This blog is part of a series for new boaters. To read more from the full article, see Boat Buying for Absolute Beginners, Part VI.
Even the smallest boat is a special possession that has unique storage needs — unlike golf clubs or tennis racquets, you can't just throw it in a closet until you need it. Which type of storage you'll choose will depend upon the size of your boat, its intended purpose and the depth of your wallet.
Seasons will also dictate different storage needs. In summer, you want quick access to your boat so you can get in every possible minute of on-water fun. During the off-season, your interests lie more in the security of the boat from both the winter elements and thieves or vandals.
What follow are some of the most common options for storing your boat during the summer.
Small-Boat Storage (Boats less than 20 feet long)
Upside-Down on the Round— Although it sounds crude, storing boats upside down is common around the world. The hull then becomes its own boathouse. Be sure to block the boat off the ground for plenty of air circulation. This type of storage works best for dinghies and other small boats.
Trailer— A boat on a trailer can be stored inside a garage or in your backyard. Obviously, some sort of cover is needed to keep rain, falling leaves and critters out of the boat. A boat on a trailer can also be moved to a fenced storage yard or stored inside a warehouse building.
Dry Rack— This method of storage uses a forklift truck to hoist boats into multi-story storage racks. Depending upon overall size, boats can be stacked three or four high using this method. The racks are normally inside a building to protect against precipitation and theft.
Boat Lift— Boat owners lucky enough to have waterfront property often install equipment to pull their boats out of the water between trips. Boat-lift designs range from small derricks to what amount to floating dry docks.
Midsize-Boat Storage (Boats 20 to 32 feet long)
Trailer— Same as above. Boats up to 8 feet, 6 inches wide can be trailered during daylight hours in most states. In theory, this means boats up to 32 feet (and longer in the case of some high-performance deep-V boats) are trailerable. In practice, trailering generally is best suited for boats up to about 26 feet before the costs of tow vehicle and trailer make this option too expensive.
Dry Rack— Most dry-rack buildings are capable of storing boats up to 26 feet. However, there are some huge forklift trucks available that can lift boats more than 30 feet long. The limiting factor is height.
Wet Dock— A wet dock is called a “boat well” or “slip” in some parts of the country. Wet dockage allows you to get under way with a minimum of fuss.
Boat Lift— See above. It is possible to purchase lifts for boats 30 feet and longer.
Large-Boat Storage (More than 32 feet long)
In the water at a dock— Most big boats must remain afloat between uses. It is impracticable to haul them out and then launch them again when the owner requests. Wet dockage allows the boat to be used as a cottage because most marinas have full electrical and water hookups. Many also provide telephone and cable TV service.
Storage locations vary, usually depending upon the size of the boat involved. Even larger boats often are pulled home to spend the winter in the owner’s backyard or garage. The reason is cost: It's free to keep your boat on your own property.
Many of the choices for storage during the boating season apply to the off-season as well, but the priorities shift from easy access to protection from the elements—and thieves or vandals. Boats stored outdoors for the winter are traditionally covered to protect them against weathering and vandalism. There are a variety of popular covering methods, and each has its advantages. For more detail, read How to Cover Your Boat.
Canvas and Frame— The traditional method is to build a supporting frame over the boat using wood. Scrap carpet padding protects a canvas tarp that has been cut and sewn to the shape of the boat. This method is time consuming the first time, as all of the wood support pieces must be fitted individually. Once built, the pieces are numbered for disassembly and re-assembly in subsequent years. A heavy cotton-duck canvas is still the best covering for a boat because it “breathes,” allowing excess moisture (the cause of mildew) to escape. A well-made cover can give 10 or more seasons of protection.
Shrink Wrap— This modern technique has become the most popular method of covering boats. A framework of 1-inch-wide webbing is put over the boat to support a thin film of plastic. Heat from a propane “gun” causes the plastic to shrink tightly to the shape of the boat. Zippered doors and ventilators can be installed. The major drawback to shrink wrap is that it cannot be reused. The film is cut off the boat in the spring and sent to a plastic recycler.
Plastic Tarps— The least expensive method is to build a temporary “tent” over the boat using a few pieces of wood and a plastic tarp. The covering is kept in place by tying the tarp to the boat, or to the jackstands or cradle. Although they’re inexpensive, plastic tarps of this type allow good airflow, which will help prevent mildew. The big disadvantage is chafed gelcoat where either the tarp or the tie-down cords rub against the hull. Plastic tarps usually last only one winter and must be replaced.
Air circulation is important during winter storage. Wooden boats need plenty of circulation to prevent wood deterioration. Mildew can occur in all boats. That’s why it is a mistake to seal the covering too tightly. Shrink-wrap experts routinely install vents in their covers for this reason. However, you need to make sure there is enough air circulation inside the cabins. Open deck hatches so the bilge areas can ventilate. Sponge out any remaining bilge water to reduce the moisture content of the air inside the boat. Cabinet doors and drawers should be left ajar an inch or so for air circulation.
Other installments in this series:
- How do I decide which boat to buy?
- What’s the difference between boat hulls?
- What kind of engine do I need?
- Consider the costs of owning a boat before you buy
- What style of boat should I choose?
- How to choose amenities on a boat