By Rich Finzer
Twenty years ago, my
wife and I fulfilled a dream. We purchased a
property that included a vintage Victorian house and
two large pole barns. Our home is located roughly
halfway between Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes in
Central New York, in the midst of a sailing
paradise. Three nights after we moved in, we
discovered that we owned a business too. That night,
a stranger appeared, asking if I rented space for
winter boat storage. Now mind you, I had not
purchased the property in contemplation of starting
a storage business. I had no idea how much to
charge, no rental agreement, and not a clue what
renting storage space entailed. So naturally, I said
ďYesĒ. Weíve been in the storage business ever
That first winter, I
only had one customer: the following year, a few
more. Now, some two decades later (wow, it has been
that long), we are usually booked in advance to
capacity. All in all, itís been an interesting and
rewarding little enterprise. And, while I donít
operate a chandlery or a proper boatyard, I am a
tiny part of the maritime industry. I like that.
And, because Iím both a sailor who stored his own
trailerable sailboat for many years as well as a
storage facility operator, Iíve seen the business
from both perspectives.
No business can
expect to survive, much less prosper, without a
solid customer base and mine is no exception.
Fortunately, 99% of my customers have been gems.
They come back year after year, and recommend my
facility to others. But that still leaves 1%: the
customers from Hell. If you own a trailerable boat
and live in a climate where winter storage is an
unfortunate necessity, what follows will help you
avoid becoming part of that dreaded group So here
are some (but by no means all) of the things you
should keep in mind.
Donít wait until the
last possible moment to call and ask about storage.
Thereís nothing worse than dealing with a desperate
boat owner who waited till mid-December to try and
find a billet. If youíre fortunate enough to secure
a spot, try not to show up after dark when itís
snowing. And, be sure to take the time to read your
storage contract. It lists the terms and conditions
binding you and the facility. It should also list
any miscellaneous charges such as an additional fee
for storing your boat past your scheduled departure
date. Itís a real contract, not a meaningless piece
of paper. After you sign, make certain you list your
home, work, cell phone numbers and e-mail address.
The storage guy is not clairvoyant. If there is a
problem with your boat, he canít contact you
If youíre storing
your boat for the first time, be sure to do your
homework in advance. Check/compare storage
prices/payment terms at several facilities. Ask for
a blank copy of their storage agreement(s). Make
sure you understand their rate structure. Some
facilities operate on a strictly cash basis, others
will accept checks but usually only from repeat
customers. Most do not accept credit cards. Ask
fellow boaters what their experiences have been.
Most places base their storage charges on the
overall length of your boat and trailer, but a more
recent trend in rates is to charge by the square
foot. To calculate your charge, multiply your boat
and trailerís overall length in feet (including the
rudder), times itís width at the beam, times the
charge per square foot. If you can, remove your
rudder/tiller assembly. It will shorten your boatís
overall length and might save you a few $$$, while
at the same time help prevent it from being
And donít be shy
about asking if the facility has any special rules.
As an example, some places will grant you access to
work on your boat during the off-season. Others may
not, usually citing liability concerns.
While weíre on the
topic of due diligence, steer clear of any barn or
building that plays host to pigeons. Pigeon
droppings will ruin boat canvas. If they get wet,
they are corrosive enough to begin eating away at
metal! No respectable storage operator will tolerate
even one pigeon, and no responsible boat owner
When you arrive,
remember to bring cash or your checkbook. But if you
somehow manage to forget your money, square your
account as quickly as possible. Donít wait several
weeks before mailing your check. Float applies to
your vessel, not the storage guyís cash flow.
As you prepare for
winter, inspect your boat trailer and perform any
required periodic maintenance. Make sure the tires
are adequately inflated, the wheel bearings are
greased, the trailer tongue latch is free of rust,
and that your swing-up jack wheel is not a frozen
mass of corrosion. The storage operator probably has
an air compressor, WD-40ģ, and the expertise to free
that latch and wheel, but he might not have the
inclination to perform work which is essentially
And while weíre on
the topic of maintenance, make sure to bring along
whatever tools you might need. The storage operator
will probably be willing to loan you a wrench or
pliers, but itís not his responsibility to do so. He
stores boats. He doesnít run a tool factory. As an
aside, be sure to winterize your engine and add
stabilizer to any fuel you have onboard. It wonít
affect the storage operator if your engine is
damaged by winterís cold or moisture tainted
gasoline, but it might condemn you to a protracted
stay at some boatyard while your outboard motor or
diesel engine undergoes repairs. The Great Lakesí
boating season is far too short as it is, you donít
want yours squandered while waiting for your kicker
to get fixed.
If your boat has a
small outboard (like most trailerable sailboats do)
you might consider removing your gasoline tank/tanks
before you store the boat. You can always use that
gasoline in your chainsaw and buy some fresh go-go
juice come springtime, and you wonít need to
purchase any fuel stabilizer either.
If laying up your
boat will involve a good deal of toting and
fetching, bring along a helper. The storage guy will
probably offer to help as well, but donít rely on
that. He might be busy with another customer.
Besides, itís not his job to carry your batteries or
other gear back to your SUV. Remove as much stuff as
you can before you arrive, it will save you time.
You might also want to acquire a charger like a
Guest Battery Palô which will keep your battery(s)
ďtopped off ďduring the off season.
Speaking of time,
always plan on arriving on time. Years ago I had a
customer who would call me about 30 minutes after
his scheduled arrival time and explain that he was
running late (duh). Then heíd promise to be there
within the hour, and usually show up 2-3 hours after
that. He was chronologically impaired. Fortunately
for me, he sold his boat and bought one so big that
it had to be stored outside on a cradle.
Acquire a cover or
tarp for your boat. ďBlue tarpsĒ can be purchased
for a pittance at many discount tool stores, and
will keep dust and dirt from settling on the deck,
winches, etc. In addition, be sure to remove your
porta-potti. Be sure to empty and clean it too. That
goes double for bottles of water, soda, etc.
Remember, water expands when it freezes. Youíve
chosen inside storage to protect the vessel from the
elements not the temperature. Think, how many times
does the mercury drop below freezing during a Great
Lakesí winter? And whatever you do, donít call the
storage guy on some subzero evening in January and
ask him to remove the porta-potti. I actually had a
customer do that. Unfortunately, his call came
several weeks too late. The contents of his
Thetfordģ had frozen, expanded, and burst. Words
fail me here.
While weíre on the
subject of removing things, be sure to remove any
electronics (GPS, handheld radio, CD player, etc).
Most likely, the storage facility wonít be heated,
and the accumulating moisture will wreck your
electronic do-dads. Take them home where theyíll be
dry and comfy.
If your boat is
fairly heavy (e.g. Catalina 25' or a Capri 26')
consider using portable jack stands under your
trailer. They will bear most of the trailerís weight
and prevent damage to the tires. They will also
provide greater stability if you need to climb back
aboard during the off-season.
When spring arrives,
be certain to show up on your scheduled take-out
date. If a late spring snowstorm/freeze delays you,
donít be surprised or upset if youíre charged an
additional fee for staying a bit longer. That fee
was probably spelled out in your storage contract,
which is another good reason for reading all of the
fine print. The facility is entitled to extra money
for the extra weeks of service. Keep in mind that
many operators store snowmobiles and other vehicles
during the summer months. Their only resource is
space, if you are still using it, they canít rent it
As an aside, many of
my customers store their empty boat trailers with me
during the boating season. Indoor storage prevents
the sunís rays from destroying their tires; helps
prevent their trailers from rusting, or the paint
from fading. Most importantly, it helps protect
their tail/brake lights from accidental damage,
theft or vandalism. That goes double for the license
plate on the trailer too.
Finally, make certain
you carry adequate insurance coverage on your
vessel. Renting space means just that. You are
renting the space your boat and trailer occupy on
the surface of the planet: thatís all. The storage
contract should clearly call out that insuring the
boat is your responsibility, and that the storage
location is not responsible for perils like a roof
collapse or fire.
Follow these simple
guidelines, and come springtime youíll be rewarded
with a clean boat thatís been protected from the
elements and is ready for another wonderful summer
on the water.
Remove any perishables/liquids/foodstuffs (water,
soda, cookies and the like)
Remove your battery(s) and take them home for the
Remove, empty and clean your porta-potti. Store
it in a dry location. If your boat is equipped
with a permanent marine head, have your holding
tank pumped out.
Remove any portable electronics
Remove your tiller/rudder (if possible)
Add fuel stabilizer to your fuel tank(s) or
consider removing your fuel tank and using up the
old fuel in other devices.
Lube your trailerís wheel bearings, trailer tongue
latch, swing-up jack wheel.
Ensure that your trailerís tires are properly
Check your trailers brake/tail lights and replace
any burned out bulbs or bad wiring.
Verify that you have adequate insurance coverage
on your boat and trailer
Arrive at your scheduled time.
Donít forget your $$$.
Bring along whatever tools you might need.
Consider bringing a helper along too.
Bring a tarp to cover/protect your boat
Make sure you arenít sharing the facility with any
Rich Finzer earned
his power boat operatorís license in 1960 at age 11,
and began sailing in 1966. He also runs a winter
boat storage business, has worked on a commercial
fishing boat, and is an accomplished racing sailor
as well. Currently, he cruises Lake Ontario aboard
his Hunter 34' ďPleiades.Ē When heís not sailing, he
supports his aquatic addiction as a