Like most people, I got into boating with a trailerable boat. Over the years, I've moved up to larger trailerable craft and finally to boats too large for trailering. Although I enjoy today's big boats, I sometimes miss the advantages of trailerable boats. There's no doubt about the benefits of having your boat stored outside your back door. You can take advantage of those warm, sunny late fall and winter days to work on small projects. But with larger boats, that simply isn't an option.


It's seldom practical to store a larger boat in your yard, so it's important to find a safe winter spot that's also affordable.

Boat Hauling

Unless you live across from a marina, you'd have to arrange with a professional boat hauling company to move your boat to your house. That bill could well be several times the cost of hauling, winter storage and launching at a boatyard. Then in the spring, you'll have to pay for the hauling service all over again to get the boat to the water. Think more dollar signs.

Another consideration is local zoning. The city in which you live may not allow big boats to be stored on residential lots. The advantages of having your boat at home aren't worth a expensive court fight.

As discouraging as it is, the annual winter layup is a fact of life for northern boaters. Back in the 50s and 60s, this always meant dry land storage in an open boatyard. Today, you have a couple more choices.

Outdoor Boat Storage

Traditional outdoor storage is still the most popular method. It is the only possible way to store sailboats with their masts up. But the real reason for its popularity is cost. Blocking a boat on an empty lot is the least expensive method of winter storage both for the boatyard and the owner.

There are advantages to outdoor storage. For one, at most yards you are free to visit or work on your boat virtually anytime you choose. You can inspect the boat from the warmth of your car, providing an excellent "reason" for a weekend drive during the cold winter months.

There are also disadvantages. Obviously, the boat is subject to the elements. Covering your boat is expensive, and supporting frameworks can be difficult to erect. Even under cover, the boat always gets dirty outside. And boats stored outside can become the target of vandals. It's worth considering a few other options before defaulting to outside dry storage.

boats in a boat yard

Most boats are stored outside in open yards, because it's easy and affordable. Photo: Gary Reich

Winter in the Water

Year-round wet storage is now possible in many harbors. Bubblers and propeller de-icers can protect a boat from winter ice damage. Both systems work by bringing relatively warm (that is, below freezing temperature) water up from the bottom to replace the cold water at the surface. The cost of de-icing makes it practical only for relatively large individual boats or whole harbors. You need enough depth that bottom water is warm enough to prevent surface ice buildup. And you must be in an area that is not subject to moving ice floes.

Inside Boat Storage

Storing boats in large buildings is also very popular. If you're considering inside storage, pick a place that has good security. The building should be locked when boats aren't actually being moved in or out. No one should be allowed inside the building without a yard employee. Avoid storage buildings that allow owners to work on their boats inside. Nearly all boat storage building fires (which are inevitably disastrous) are started by careless owners working on their boats.

Of course that means you won't even be able to see your boat all winter long, so working on any projects will be impossible unless you remove them from the boat and take them home before the building doors clang shut. These are real disadvantages, especially considering the expense of storing indoors.

But there are offsetting considerations. For one, your boat is protected from the weather without the work and expense of erecting a canvas cover. Boats stored inside generally need less cleanup in the spring to restore that yacht- like appearance. Another advantage of locked buildings is that they offer good protection against vandals.

Plan Ahead

Whatever method of winter storage you plan to use, be the first on your dock to sign up. This doesn't mean you have to be the first one out of the water. Prompt action simply gives you the opportunity to select the exact date you want your boat hauled. It also insures you get the storage location you want.

If possible, schedule your haulout on a weekday; on a weekend, the yard will likely have a couple hundred skippers making demands, and yard employees naturally get a bit cranky. The pressure is off Monday through Friday, so yard workers are a lot more helpful.

Haulout Day

Plan to take a vacation day for haulout so you're not rushed; sometimes the yard will get behind schedule. Be at the yard right at opening time. (A bag of fresh donuts is a great inducement to get your boat done quickly and done right.) Rig bow and stern dock lines on both sides of the boat, as well as fenders if you'll be hauling out from a travel lift pit.

If you're having the yard winterize the engine, make sure access is easy. Nothing makes a mechanic more upset than being forced to move a couple of sleeping bags, a teddy bear, and three deck chairs to get at the job. And the same goes for other winterizing (like the potable water system or head); make sure those spaces have easy access as well.

Finally, when the travel lift or hydraulic trailer engine begins to rumble, step back and observe. Stay out of the way. Sure, it's natural for you to want to personally oversee that nothing goes wrong. But remember that the yard moves a couple hundred boats every fall. You move one. They have a lot more hands-on experience than you do. So step back with a cup of coffee and one of those donuts, and enjoy the end of the season.

We have lots more boat yard and storage tips, so read on.