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Tips for a safe midwinter boat checkup

by Scott Croft 22 Jan 09:58 PST

Winter solstice may have been one month ago, but on the boater's calendar, January is generally considered the middle of a vessel's long winter nap. It's time to check up on her in storage.

Why? How your boat fares over the long and, in some cases, brutal winter will help ensure a timely spring launch.

However, checking up on a boat during winter requires unique seasonal safeguards according to the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that January has the most number of accidents that result in death.

Here are eight tips for doing it safely:

1. If your boat is stored in the water, consider making a visit with a friend. That's because there's a good chance that in the dead of winter no one would hear a potential call for help if you accidentally slipped and fell overboard.

2. If there's ever a reason to wear a life jacket, now may be the time, especially if you're solo. A simple little slip could have big consequences, and a life jacket could buy you the time for self-rescue, which tees up the next tip.

3. Know where the dock ladders are located.

4. Fluffy snow can be deceptively slick, so save the smooth-soled boat shoes for the summer and wear something with traction. According to BoatUS Marine Insurance, slip and falls are a common claim occurring in a marina.

5. Be extremely careful if using a ladder when boarding a boat stored in the marina yard or on a trailer. Ensure it is firmly planted, secure it with a line at the top to avoid shifting, and if possible, have a friend hold it when you're ascending/descending. Use bucket and line tied to a cleat to help move tools and supplies to keep your hands free to hold the ladder.

6. Heavy snow loads can add tremendous weight. Now is the time to ensure any tarps or coverings haven't been loosened and enough pitch remains to slough off snow and ice. As during boating season, always "keep one hand on the boat" when adjusting covers or lines that are difficult to reach.

7. Check jackstands to ensure they haven't moved, but don't ever attempt to move or adjust one by yourself - that's the marina's job. Do not tie off tarps to stands as winds could pull them out.

8. Shoveling or chipping away ice on your boat may cause damage. A stiff broom is best to clear a path.

For more tips on winter boat storage, additional information can be found here.

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