Winterizing Tips For I/O and Sterndrive Boats: Part 3

In the first and second posts we discussed flushing the engine, winterizing the engine with antifreeze, treating the fuel for winter storage and fogging the engine. This post will talk about servicing the outdrive, checking and changing the outdrive oil in a mercruiser alpha 1 outdrive.

For this part you will need: outdrive oil, a pump to fill the outdrive, new gaskets for the vent and drain screws and tools to remove the screws and prop. You will also need shop towels and an oil pan.

Remove the prop and inspect the prop shaft for any damage and for things like fishing line wrapped around the shaft. If line is wrapped around the shaft inspect the shaft seal after removing the line for damage or leaks. If a leak is found have the seal replaced and pressure check the outdrive. Grease the shaft and replace the prop.

Locate the vent and drain screws on the outdrive. The vent screw will be on the upper part of the drive leg and the drain will be near the bottom close to the water intake holes. Place a catch pan under the drive and place the drive in the full down position. Remove the bottom screw then remove the top screw. Inspect the oil! If it has white streaks or is the color of coffee with milk remove the drive and have it pressure tested by a mechanic. If it is dark black you waited to long between oil changes. The drain plugs are magnetic inspect them for metal shavings an inspect the oil for metal shavings. If metal is found have the drive inspected by a professional. If the old oil has a foul smell or is dark grey this indicates overheating or an internal failure of the drive and will require professional help.

Once the oil has drained from the drive attach your oil pump to the bottom drain hole. The pump has a threaded connector that screws into the drain hole. I find it easier to attach the connector to the outdrive before you put the pump into the bottle of gear oil.  Attach the pump to the oil bottle and pump oil into the drive until it flows out of the top hole. Replace the gasket on the top hole screw and screw the plug back into the drive. This will create a partial vacuum and let you quickly remove the oil pump from the bottom hole and place the bottom screw with a new gasket back into the drive. A small amount of oil may leak out before you can fully tighten the screw and this is ok. Using your shop towels clean up any oil that spilled on or down the drive leg.

Inspect the bellows and shift cable along with the water intake hose. If it’s been a few years since they have been replaced or if there is any dry rot or damage to the bellows have them replaced. A leaky bellows will sink a boat in record time! Here is a link to a decent alpha 1 bellows kit.

Check and replace the sacrificial anodes if they show less than 70 percent.

  • Zinc Alloy Anodes = Salt water only
    • Not recommended for use in fresh water
    • Alloy is manufactured to meet or exceed US Military Specification (MIL-A-18001K)
  • Aluminum Alloy Anodes = Salt, Fresh or Brackish water
    • Not recommended, but can be used in fresh water
    • Proven to last longer than zinc due to increased capacity
    • Alloy is manufactured to meet or exceed US Military Specification (MIL-A-24779(SH))
  • Magnesium Alloy Anodes = Fresh water only
    • The only alloy proven to protect your boat in fresh water
    • It is not recommended to use magnesium anodes in salt or brackish water .
      • The result may be an accelerated corrosion rate, which may damage the metal parts of your boat and leave you with no anode protection in a short period of time.
    • A Special Note on Magnesium Anodes for Fresh Water… Essentially, fresh water is a much less conductive environment than salt water, therefore magnesium anodes are your best choice as they are much more active (less noble) than zinc or aluminum anodes
    • The result is increased efficiency thus superior protection for your underwater metal components

There are many types and models of outdrives. Some have a remote oil reservoir and will require addition steps to change the oil. This is a basic guide for mercruiser alpha 1 drives though the steps are generally the same for other brands such as OMC and Volvo.

Store the outdrive in the down position. This keeps water from collecting in the prop hub and possibly freezing and damaging the hub. It also reduces stress on the bellows and shift cable.

Making a Winterization Bucket

So you’ve read our multi part series on how to winterize your sterndrive boat and you noticed I mentioned using a 5 gallon bucket to winterize in place of a premade kit. A premade winterizing kit will cost about $40. You can make your own for a fraction of that cost.

You will need: A 5 gallon bucket, drill with a 1.5 inch hole saw bit, a bulk head fitting, and a hose bib or shut off connector.

Using your 1 1/2 inch hole saw drill a hole in the side of the bucket near the bottom. Be careful to not drill through the bottom of the bucket. Once your hole is drilled take the bulkhead fitting apart and insert the male threaded part of the bulkhead fitting through the hole you drilled from the inside to the outside. Make sure you have a gasket on both sides of the bulkhead fitting then screw the female threaded nut onto the male threads sticking out of the side of the bucket.

Take your Hose bib and wrap a few wraps of teflon tape or use pipe dope on the threads. screw the hose bib into the bulkhead fitting. You should have bought a 3/4 hose bib and a 3/4 inch bulk head. The products I have linked in this article are all compatible.

That’s it! If you bought the products linked here you spent about 20 dollars and will have a winterization bucket that will last you for years. I use mine to winterize the water system, engines and generators.

One of the hardest things is knowing the correct name for things. When I first built my bucket I didn’t know the name for the bulkhead fitting. I spent way to much time wandering around the store looking for something I couldn’t name. I hope this article helps you in your boating journey.

Check out the projects page for other boating related projects!


Winterizing Your Boat’s Freshwater System

So you’ve read our 3 part series on winterizing your boats engine and sterndrive. Now it’s time to winterize your boats fresh water system.

There are a multitude of designs and setups for boat fresh water systems so inspect yours and make sure you know how water or in this case antifreeze will flow through your system.

Most boats have a freshwater tank, hot water heater and various faucets and outlets for the water to flow from. You may have a freshwater flush head or a raw (seawater) flush head. It’s important to know exactly how your system is set up. Almost all vacuflush systems use fresh water to flush and will need to be winterized according to the manufactures instructions.

I always start by going to the pumpout dock and pumping the head holding tank. Next I empty the freshwater holding tank by opening the faucets and running the freshwater pump until all of the water is out of the system. Remember to open and drain seldom used things like transom shower heads and washdown hoses. Locate your hot water heater and open the drain and blow off valve on the hot water heater. Make sure you have turned the breaker off for the hot water heater. Once the water has drained from the heater close the drain and blow off valve. Opening the blow off valve will let the hot water heater drain faster.

If you have an on board ice maker follow the manufactures instructions on how to winterize it. I typically turn the water off to the ice maker and let it run until it uses all the water in the line to make ice. Once it stops making ice I disconnect the water line at the solenoid and drain any remaining water from the line. Most ice makers can be damaged by blowing air through the lines or using antifreeze.

Now that your water system is empty there are a few different ways to winterize the system. I have a bypass valve and hose installed on my hot water heater so after I drain the hot water heater I can bypass it and not have to waste 12 gallons of antifreeze filling it up. This is a good hot water tank bypass kit. So with the hot water heater bypassed pour five or six gallons of antifreeze into your water tank and turn on your freshwater pump. Go to the furthest faucet from the holding tank and one at a time turn on the valves until antifreeze comes out of the faucet. Now go to every other faucet and repeat the process.

If your boat doesn’t have or you don’t use your fresh water tank you can winterize by using your 5 gallon bucket you made following this post and a utility pump. Fill the bucket with antifreeze attach the utility pump to the hose bib on the bucket and attach the discharge side of the pump to the dockside water connection on your boat. Turn the pump on and follow the same directions as above to pump antifreeze through your boats fresh water system.

If you have a freshwater flush head, flush the head for enough time to be certain the antifreeze has filled the intake and discharge hoses along with the head pump.

If you have a raw water flush head locate the through hull for the water intake, shut it off and pour one gallon of antifreeze into the head and flush it until it is all gone. Disconnect the hose from the through hull and drain it before reconnecting it to the through hull. Check your hose clamps and replace if needed.

Some boat owners like to winterize the water system by using compressed air to blow it out. I don’t like this method because it can damage faucets and other parts of the system and it may leave a pocket of water in a low laying hose or pipe. By using antifreeze you are insuring the water has been replaced with the proper antifreeze.

Boat Battery Storage and Care Over The Winter

The boat’s been winterized, you’re removing all of your belongings and wondering “what in the heck do I do with my batteries”?

Marine Batteries need to be maintained throughout the winter. How you maintain them depends on how your boat is stored. If you want the batteries to last the winter and the boat to fire up first thing in the spring follow these simple steps.

For a boat stored on land with the drain plug removed you can take your batteries out of the boat and store them indoors in a heated environment checking them monthly and charging if necessary. Removing the battery from the boat is fine as long as the boat isn’t in danger of collecting water in the bilge and needing the bilge pump to run. It’s not a bad idea to remove the battery boxes with the batteries in order to safely store them preventing anything from falling on the battery and shorting it out.

I use this type of meter to check my batteries charge while they are out of the boat. You can also use a multimeter to check the charge. If you need to charge a battery do not charge it inside of your house. Batteries off gas while charginging and could cause an accumulation of explosive gas inside your house.

If your boat is stored in the water (as mine is every other year) you will need to keep the batteries in the boat to insure the bilge pumps and other systems function. I use my shore line connection and leave my smart battery chargers running all winter. If you don’t have this option at the very least you need to stop by the boat bi-monthly and check / charge the batteries with an approved marine battery charger. I turn off all the breakers and switches for 12 volt powered things I don’t need. Basically I just leave the bilge pumps connected.

Remember! If the batteries die you are at risk of sinking when the bilge pumps fail. It’s also a good idea to stop by the boat after foul weather and insure everything is ok.

As batteries become discharged the electrolyte will have a higher freeze temperature.  This can lead to the battery bursting or internal damage to the battery. A fully charged battery has a much lower freeze temperature than a discharged battery.

Seamanship And the Rules Of The Road For Boaters

As a former full time liveaboard and current seasonal liveaboard I am on the water quite a bit and see a wide range of boating skill and etiquette from my fellow boaters. Often I wonder if a certain boat operator has even taken a look at the ColRegs AKA the rules of the road for boaters. If you haven’t yet I suggest visiting the coast guard website and downloading their free copy of the amalgamation of the International (72 COLREGS) and Inland Navigation Rules. I will touch on the major parts of the rules here but won’t get as in depth as the official source.

First rule is avoid a collision. It is the position of the Coast Guard and the Admiralty Court that there are no accidents. If a collision occurs the navigation rules were not followed. Plain and simple.

Second, a constant watch and lookout is required anytime a vessel is underway. This is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve witnessed both power and sail boats operated in tight navigational areas by people who were not keeping a lookout. I have had a large cabin cruiser almost hit me and several others being operated by autopilot while the “captain” was sitting on the aft deck having a drink with his guests.  This is illegal and a good way to hurt or kill other people.

Stand on Vessel and Give way vessel which are you? 

The “Stand on Vessel” (the one that has the Right of Way) is required to hold course until such time that it is determined the “Give Way Vessel”  (the one that is yielding the right of way) is not going to Give Way. The Stand on Vessel is then required to avoid a collision. All maneuvers must be made early and obvious to avoid any chance of misinterpretation.

The “Give Way” vessel is the vessel that must yield (the term used on roads when you drive a car) to the other.  “Stand On” is the vessel that has the right of way.

A Stand on Vessel MAY give up it’s rights. However any maneuvers must be made early and obvious BEFORE it becomes Stand on to show the vessel that would be the Give Way Vessel that it is not required to make an avoiding maneuver.

“Obvious” It’s an important word. Let’s say you are the give way vessel approaching the stand on vessel. You make a slight course adjustment to pass the stand on vessel but that adjustment is so slight the stand on vessel is confused as to what your intentions are. I try to make it clear both visually and on the radio or horn what my intentions are when meeting or passing a vessel. This possibly means a safe yet exaggerated turn to the proper side.

The following is from the Maritime.College website and is linked here

Rules to remember when two vessels meet

  • When two power vessels are approaching head on,both vessels should alter course to starboard to pass port-side to port-side.
  • When two power-driven vessels are in crossing situation on a collision course, give way to the vessel to starboard (right).The give way vessel must take early and obvious action to avoid a collision by either stopping or altering course to starboard.
  • If the give way vessel has another power-driven vessel from the Port (left) which does not take obvious action to give way, or alter course to starboard, then the Skipper of give-way (stand on) vessel must take evasive action by either stopping, or again, altering course to starboard.
  • Every vessel (power or sail) that is overtaking must keep well clear of the over taking vessel. You are overtaking if you are approaching another vessel anywhere in a 135 degree sector at its stern.

Channels and harbours

  • All vessels must keep to the starboard (right) side of any channel.
  • Inside a harbour (normally shown on the pilotage limit on the chart) you must keep out of the way of any ship over 500 tons. (which is about 50 metres in length)
  • Do not create a wake which causes unnecessary danger to other vessels or people.
  • You must not anchor in a channel.
  • All small craft must keep out of the way of larger vessels which are restricted by their draft to maintain passage and steering within the channel.

When power meets power

  • You must give way to another vessel on your starboard. (right)
  • If you meet head on, both vessels must turn to starboard. (right)

When power meets sail

  • Power gives way to sail unless the sailing vessel is overtaking.
  • Sailing vessels should avoid sailing in a narrow channel. They have to give way to power-driven vessels restricted in their ability to manouvre in the channel.

When sail meets sail

  • The vessel which has the wind on its starboard (right) side has the right of way. The vessel which has the wind on its port (left) side must give way.
  • When both boats have the wind on the same side the windward (upwind) boat has to give way.

When things go wrong

  • If the give way vessel does not appear to be giving way, the stand on vessel must take evasive action and should turn to starboard (right). Do not alter course to port, it could place you into the path of the give way vessel.

Five or more blasts of a horn indicate immediate danger. If five or more blasts are heard you should immediately determine the source of the danger and take immediate evasive action if required.

The above are a few of the common ways you’ll meet and navigate around other vessels for a more indepth look read the ColRegs or purchase a book on seamanship. I also recommend the US Power Squadron Books and Courses to every boater. They cover everything from beginning to advanced topics.

There is so much more to boating safely I may make a few more posts in the future discussing topics like navigation and aids to navigation. This post touches on the rules of the road and is meant as a companion to truly learning the rules, taking a certified boaters course and other self study. It is in no way complete or intended as the sole source of information.