or paint will mean you won't have these projects to plague you during the summer when you might prefer to just be out in the breeze. Removable floorboards can be refinished at home. This will leave only the fixed portion of the cabin sole to be completed when you return on the boat in spring.
- All the interior fabrics on the boat should be cleaned. Curtains and upholstery absorb smells from diesel fuel and mildew over the winter. Remove the covers from cushion foam and wash or dry clean as required. Fold them for the winter and restuff the foam when you are ready to launch again. Don't neglect throw pillows, blankets, leecloths, and your foul-weather gear.
- Brass clocks, barometers and cabin lamps should be cleaned with metal polish and re-lacquered for long lasting beauty. Brass hinges and other small hardware can be refinished at the same time.
Inspect and repair
- Many marine professionals are looking for work in the winter and some may offer discounts for jobs brought in during the big chill. In addition, you should be able to get good service now when there's no spring rush.
- Take in that errant autopilot or the squelchy VHF. Binoculars with water forming inside the lenses can be sent in for a rebuild. A compass with a bubble may need to go to the repair shop. Dinghys with leaks and hard starting outboards can be taken to the dealer so you won't miss making that trip to shore this summer.
- Sit on the living room floor with your sails. Seized hanks, broken slides and other small problems can be repaired while watching a favorite TV program. Mark with tape the tears, loose or chafed patches that will need to be resewn. Sailmakers usually have much more time for these repairs now than come spring.
- Treat canvas items in the same way. Sail covers, dodgers, awnings, bimini tops, hatch covers, weathercloths and other fabric parts should be cleaned and inspected. Rips, chafed spots and broken zippers should be attended to and sun-faded vinyl windows replaced.
- Winter is also a good time to service safety gear. Certification of life rafts can take some time, especially in the spring and early summer when backlogs can occur. Now is the time to pull it out and send it in. Open the Lifesling and check the contents. Life rings, throw cushions, PFDs and MOB pole flags are often worse for wear at the end of a season. Check them including the CO2 cartridges on the self-inflating type PFDs. The MOB strobe lights may need replacement batteries. Remove then replace in spring when the season starts. If you have a man-overboard module, check when the last repacking was done. Also check the expiration date on the EPIRB battery and send it in for replacement, if necessary.
Build or assemble
- Deck and cabin details can augment usefulness and grace of your boat, while adding more enjoyment to your sailing. Here are a few mini-projects that you might try.
- Build a teak grate for your cockpit floor. Kits containing all the necessary parts for assembly are available through mail-order. A grate can take a bit of planning and fitting but makes a wonderful and attractive cockpit addition, especially on wet days.
- Small items always seem to get lost on a boat. Custom-fitted boxes for the hand-bearing compass, binoculars, plotting tools, music or chart CDs, etc., are a real blessing. Some acrylic and teak holders only require finishing, while others in kit form require assembly. For a pleasant challenge, consider building one from scratch.
- While stainless wheels are strong and corrosion resistant, they can be cold and slippery when wet. The grip of a leather-covered wheel is warmer and firmer to the grasp. Maybe this is a good time to cover your wheel. Leather kits are available through mail order. All you need is some basic sewing experience, a little patience, and most of a winter's day. But then what's that when you're just hanging around waiting for winter to end anyway?