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 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

Tips for long term boat storage in the tropics

Current Radio Schedules

by Fast Fred (s/v Liberty) 9th April 2012

1. Fresh water systems:

Fill, or drain to dry, all water tanks. Do not over-chlorinate water in plastic tanks. Leaving tanks partially full may allow unpleasant organisms to grow. Drain and rinse the hot water tank. You’ll be surprised how much sludge accumulates in the tank. Chlorine in hot water tanks can corrode the element. Dry tanks are easier to clean (with a vacuum) upon your return.

Remove fresh water filters and refill their cases. Reduce water pressure to minimum, but leave system partially charged. This will keep f/w pump seals moist.

Pump out any holding tanks or shower drain sumps. Drain the bilges.

Pickle the water maker. Use non-chlorinated water to flush the membrane. We use product water to mix the solution. Do not use tap water!.

Pump out any holding tanks or shower drain sumps. Drain the bilges.

2. Sea water systems:

Consider using a strong acid, e.g. Muriatic Acid, to clean marine growth from heat exchangers and raw water intakes and strainers. Run fresh water thru engine &/or a refrigeration heat exchanger(s), and leave them full. Clean all raw water filters/strainers. Leave them open, and mark them as ‘open’. Some people like to remove raw water pump impellors. In any case, it’s a good time to lubricate seacocks and check hose clamps on all through-hull fittings. We make a habit of turning the seacocks regularly and checking hose clamps. This is a good time to WD40 them

Run fresh water thru marine heads, add a few fluid ounces of a vegetable or mineral oil and pump dry. This will lubricate the seals/o-rings. Fill bowl to the brim with fresh water and seal top of bowl with Saran Wrap or equivalent to keep water from evaporating. Close head waste thru-hull fittings. This is a good idea, the idea is to keep the valves wet and flexible. We have emptied the bowl and had to rebuild the head pumps.

Do not leave bilge pump auto-ON switch in operation unless you are CERTAIN your switch and sensors are foolproof.

Try to stow outboard engines such that any remaining cooling water does not remain in the powerhead nor the upper part of the lower unit. Vertical storage is best, if you can find a way to keep them upright and secure below decks. We run the outboard with tank detached until it runs dry. The foot is submerged in a fresh water bucket to flush the head. The oil is changed, fittings greased and the whole unit liberally doused with WD40

If in doubt (and there is always doubt, isn’t there?), leave a thru-hull open (remove hose), or slack off the stern tube packing gland, or drill a small hole for bilge water to drain. Plug hole(s) with bronze wool or similar porous material to keep out critters. LABEL it as open! Close any other unneeded thru-hull fittings.

3. Rain water:

Assure boat is on an even keel so deck water may drain properly. A short piece of hose vertically inserted in one of the cockpit drains will reduce the chances of all of them becoming plugged by windblown debris. This may help prevent your boat from " sinking on the hard". Remember that water may find its way down the mast or through unseen openings or cracks in the deck/hull joint. It doesn’t take long during the wet season for bilges to fill with rain water.

Put a short length of snug-fitting hose in each thru hull that might allow water (and crud) to wend its way down your topsides and leave nasty stains. Cut-off plastic bottle tops also work well; they will allow water to drip away from the hull rather than run down the sides. We have made a canvas cover which fits tightly over the whole cockpit and seals it against falling debris.

4. Interior (general):

Run an A/C or De-humidifier. Use a separate power cord….run them on a delay timer, e.g. Breaker-Matic, that will restore them to ON 3 or more minutes after a power outage or voltage surge. Be certain that the breaker will handle the electrical starting load of your A/C unit. Beware of A/C units with electronic controls; these may NOT reset themselves after a power outage….and there WILL be power outages. Secure your power cord to the power point. Have someone trustworthy check it periodically.

If you run an A/C or Dehumidifier, block as many outside air entry points as you can (dorade box vents, nicro fans, engine room vents, chain pipe, galley exhaust fan, etc). You want to seal it up as best you can to keep out moisture (and critters!). A de-humidifier can sit atop the galley sink and drain thru the sink waste thru-hull. An A/C unit might sit atop the companionway and drain into the cockpit. Do not over dry the air as interior wood can shrink and crack.

Open all drawers and cabinet doors, engine room door, and cabin sole access hatches to bilges. This will help an A/C or dehumidifier keep your bilges dry.

5. Interior (galley and staterooms):

Fill propane tanks and then disconnect them. Allow LP gas line to bleed to atmosphere, then plug.

Clean and polish the BBQ and stow it below.

Leave NO perishable food on board, and/or seal any containers of food that might attract pests. Carbonated beverages go flat after a few months. Vegetable oil may turn rancid. Products containing yeast/leavening don’t last long in the tropics and can contribute to mold.

Assure refer is clean, dry, and at room temperature before leaving. Put a bowl of baking soda in the refer box to absorb residual moisture/odors. Leave open.

Set anti-vermin traps and apply Chinese Chalk/Boric acid liberally, especially in food storage areas. Leave no cardboard boxes aboard; roaches love to lay eggs in the glue. “Terro-PCO” ant killer may deter sweet-eating ant colonies from taking up residence aboard your boat. Bee colonies have been known to occupy deck boxes. Flying ants and termites can find their way inside; make it hard for them and maybe they’ll choose to take up residence in an adjacent boat. Block as many potential points of entry as you can.

Put DRY elasticized clothing in a well-sealed plastic storage bag, with a dryer sheet. Put a dryer sheet in all other drawers where clothing and linens are stowed.

Put room deodorizers in each cabin, &/or Breeze laundry detergent in shallow bowls. The aroma and bleach in this soap help counteract mold and mildew. Wash down wood or laminate surfaces with a mild vinegar/water solution or diluted bleach to help counteract mildew.

Lightly oil all steel hand tools.

6. Battery care:

Turn off all un-needed AC and DC breakers and circuits. Unplug all electrical appliances that won’t be used while in storage.

Remove all dry cell batteries from flashlights/torches, H/H VHF radios, GPS, Voltmeters, etc. I store separately in zip lock bags

Totally discharge all dry cell re-chargeable batteries. Top up house and starting battery banks.

Assure battery connections are clean, dry, and tight. I vasiline mine

Leave solar panel(s) on if you want to keep battery banks fully charged. Set charge controller to about 13 to 13.5 volts. If you have lead acid batteries assure they do not overcharge and dry out. Have someone you trust check on them at least once/month. Gel cell batteries like to “float” at about 13.5 volts. Keeping your batteries fully charged can add many years to their useful life.

Leave wind generator blades free to rotate. This will reduce the chance that the bearings will prematurely fail due to rust from condensation. If you don’t need the wind generator to keep your batteries charged, consider shorting the output windings to slow rotation of the blades.

7. Electronics:

Disconnect radios, TV, radar and GPS repeaters from antenna input(s). Unplug them and/or remove fuses. This may reduce the potential damage to sensitive electronic components from a nearby lightning strike. Consider running a LARGE conductor from rigging to ground.

8. Topsides/deck/hull care:

Remove portlight screens. Cover portlights with reflective material. Assure that all hatches and portlights are watertight and dogged and locked. Consider covering them to reduce the intensity of sunlight below decks; it will help keep your boat cooler. Consider a cheap tarp as an awning (silver/aluminized) to partially shade the deck and cockpit. These generally last at least 12 months.
The yellow, rubberized ones last even longer. If/when strong winds strike, you won’t have sacrificed an expensive boat cover.

Loosen taut standing rigging a little to relieve tension on the stays and shrouds. Clean and lubricate moving parts such as roller furling gear, boom vangs, winches, etc.

Remove as much of your canvas/sunbrella, biminis, dodgers, sails, etc. as you can to reduce potential damage from strong winds and pre-mature weathering, but leave hatches covered. Clean and DRY fabrics before stowing them below. Don’t leave jib sails furled on head stays or on booms. If there is a tropical storm, your sails will likely be shredded. Running rigging should be led so that it doesn’t “bang” against your mast when the wind blows; it can be very irritating to others living on the hard. Alternatively, run chase lines and take down halyards, topping lifts, etc to protect them from chafe and pre-mature weathering. Wash all lines with freshwater to remove salt, and dry them thoroughly before stowing them below.

Do not leave flags or pennants flying. Take down signal and flag halyards and lazyjacks, to reduce windage. Stow all unnecessary running rigging, lines and fenders below decks. Consider stowing the helm below decks, especially if it’s ‘attractive’.

9. Fuel:

Drain gas from O/B motors. Flush the engine with fresh water and ‘fog’ the cylinders; drain and refill the lower unit gear case. If it’s a 4-stroke engine, change the oil. Don’t try to save dinghy gas for more than a month. Use a fuel preservative in diesel tanks (Bio-Bor or equivalent). A full diesel fuel tank may reduce condensation of water vapor. Plug the vent of your diesel tank, and leave yourself a note to that effect. Check for water in your fuel tank. Algae grow in the fuel-water interface. If you find any water in the fuel, it’s better to get rid of it sooner rather than later.

10. Security:

Stow any ‘attractive’ items below decks and out of sight. O/B motors are especially vulnerable. If you do not want to stow them below decks, “hide” them in the cockpit and attach them to something immoveable with a cable and lock.

Allow NO work to be done in your absence. It probably won’t be done anyway, (or if it is, will not likely be to your satisfaction), and at least you won’t give unknown people easy access to the boat.

Leave key/combo to your lock(s) at boatyard/marina office and name(s) of any trusted persons who may look in on your boat in your absence. Have several people listed in case some may not be available when you need them. Ask trusted cruisers for a recommendation as to who may be a reliable person to keep watch over your boat. Activate an audible intrusion alarm, and post a prominent warning to unwanted intruders. Make your boat look impenetrable. Be creative.

Clean dinghy and remove any bottom growth. Partially deflate your dinghy tubes. Cover them with Sunbrella or an awning to reduce UV damage to the tubes. Secure your dinghy on deck, inverted, or if left in davits, leave drain plug open. Lock your dinghy to something immovable.

11. Exterior:

Grease prop stands, keel blocks, and power lines to discourage ants. Lube a feathering, variable pitch reversible prop. Mark your keel with arrows (felt tip marker?) to show where keel blocks must be placed in the event your boat is moved in your absence. It happens. Clean the grunge and salt residue off the anchor chain. Dry thoroughly before re-stowing it, otherwise you may return to find it a solid mass of rusted metal. Or, wrap it around the prop stands and under your boat to reduce the likelihood of their moving in a storm. Lock it in place for security. Put a rag or bubble wrap in the open end of the boom to keep birds from nesting. Stuff something in all likely places, e.g. engine room vents, chain pipes, deck box weep holes, etc where bees, birds, snakes, rodents, roaches, etc might find easy entry and a new home on your boat. Make it as ‘insect proof’ as you can; maybe they’ll find it easier to enter the adjacent boat?

12. General:

Make sure your insurer knows your boat is properly stored to obtain any available discounts on your premium. Document your actions and take pictures. If you ‘hide’ valuables on the boat, write yourself a note. Memories fade.

Leave copies of your boat documents aboard and/or with a trusted local. You might forget to bring them when you return after a lengthy absence. Don’t forget to get documentation of your time on the hard from your boatyard office before you splash. It will save you money in Harbor Master Fees when you check out; these fees do not apply during periods when a boat is on the hard. Give Customs a copy of the ‘Temporary Importation Form’. Copies may be obtained from your boatyard or marina office.

Ask a few people who have been storing their boats in the tropics for a few years how they do it. Their knowledge can save you considerable expense and heartache upon your return. Additions and suggestions to improve this guide are always welcome.
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