Preparing Your Inflatable Boat for Winter
As temperatures start to drop and winter is on the horizon, you may need to prepare your rigid inflatable boat (RIB) for storage. New owners sometimes don’t realize that making your boat ready for sub-zero conditions and harsh weather is essential to protect their boat’s longevity.
But with a few simple precautions and proven tricks, your boat will hibernate soundly and be ready for springtime fun. Millions of boat owners live in areas that experience freezing temperatures and continue to enjoy their boats year after year.
In this guide, we’ll cover how to prepare your inflatable boat for winter storage. Let’s get started.
Should It Be Inflated or Deflated?
Maybe the most common confusion about wintertime storage of RIB boats is whether to leave them inflated or deflated. It’s best to keep your inflatable inflated, if possible, though there are ways to properly store your boat deflated.
Storing Your Boat Inflated
When you store your inflatable boat pumped up, the surface of the tubing will be taught and resistant to getting caught or punctured. RIB tubing is strongest when inflated, and the seams and attachments hold up best when under pressure.
Storing your boat inflated also protects it from nibbling mice in your storage area. When the tubing is left uninflated, it’s an easy target for curious rodents.
Some new RIB owners think it’s a good idea to split the difference between inflated and deflated, thinking it will give them the best of both worlds. Sadly, this isn’t the case. RIBs are only military-tough when they’re pumped up, so it’s better to find a new storage area for your boat rather than to compromise.
Remember to check your inflatable periodically to see if it needs more air pressure. With changing temperatures and long-term storage, the air pressure can slowly decrease.
Storing Your Boat Deflated
We recommend only storing your RIB uninflated for short periods until you can move it to someplace you can store it fully inflated. But, if you must store your boat deflated, there are a few things you can do to minimize the problems that can arise:
- Wash it thoroughly before storage. When in the water, your boat attracts residue and microorganisms that you should wash off before storing it for an extended period. It’s much easier to do a quick wash before storage than cleaning your RIB after it sits for a long time.
- Store it dry. Make sure there isn’t any lingering moisture. A little water plus a dark storage area can mean mold and mildew. If possible, store your boat in a dry place.
- Keep it off the floor and away from the wall. Besides avoiding objects that can puncture your boat, you’ll help keep it away from mice.
- Don’t keep an inflatable a metal shed. When an inflatable boat is left in a non-controlled environment like a small shed, it often experiences amplified highs in the day and lows at night, which puts stress on the tubing material and seams of your boat. Try to choose a storage area that doesn’t have large temperature swings, such as your garage or a storage facility.
- If you have no room for indoor storage, a better option is to simply get a good cover for your boat and leave it on its trailer in a protected outdoor area. That way, it’s easy to check on, and you can pump a little air into it when necessary.
Don’t Let Your Cover Come Off
Since indoor storage might not always be an option, it means that a lot of boat owners store their boat outside with a cover. While this is an effective way to protect your boat, you have to be sure to choose a cover that won’t come off and can withstand harsh conditions.
If you live in an area with milder winters without high winds or a lot of snow, you should be fine using a standard, UV-protective cover for your boat. But, if you live somewhere with very high winds and snow, you may opt to have your boat shrink-wrapped. This plastic wrapping is a one-time-use cover that’s heavy-duty and resistant to the effects of wind and the weight of snow.
It’s important to check on your RIB if you store it in a place with extreme winter weather. After significant snowfall or high winds, take a look at your boat to make sure everything looks good and the cover is still on all the way.
Don’t Pack Heat Onboard
One blunder boat owners make when trying to protect their boat against the effects of freezing temperatures is using a space heater or lightbulb to keep sensitive areas warm. Too often, this strategy isn’t effective and can even result in a fire — if you follow proper winterization procedures, then this dangerous trick won’t be necessary.
Winterize Your Systems
Besides using the right kind of cover and storing your boat inflated, there are a few more steps to prepare your vessel’s mechanical systems for the winter.
1. Freshwater Systems
If you live somewhere where temperatures can drop below freezing, then you need to prepare your freshwater systems for winter storage.
Anything aboard your boat like showers, washdown nozzles and faucets need to be treated with potable antifreeze. If you leave water in these systems and it freezes, it will expand and can damage the lines from the inside.
Before you do anything to your freshwater systems, make sure to buy the right type of antifreeze. Commonly found in RV and marine supply stores, antifreeze made with propylene glycol is safe for drinking water systems — as opposed to ethylene glycol, which is not safe to use. Commonly referred to as “the pink stuff,” the safe antifreeze can be found in abundance at the end of fall.
Here’s how to prep your freshwater systems:
- Drain as much water as you can from your freshwater tank and water lines by using them until they run out.
- Detach the main hose from the freshwater tank and place it into a bucket filled with your safe antifreeze.
- Use each one of your freshwater fixtures until the antifreeze starts to come out.
- Don’t forget about the washdown nozzle on the swim step.
- Reattach the primary freshwater feeding tube to your freshwater tank, and you’re ready to go for spring.
2. Sanitation and Air Conditioning
Your sanitation systems and air conditioning will also need a little care to prepare them for the winter. Before you follow the steps below, check your manufacturer’s recommended processes for preparing the sanitation and air conditioning systems, as some specific systems require slightly different methods.
Here’s what to do for your sanitation system:
- Run a lot of fresh water through the heads to get rid of any lingering residue in the system.
- Empty your holding tank at a pump-out facility and be sure to give it a rinse or two with fresh water.
- For each head, close the seacock valve and then detach the freshwater intake hose.
- Put the intake hose into a bucket filled with the same potable antifreeze that you used for your freshwater system and pump the head until the antifreeze runs through the system and into the holding tank.
Always play it safe and use more than you need to rather than less to be sure that the antifreeze makes it all the way to the holding tank.
For air conditioning units, the process is very similar to the sanitation prepping steps:
- Close the valve for the air conditioner’s water intake and remove the supply hose.
- Insert the supply hose into a jug of the same potable antifreeze.
- Run the air conditioning system until you see the antifreeze coming out of the overboard discharge.
- Reattach the hose to its original water intake.
- If your boat has more than one air conditioner, repeat the above steps for each.
3. Outboard Engine
Luckily, inflatable boats come standard with outboard engines, which are the easiest type of marine engines to prep for winter.
For both two-stroke and four-stroke engines, it’s essential to change the oil in the lower unit. Putting in fresh oil before winter removes any excess water left from the year’s use, which can otherwise freeze and cause damage.
Next, thoroughly flush the outboard’s cooling system with the engine tilted downwards. There’s no need to run antifreeze through the system, as outboards are designed to drain when tilted downwards, but be sure to allow time for the system to drain completely. This process applies to both two-stroke and four-stroke engines.
If your inflatable a four-stroke engine, it’s essential to change your engine oil and oil filter before winter storage, but be sure to check your manufacturer’s recommendations before you start. Several helpful online videos are available to walk you through the process for your specific motor.
If you don’t want to start your engines every couple weeks, one more step you may want to consider is fogging your engine. Fogging protects your engine’s carburetor, cylinders and spark plugs from corrosion during periods of disuse. Again, this process differs by type of engine, so check your engine manufacturer’s recommendation before starting the process.
If you’re uncomfortable with any of these processes or think you might need a little help, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from a professional at a service shop. It’s a good idea to learn the processes yourself, but improper winterization or maintenance can lead to problems and repairs down the road.
4. Fuel System
Preparing your boat’s fuel system for winter is all about minimizing the formation of water.
The first thing to do is to add fuel stabilizer to your tank. This helps keep your fuel from deteriorating and separating in your tank, which can lead to damage within your system. Always use a stabilizer in an appropriate amount for what’s in your tank.
The pros have different opinions when it comes to the amount of fuel to store in your fuel tank. It’s best to check with your boat’s manufacturer to see which method they recommend.
The first method is to store your boat with your fuel tank almost full. By limiting the amount of air in the tank, you also limit the potential for condensation. Other marine professionals say that it’s better to leave a minimal amount of fuel in the tank and then treat that amount with fuel stabilizer.
The collective agreement is that adding fuel stabilizer is always a must. And be sure to buy the right type of fuel stabilizer for your engine — either diesel or gasoline.
If you’re doing this part yourself, this may also be a convenient time to replace your fuel filters.
The best way to store your batteries for the winter is at home, if possible. There, you can set them up with a trickle charger somewhere out of the way, and they’ll be in good shape and ready to go in the spring.
If storing them at home isn’t a viable option, you can keep them in the storage lot or the boatyard aboard your vessel, as long as you can use solar power or an outlet with a trickle charger.
Remember, different types of batteries have different charger needs, so be sure to check what your battery requires before buying a charger.
The one thing you must avoid is leaving your batteries on your boat without a charger all winter since this reduces the longevity of your battery. You’re likely to have a dead battery after you pull your boat out of storage.
Take this time to give your boat a little extra attention so it’ll be ready to go when the weather gets nice again.
- Remove any items like sunscreen and safety equipment that would be better stored out of the cold.
- Check small compartments and areas to make sure they’re clean and dry.
- Detach easily removable electronics.
- Organize your boat so it’s ready to go once you pull it out of storage.
If you follow the procedures above and thoroughly prepare your RIB for winter, you can rest easy and have a smooth transition into sunny, springtime boating.
Sirocco Marine for Rigid Inflatable Boats
Here at Sirocco Marine, we like to prepare our family of boaters with the know-how to maximize their boating experience. The more you know about your boat’s systems and how to maintain them, the easier it will be for you to continue enjoying your time on the water.
A quality boating experience starts with a quality boat, and we’re proud to say that we make industry-leading rigid inflatables — our vessels are military-tough with unparalleled design. Marine professionals and family fun-seekers alike choose our RIBs because they have functionality and performance beyond that of a traditional vessel. They’re virtually unsinkable and statistically proven to be safer, which means peace of mind for however you boat.
Our customers keep coming back because we earn their business with outstanding customer service.
If you have any other questions about preparing your inflatable boat for winter or would like to request a quote, don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.