Winter stinks—it’s freezing cold outside, our boats are stuck on dry land, and it’ll be months before we can enjoy zooming across the water’s surface once again. Unless, of course, you live in Florida or SoCal. In that case, please shut up. We’ve heard it before.
There are those crazy enough to try snow-boating or other cold-weather boating sports, bt most of us will spend the bulk of our time indoors, skulking around in a chill-induced misery. But we may as well make the misery productive. There are plenty of winter boat projects you can take on, without leaving the scant warmth of heat pumps and extra blankets. Ready to get started? Good. Quit whining about the weather, and instead…
1. Learn some new knots, and brush up on the old ones.
We’ve built up a pretty good library of knot-tying how-to videos, thanks mostly to the work of Doug Logan. (Around here, we call him Captain Doug the Knot Curmudgeon). So get yourself a length of rope or three, pour another hot toddy, and watch:
- How to Tie Bend Knots
- How to Tie Hitch Knots
- How to Tie a Trucker’s Hitch
- How to Tie Stopper Knots
- How to Tie a Bowline
And for the fishermen:
- How to Tie a Palomar Knot
- How to Tie a Fisherman’s Knot
- How to Tie a Spider Hitch
2. Build your own boat.
Yeah, this is a major undertaking, but no one says you have to start construction on the QE III. A small garage or shed provides plenty of space for building your own skiff or rowboat, a project that can easily be completed through the course of a winter (especially if you live in Canada). You need some ideas and designs, to get the ball rolling? Check out 10 Home Made Boats that will Rock Your World.
3. Perform some basic maintenance (indoors).
This is stuff we already know we should be doing but usually put off until the snow melts away. Then, we rush around in preparation for spring commissioning. Get a jump on some things over the winter; bring that teak home, and start varnishing. Replace the old cooler hinges. Unroll the Isinglass and clean it up now.
Here's one you should definitely be paying attention to, before the weather begins to warm: Performing Basic Boat Battery Check-up and Maintenance.
4. Give your boat a new paint job.
Okay, granted, for this one you’ll need a heated shop—one that’s large enough to hold your boat. With that one requirement met, however, this is a great project to eat away those cold winter weekends. And we can tell you exactly how to get the job done: simply watch How to Prep a Boat for Painting, and How to Paint a Boat. Once the easy part’s done, watch How to Paint a Non-skid Deck, and tackle that job, too.
5. Rebuild your small outboard’s carburetor.
Thanks to ethanol, there’s a lot of need for this chore. In fact, if you’ve gone more than two seasons and have been anything less than 100-percent religious about treating the fuel and making sure it’s fresh, there’s a good chance a carb re-do will vastly improve the way your eggbeater runs. Fortunately, this isn’t a terribly complex process; you can see how it’s done first-hand, by reading How to Rebuild a Small Outboard Carburetor.
6. Seal any exposed wood with the end-grain exposed.
First, make a quick visit to the boat and remove all of the wood pieces and parts that have end-grain exposed. Then, follow Ed Sherman’s advice in Sealing Wood End-Grain to Prevent Delamination. Your boat’s wood will last years longer.
7. Modify and improve your spinnaker pole.
Honestly, as a powerboater I have no idea what a spinnaker pole is. I’m guessing, however, it’s some sort of sailing thingamajig that can be improved with a little modification. And fortunately, a sailing-savvy guy named Paul Grimes details exactly how to do the job, in Spinnaker Pole Modification: Tricking the Trip for Easier Jibes.
Is it spring yet?
Hopefully, tackling these winter boat projects will do more than just make the season go by a little bit faster—they'll also improve your boat, or help you become a better boater.
Of course, there's one other thing we mariners all like to do when the water's frozen up hard. Check out all the boat listings on boats.com, and dream about what it would be like to have a brand new boat in the slip come spring.
Editor's note: this article was originally posted in 2016 and was last updated in January, 2021.