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Winter Hibernation

Putting the boat away for the winter…It’s a sad time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Unless you’re one of those die-hard few that keeps sailing your big boat in the winter, it’s time to put away the big toy until next spring.

Most people are very aware of the mechanical preparation given to putting away boats. There’s the adding of antifreeze where needed, the fall service for the engine, the fuel stabilizer added to the fuel tanks, clearing out the fresh and waste water tanks, and the general clean-up before closing everything tight against the weather. But how many people give attention to the electronics? In my experience, not many.

First, be sure to remove any displays that are outside and bring them home with you. It’s likely that you won’t see the boat much over the winter, so you’re not going to catch any small problems that can lead to bigger problems. Freezing water expands, so if there’s a little water left on the displays, it can force open the seals and cause leaks. I’ve gotten more than one display in for repair that has been subjected to a freeze/thaw cycle, and has let in water to damage the electronics. I’ve also had one case where differential cooling caused the glass on a display to crack – the display was mounted in a custom metal pod that twisted the display and broke it! It easiest to just remove the display, cover any holes with tape, and then reinstall the displays in the spring.

Also remove any sensors that are exposed to the elements. These usually include the masthead unit, the speed sensor, and the depth transducer. It’s not usually practical to remove a load pin, but if one is installed, make sure that it is covered – especially the cable. Plastic and rubber tend to get brittle at lower temperatures, so a knock that may not do any harm in the summer may shatter the object in the cold of winter. Just be sure to place the blanking plugs in the through-hull fittings if you take out the speed sensor and depth transducer. It is also a good idea to protect the connector for the masthead unit (a small bag taped over this is usually enough).

The items that are kept below deck – the processor, interfaces, and compass – are fine if left in place. Just be sure that they will stay dry, as freezing water can cause a lot of damage.

These are some general suggestions to decommission your electronics for the winter. Some boats require a little more preparation, but the suggestions given here should help most boats get through storage without too much of a problem.

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