Navigators and General offer their tips for winter

Here is some laying up advice from marine insurers Navigators and General.

“As the nights start draw in boat owners may be turning their attention to winterising their boats this year. With a steady increase in outboard motor thefts over the last two years security should be a key consideration when deciding where to leave your boat in 2010.

Whilst ashore outboard motors are far more accessible to thieves, so if you are not able to remove the engine to a safe store, owners should fit the best and most appropriate anti theft devices as a deterrent. Failure to fit any anti theft device may invalidate your policy. Propellers and other expensive accessories should also be removed or secured.

The security being offered is a key consideration, as is access to the yard, CCTV coverage and patrols. Ideally all should be checked in advance. Claims trends that N&G has seen suggest that this winter could be a particularly bad one for outboard motor thefts. As a direct result N&G is urging all owners to be extra vigilant and take precautions to prevent becoming a victim of crime, and reduce the risk for your fellow boat owner.

The freezing temperatures of 2009 may be a distant memory now, but N&G paid out thousands of pounds in frost damage claims to unfortunate and ill prepared owners. Many owners may not have been as lucky, as this is not a guaranteed extension in cover with all companies.

If you wait until the temperature drops before thinking about draining water systems or winterising engines it may already be too late. The initial laying up plan should be when you (or your yard) follow manufacturer’s guidelines to winterise machinery and water systems. Failure to do this will likely invalidate any frost damage cover that you may have.

It is very important not to let cover lapse over the winter period as there are no days of grace in marine insurance, so if you do not renew your policy in good time your cover ceases. So don’t wait until the last minute as many damage, theft or vandalism claims are more likely to occur .

If there is a stipulation on your policy that your vessel is ashore by a certain date that condition must be complied with, or you risk invalidating your entire policy. If a lift out date is put back due to weather, tides, or crane problems it is very important to advise your insurers and try and get an extension in cover. Remember to plan ahead if your lift out is scheduled for a weekend as most insurers won’t be open over weekends.

If a trip by road is required it is check that your policy provides this cover. If not, you will need to organise an extension. The Navigators policy automatically includes transit for craft up to 30 feet, but not all policies are the same. If the trailer has been left standing it should be thoroughly checked and serviced if necessary; there may be a policy condition that the trailer is kept in a roadworthy condition.

Once ashore it is important to prepare the boat thoroughly. Reducing windage and ensuring cradles are properly secured will protect against gales. Removing all valuable equipment and leaving drawers or cupboards open should reduce the temptation to thieves and therefore the likelihood of break ins. Canopies, dodgers and sails split by the wind is a common exclusion on most policies, so it is advisable to remove them to a safe, dry environment.

If you do take your yacht ashore in an exposed location always try and have the mast taken down. Indeed you may find some yards insist on this (not normally without good cause) This will provide an excellent opportunity to thoroughly inspect the rig which may pay dividends in the long term.

Particular care should be taken if leaving battery chargers or de humidifiers running over the winter period. There have been a number of devastating fires on boats as a result of electrical faults on shore powered devices. Keeping your boat dry through the winter is the right thing to do, but you need to be sure that any de humidifier being used is well secured, has clean filters, a steady and protected power suppy, and adequate drainage facilities.

If you plan to have a heater running as well, be sure that you are not overloading the circuits and that you have the right sort of heater as this could significantly increase the risk of fire. Check with your local yard or boat surveyor to make sure. Concerned owners could consider temporarily mounting an automatic fire extinguisher next to such equipment

Remember that you should still check on the boat periodically or pay someone to do this for you. Winter maintenance is an essential part of boat ownership and necessary for enjoyable trouble free boating over throughout the season. It also prolongs the life of the boat and helps reduce depreciation. But following a few basic tips can help prevent a worthwhile exercise becoming a potential disaster.

N&G offers the following tips and advice for owners planning to lay their boats up this winter:

• remove all expensive equipment such as radios, GPS, navigation and electronic equipment, TV’s, CD players etc and store them in a safe place.

• remove the outboard, tender and life-raft.

• leave empty lockers and drawers ajar to ventilate and deter thieves

• drain down water and heating systems.

• have engines professionally winterised or ensure that you carefully follow all of the manufacturer’s recommendations to avoid frost damage.

• remove berth cushions to a dry environment.

• remove furled headsails, mainsails, covers, dodgers and spray hoods.

• take out halyards leaving a mouse line and thoroughly wash and check for wear.

• check all backstays for wear at top batten point.

• check all standing rigging for broken strands and rigging screws for wear.

• ensure the yard use cross bracing if using wooden shores, for extra safety.

• ensure that whilst ashore the trim of the craft is correct, to allow cockpit drains to be effective, and avoid rainwater building up on decks or within the craft.

• do not tie covers or tarpaulins to wooden shores or cross bracing.

• preferably use only close fitting covers, to avoid additional windage.

• place tie-on labels on the wheel and engine controls to remind you to check all skin fittings, impellers, seacocks and transducers prior to launching/starting the engine.

• disconnect batteries and leave them fully charged.

• do check the craft periodically during the winter months, unless you have made a specific arrangement for this to be done on your behalf. Do not assume that the rental of space will include this service.

• avoid running fuel tanks too low due to risk of sucking dirt into filters or condensation in the tank space

James Roberts, head of Navigators and General, comments:

“If boat owners plan ahead and follow these simple checks each winter they will reduce the risk of damage or crime. Time spent planning the entire lay up process can pay dividends in the spring. When the season starts more time can be spent on the water and less time wasted fixing all those things which could have been done at laying-up time and which have just got worse over the winter”