How to live afloat in winter, by Claudia Myatt


Life on board in winter. The birds keep you company…

‘Summer afloat is a glorious, expansive picnic. The entire river is my living space, into which friends ebb and flow with boats, music and wine. Earning a living still means long hours indoors of course, but apart from that there are light evenings, maintenance sessions on the boat, voyages to plan, dinghies to play around with, all sorts of shippy business going on. Above all else in the summer, there is light – abundant, endless, late and early, helpful daylight.

Winters are a different matter altogether…

How often have you thought of living afloat? No doubt, like me, it was the thought of winter that put you off the idea – the cold, the condensation, the lack of shelter, the likely lack of near neighbours the fear of falling off the gangplank, and anxiety about emergencies with mooring lines on a cold and stormy night are all enough to worry a person.

So I was intrigued to read renowned maritime illustrator Claudia Myatt’s observations and advice on the subject. A lot of it seems to centre around keeping your firewood and your feet dry, and always having a torch. But she also argues for making the most of the situation rather than waiting for conditions to become perfect – which will often seem pretty remote in the depths of a wet, cold,  windy and darki winter.


Getting ready for winter – advice from Navigators & General

Joseph Mallord William Turner - Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth

Snow storm – steam-boat off a harbour’s mouth, by Turner (from the Wikimedia Commons)

Joe Field of insurance company Navigators & General has sent out his usual seasonal advice about preparing boats for winter – and it includes some useful reminders.

With the amount of hard standing reducing because of on-shore development and costs rising generally, it can be good to make arrangements early, he says, but he’s also concerned about crime and the weather.

‘Owners should give themselves time to prepare their boats, seriously consider security, and be vigilant. Sub zero temperatures can also cause thousands of pounds worth damage.

‘It is very important not to let cover lapse over the winter period. There are no days of grace in marine insurance, so if you do not renew your policy in good time your cover lapses.

‘Longer nights and financially tough times raise the risk of crime. Theft of gear and equipment is N&G’s second most common claim, but the UK has seen a steady rise in the number of outboard motor thefts since 2009, and more recently we are seeing metal thefts.

‘Claims resulting from incidents such as theft, fire, vandalism, damage by vehicles, storm damage, frost damage, and much more besides are arguably more likely to occur during the longer nights and harsher weather.

‘If a trip by road is required, it is important to check that your policy provides this cover, If not, you will need to request an extension. N&G’s yacht & motorboat policy automatically includes transit for craft up to 30ft, but not all policies will be the same.

‘If the trailer has been left standing it should be thoroughly checked and serviced if necessary, there may be a policy condition that the trailer is kept in a roadworthy condition.

‘Removing sails, dodgers and canopies not only dramatically reduces windage, (one of the main reason boats blow over) but will significantly extend their life. Winter gales make short work of any fabric left on deck (especially furled headsails), and UV exposure and mould (mildew) speeds their deterioration. Why not use the opportunity to have them laundered and serviced, as this will extend their life considerably, and insurance policies do not generally cover sails, canopies or covers split by the wind.

‘Once ashore removing all valuable equipment and leaving drawers or cupboards open should reduce the temptation to thieves. Any soft furnishings will fair far better in a warm dry environment and add to the impression that the boat has been stripped for the winter.

‘Metal theft has made the headlines quite a bit this year, and boats may be more at risk this winter. Easily accessible brass or bronze propellers will make an attractive target, as will copper sheeting. If these things are easily removable, it’s best to do just that and to store them securely. It is not only the cost but the difficulty in matching the stolen part.

‘If you cannot remove the vulnerable metal try to cover or disguise it and ensure you have the best possible security.

‘Outboard motor thefts have been steadily rising since 2009, so this is an area where owners really need to take action. If an engine can easily be removed do so, and consider a service at the same time. If the engine is so large and so well secured as to be very hard to remove N&G suggests that you remove the engine cover (taking care to fit alternative weather protection) to deter thieves.

‘Distributors and yards are very suspicious when asked to supply a cover only, and so removing a cover may be enough to prevent your boat from being a target. Otherwise, mark all the separate engine components, fit the best possible anti theft devices and think very carefully about the security your boat has over the winter. Outboard thieves are not put off by the size of an engine and will cut them out of boats if the opportunity is there.

‘Remember to properly winterise engines and machinery and drain down water systems. An unexpected sharp drop in temperatures can catch boat owners unawares, and result in engine blocks cracking, pipes or heating systems splitting, sometimes causing problems that manifests themselves for years after.

‘Not all policies cover this type of claim and they can be particularly expensive. Yards or engineers should know how to winterise machinery on your boat, but don’t leave it too late.

‘Particular care should be taken if leaving battery chargers or dehumidifiers running over the winter period. There have been a number of devastating fires on boats as a result of electrical faults on shore-powered devices. Keeping your boat dry through the winter is the right thing to do, but you need to be sure that any dehumidifier being used is well secured, has clean filters and adequate drainage facilities.

‘If you plan to have a heater running as well, be sure that you are not overloading the circuits and that you have the right sort of heater as this could significantly increase the risk of fire. Check with your local yard or boat surveyor to make sure. Concerned owners could consider temporarily mounting an automatic fire extinguisher next to such equipment

‘You should still check on the boat periodically or pay someone to do this for you. Winter maintenance is an essential part of boat ownership and necessary for enjoyable trouble-free boating over throughout the season. Following a few basic tips can help prevent a worthwhile exercise becoming a potential disaster:

  • Remove all expensive equipment such as radios, GPS, navigation and electronic equipment, TVs, CD players etc and store them in a safe place
  • Remove the outboard, tender and life-raft
  • leave empty lockers and drawers ajar to ventilate and deter thieves
  • Drain down water and heating systems
  • Have engines professionally winterised or ensure that you carefully follow all of the manufacturer’s recommendations to avoid frost damage
  • Remove berth cushions to a dry environment
  • Remove furled headsails, mainsails, covers, dodgers and spray hoods
  • Take out halyards leaving a mouse line and thoroughly wash and check for wear
  • Check all backstays for wear at top batten point
  • Check all standing rigging for broken strands and rigging screws for wear
  • Ensure the yard use cross bracing if using wooden shores, for extra safety
  • Ensure that while ashore the trim of the craft is correct, to allow cockpit drains to be effective, and avoid rainwater building up on decks or within the craft
  • Do not tie covers or tarpaulins to wooden shores or cross bracing
  • Preferably use only close fitting covers, to avoid additional windage
  • Place tie-on labels on the wheel and engine controls to remind you to check all skin fittings, impellers, seacocks and transducers prior to launching or starting the engine
  • Disconnect batteries and leave them fully charged
  • Do check the craft periodically during the winter months, unless you have made a specific arrangement for this to be done on your behalf. Do not assume that the rental of space will include this service
  • Avoid running fuel tanks too low due to risk of sucking dirt into filters or condensation in the tank space

Dylan Winter’s Keep Turning Left

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Keep Turning Left 2

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Forgive me, for I have sinned – I have quietly been enjoying Dylan Winter’s video series Keep Turning Left and have failed to mention it for far too long.

If you haven’t seen his Youtube videos about slowly sailing around our coast in an anti-clockwise direction, you should – and soon.

He’s up to over 40 episodes now and they look and sound great,  I have to say. Dylan makes excellent use of a camera, and he’s an entertaining and informative commentator with whom I find I usually agree. He’s interested in sailing, landscapes, history, the way we use our planet and in almost any kind of boat that doesn’t have a large engine and doesn’t have to move a huge amount of water to get somewhere, and films and talks about all of them.

Ah, sailing slowly around the country. I suppose I should mention that I’m prejudiced in all this. The whole idea makes me envious to the point of losing my marbles!