Can Boats be Stored in Freshwater and Saltwater?

So you have just purchased a shiny new boat. Now the question is: where are you going to store it? The general guideline is that when your boat is not in use, you will want to keep it out out the water and covered ideally in some sort of storage facility. This will help maximize the lifespan of your boat and keep it looking great for years. That said, this can be a lot of effort and make taking the boat out for a quick spin quite an effort. The best thing to do is generally to keep your boat in storage for long periods of time such as the winter and leave in the water the rest of the year. This short guide will explain the impact of saltwater and freshwater use and storage on your boat so you can understand the types issues you might run into and what kind of maintenance you should be doing to keep your boat looking and running great for years.

The Quick Facts

The simple truth is the saltwater more quickly damages a ship's hull than freshwater. This is because of the corrosiveness of salt and other minerals in the ocean. Not only that, oceans tend to have rougher conditions and test the limits of your ship on all kinds of rocks, reefs and other obstacles. In freshwater, a boat’s manifold can last roughly ten years or more while in saltwater that number goes down to only three or four years. The first thing you need to check and this is doubly true when buying a used boat is whether the boat is rated for freshwater, saltwater or both types of usages. Don’t worry, if you have a freshwater boat you can drop into the sea for the weekend and check out some killer fishing spots. The problems come with long-term usage in those conditions.

Freshwater Boat Storage

If you are going to store your boat in the water, then freshwater is, of course, the way to go. Freshwater coves tend to be very gentle and the water is typically fairly clean (or at least doesn’t have the same impact as salt). One of the biggest factors you need to account for, however, is temperature. Your boat was designed to generally be with a specific temperature range so you want things to be neither too hot nor too cold. For most people, cold is the general problem. Once the thermometer begins to drop, you need to prepare your boat accordingly. What you need to remember is anything that is wet has the potential to freeze so be sure to cover your electronics and ensure your engine and ballasts or protected against the cold and you have the proper antifreeze if necessary.

Freshwater Blisters

The one thing you need to really be on the lookout with freshwater is blisters. They actually occur more often than in saltwater. They tend to occur between five and ten years of the boat’s manufacture as a result of water being absorbed by the gel coat. If you see a few small ones, you don’t need to worry. The problem is when several large blisters appear. That means you have some work ahead of you. What you will need to do is remove the antifouling point, and grind all the blisters down flat. This will require the boat to be taken out of the water and be completely dry. Once you do this, you will need to make sure the hull is completely dry before you reapply a new coat of paint. The whole process can take a month or two. If you want to try to stay ahead of this, there is some preventative maintenance you can do. The whole idea is keeping the hull as waterproof as possible. This can be a time-consuming process but can pay off in the long run. The best strategy is to coat the entire hull with epoxy to a width of about 15 mm. Then apply a new coat of antifouling paint. This will give you much more protection helping to maintain the resale value of your vessel.

Saltwater and Your Boat

There is a pervasive rumor in the boating community that if you store a boat in saltwater that you can forget about it. It’s toast. And that’s doubly true for a freshwater rated boat put in the salt. While it is true that saltwater storage isn’t ideal for your boat, it doesn’t mean that without preventative maintenance and a little common sense, you can’t keep your boat running great for many years. Again temperature and conditions are going to be an important factor when determining what effects saltwater storage on your boat. If you have year-round moderate temperatures in good conditions then it will be much easier than keeping your boat in the frigid rough waters of the North Atlantic. The biggest problem you are going to have is barnacles. Once your boat is sitting in the sea, barnacles and their other friends will begin attaching themselves to your hull. All this debris will slow you down and cause you to have a much less smooth ride so a hull cleaning every twelve to sixteen months is essential.

Saltwater Storage Strategy

To fight barnacles, corrosion and other issues, be sure you follow these steps to keep your boat in great shape. You don’t need to go overboard, but this routine maintenance will go a long way. You want to begin by giving basically anything that touched the water a freshwater rinse. Make sure your various tanks from your ballast to your bilge are rinsed out completely along with your motor and the general exterior of the boat. A light dry down with a soft towel will also go a long way. One thing that is essential before you boat hits the water is making sure you have a good coat of bottom paint. This is essential because it helps protect your hull against all those fun things that want to attach to it. Every few years you will want to apply a fresh coat as well. Depending on where you store your boat, you might have the option of diver bottom cleaning. To many people, this sounds a lot like the rust-proofing scam that many car dealerships try to tack onto your new vehicle. Nonetheless, it can be a very good idea because it helps prevents barnacles from building up in the first place. If it isn’t too much, then definitely get on a monthly plan, otherwise get ready to suit up and jump in their yourself. Finally, you will need to pull the boat out of water occasionally. Once a year is a good number, but if you can do more that’s better. If it is possible to see if you can get a floating dock that can keep your boat dry when not in use and then easily drop it into the water when you use it. This can a long way and make your maintenance a lot easier. If you can’t do this, then consider storing your boat in a facility for any long period of time you are not going to use it (generally three months or more). Most marinas have boat storage facilities on the premises or nearby and it will save you a lot of time and hassle in maintenance.

Transitioning a Freshwater Boat to Saltwater

So what happens if you move from the Great Lakes down to Florida? Does that mean you have to sell your beloved boat and find something new? Absolutely, not. There are some key steps, however, that you are going to need to follow. To begin with, you’ll need to change magnesium anodes to aluminum which is much more resistant to corrosion. Don’t worry, that’s a quick change. The outboard is also no big deal. You don’t have to do anything drastic. Just be sure to flush it with freshwater after every usage and you’ll be in great shape. There are also some great additives that can be used to fight the effects of saltwater and keep your internals well-maintained such as CRC Salt Terminator. The one area where you will need to be on guard is your electronics. Most freshwater boaters use automotive grade equipment which is fine on the lakes, but you will need marine grade once you are on the ocean otherwise things will rust and break down quickly. Other than this, everything else just goes back to common sense. Keep everything well-rinsed as you would with a saltwater-rated boat and be sure to pull the boat every so often to be able to check and things like the bottom paint, the engine and everything else.

Maintaining the Quality of Your Boat

So long story short, you can keep your boat in the water year-round. All you have to do is follow a solid boat maintenance schedule and remember this begins before your boat ever touches the water and continues throughout its lifespan. Now get out there and enjoy your next nautical adventure.


2 responses to “Can Boats be Stored in Freshwater and Saltwater?”

  1. I just got my retirement boat! Let me just say, I am so excited to get this baby going! I want to use it a ton, but I do want to take care of it as well! I need to find a easy way to get my boat in and out of the water without harming it. And just like this article suggests, I will try to only use it in fresh water!

  2. My uncle recently bought a boat and plans to keep in docked in the harbor year-round. It’s very interesting to think about the different effects of saltwater and freshwater. I didn’t know that different boats were made for different types of water.

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