It’s that time of year when many narrowboaters moor their vessels and hang up their boating shoes for Christmas. However, planning is essential before leaving your boat in the water

It’s that time of year when many narrowboaters moor their vessels and hang up their boating shoes for Christmas. However, planning is essential before leaving your boat in the water. If you don’t adequately winterise your narrowboat, there’s potential for a few things to go wrong. Insure4Boats share their top 8 their tips for preparing your narrowboat for winter.


1 – Carry out simple engine maintenance

As you know, the engine is an essential component of your narrowboat. It enables you to cruise, it charges your batteries, and it supplies hot water. Therefore, it needs regular maintenance to continue working efficiently.

Some good examples of simple engine maintenance include:

  1. Keeping your engine clean so that you can spot any potential water or oil leaks.
  2. Changing the boat’s oil and filters before laying it up.
  3. Regularly checking your engine for signs of leaks or loose wires.
  4. Using a dip stick to check the colour of the engine’s cold oil. If it’s black, the engine may have collected dirt or have overheated. If it’s a milky colour, water may be getting into it.

Following these simple steps will help you identify problems quickly and stop something bad happening when you least expect it!


2 – Top up on anti-freeze

This is arguably the most important tip on our list, as anti-freeze reduces the risk of equipment such as radiators, keel systems and boilers from freezing.

You can find out how much anti-freeze your systems require by checking the owner’s manual of your boat.

If you have a sealed water system, the anti-freeze to water ratio should be at around fifty per cent each way.

However, be mindful of the potential damage which anti-freeze can cause to the surrounding water. The anti-freeze you apply should be non-toxic and kept at a safe distance from the canal or river.


3 – Revisit your boat regularly

Visiting your narrowboat regularly, especially if there’s been a spell of extreme weather, will help you identify any issues that may have occurred while you were away.

During your visit, you should check your battery is still charged, test your bilge pumps to ensure they’re fully operational and run your engine for an hour or so to push oil around the engine. This keeps rust at bay and tops up the battery if the engine is run for long enough.

You should also make sure the drains are unblocked, as they could have become clogged up by leaves and spider webs.


4 – Lag your hot and cold pipes

The last thing you want is to come back to a cold narrowboat when winter is over because you didn’t lag its hot and cold pipes.

If the pipes are situated in frozen water, the water will expand, and this could cause the pipes to freeze and even burst.

That’s why lagging your narrowboat’s hot and cold pipes is so important. While this won’t completely prevent the water in the pipes from freezing, it delays the onset of freezing and heat loss by keeping heat within the pipes. This will ensure that your boat heats up correctly when you return to it.

Pipe lagging is also useful for saving energy, as it reduces heat flow from the pipe to the outside air. This, in turn, helps you cut down on your maintenance costs.


5 – Empty your domestic water system

Draining your narrowboat’s water systems as much as possible is another way you can stop them from freezing and potentially bursting.

Whether it’s the tank, pipes, pumps or heating systems, these need to be emptied and disconnected before you leave the boat.

This needn’t be a lengthy process – most water heaters have a screw plug at their base and can accommodate a cycle pump to speed up the emptying of water.

You should also leave all taps in the open position if you’re not planning on living aboard your narrowboat over winter. Not only does this allow water to drain away, but it also reduces the pressure on the pipes if any water remaining in the system freezes.


6 – Grease the stern tube

Water ingress is among a narrowboater’s biggest pet peeves. Thankfully, this can be eradicated by greasing your stern tube before leaving the boat.

Not greasing the stern tube of your narrowboat could result in water dribbling into your engine bilge. Over time, this could cause your narrowboat to sink.

Furthermore, each time you run the boat’s engine, the stern glands leak while the propeller is turning, therefore their seal is broken.

Greasing the stern tube keeps water out of the engine bilge, keeps the propeller shaft lubricated, and seals the stern glands – all of which stops your narrowboat getting lower into the water.


7 – Test your bilge pump

Bilge pumps that become full of water and oil can damage your engine if they leak in, so you should carry out daily checks of them.

If the checks reveal that the water or oil levels in your bilge pump are too high, wait until you can manually dispose of it ashore, as you shouldn’t pump oil into the waterways.

Ideally, you should invest in an automatic bilge pump, as this is far more reliable than a manual and will more quickly respond to water ingress.


8 – Take your valuables off the boat

A narrowboat is a prime target for thieves in winter, especially if they suspect that there’s nobody onboard. Even if it’s secured in a marina, a boat is clearly less secure and more easily accessible than a house or flat.

This is why you should empty your vessel of anything valuable such as electrical items, jewellery and alcohol.

If you’re in any doubts over an item potentially being stolen, play it safe and remove said item. Otherwise, you could end up getting a nasty surprise when you return to your narrowboat.