By Allison Helfen


The Pacific Northwest had another fabulous summer and we spent a lot of time on our boats. Now that the Fall season has arrived, it’s time to prepare our boats for winter to ensure they will be in great shape come next Spring. I recently sat down with our Director of Service & Parts, Jace Romine to talk about the importance of winterizing your boat.

What does “winterize” your boat mean?

Great question! It is different for every boat and it means different things to different size boat owners. For the smaller boat owner, it may mean the season is coming to a close; for the cruiser, it might be time to put up that acrylic enclosure and get ready for some cooler weather; for the sport yacht and yachter, the sun pads come in and the fleece jackets come out. The real question is,” how do you plan on using your boat this winter”?  If the answer is “I don’t”, then special care must be taken to protect your investment.

For smaller bow-riders and trailer-able boats, most of the focus goes into protecting the motor and water circulating components surrounding it. This includes the manifolds, water circulation pump, and water veins that run throughout the engine. Freeze damage is a major concern and if not properly addressed, you’re rolling the dice with a very expensive engine replacement.

When should boat owners get their boats winterized?

 Once you decide that your boating season is coming to an end, it is best to put your boat away before the weather really gets nasty. In the Seattle area, we are all to accustom to the early sunsets and rainy days of fall and winter. Depending on how you plan on storing your boat, this could play a major factor in your timing to call it a season.

If you have a dry, heated and indoor space, then the elements outside won’t dictate your winterization strategy or timing. However, if you’re like many boat owners out there, who are looking for a parking spot this winter (that’s not your front yard), then beating the elements is critical. You want to avoid the early freeze that can show up in late October and getting your boat protected and wrapped prior to the great deluge helps keep moisture out and protect mold from occurring in the Spring.

Everyone knows that if you wrap up a soggy boat in the Fall, you will unwrap a frog’s fantasy moss garden in the Spring. Many boat owners get distracted with Labor Day weekend getaways, back to school activities, football season and other events. Next thing you know, the weather guy reminds us that the first freeze of the season is right around the corner and by then it’s too late.

Can the boat owner do it themselves easily?

All depends on your definition of easy? Even for the trained “do-it-yourselfer” there are specialized tools and techniques needed to properly protect you boat for the long winter nap. The slightest miscalculation comes with a price, usually much more than having your local dealer perform the winterization and inspection.

My response to customers that ask if they can winterize their boat themselves is “That’s a great question. Can you? A brand new engine is going to start around $8,000 and skyrocket from there. So if you want to save a couple hundred dollars, add a few months of sleepless nights to the long winter, then give the dice a kiss and roll. You’ll know if you did everything properly in the Spring when you start your engines.”

How can Union Marine help with this task?

At Union Marine we offer a full range of winterization packages and specials. This is includes everything from a basic winterize package (starting at a couple hundred dollars), to full premiere winterize packages, including discounts on service and winter storage. We also offer pick and drop off service. If you want your boat to just go way for the winter and show back up in the Spring, we can help with that too.

With our broad offerings of vessels from the dealership, we’re prepared to protect and maintain all sizes of vessels ranging from 10’ to 85’ for the winter months. We have trained staff to ensure you avoid costly mistakes when it comes to inviting old man winter aboard; unless he’s brought the hot butter rum.

Do you treat salt water engines different from fresh water engines?

When it comes to winterizing, a boat that runs in salt water needs to be protected the same as a fresh water boat. Boats do have a variety of cooling systems, including raw water cooling, half kits, and full fresh water cooling kits. Most boats pull water in from the body of water they are boating on and circulate it through manifolds, heat exchangers and exhaust in order to keep the engine running at the correct temperature.  It’s more critical to flush a boat that lives in salt water with fresh water to protect it against salt build up, but the winterization process is very similar regardless of your preferred playground.

What is the process and time to winterize my boat at Union Marine?

This varies depending on the size of the boat, the scope of requested service, and hopefully a well-planned in advance appointment. It never fails that we go from a steady schedule to a full on hurricane in a matter of a week by the first week of October.

We prioritize every customer to ensure all of the boats are winterized and protected the day they arrive. Once the winterization is complete, we address any additional requested work (unless it would be prudent to perform it during the winterization) such as an annual service, oil change, or drive service. At that point, the boat would be cleaned and ready to head home for the winter or shrink wrapped and transported to our Fife location for storage. When we store your boat, we factor in de-winterizing the boat and getting it ready for the Spring. We also offer discounts on the annual service and Spring detailing during this time.

Are there any other steps or checklist items I should do to protect and/or check on my boat throughout the winter?

If your boat is out in the elements, on a trailer AND if winterized properly, then there is really not a lot to do except keep an eye on the enclosure and drainage. Your boat cover should be properly supported to keep rain water from pooling. The support poles that come with your canvas or cover can be knocked down in high winds or heavy rain and ruin your canvas pretty quickly. The result from that failure is water pooling and slowly draining into the boat. You might not think this would be a terrible thing, until you realize in the Spring you left your drain plug in (because you couldn’t decide on a good place to put it).  When the cover comes off in the Spring and you find not only mold, but the boat is filled to the top with water and considered sunk on the trailer.

Believe it or not, this happens and we get a couple of calls from customers each year. Sometimes it can be debris blocking the drain plug, but we still have a few that just left the plug in and you can kiss your boat goodbye.


I have been boating for over twenty years and I remember the year we tried to save money and winterize the boat ourselves. The following Spring, we found out that we had a cracked engine block.

Boats endure tremendous amounts of stress throughout the summer traveling long distances at fast speeds on water. When it comes time to prepare them for winter, my recommendation is to let the professionals take care of your engines so you can enjoy your boat the next season worry free. ~ Allison Helfen