Winterizing Your Outboard Motor

By Tom Burden, Last updated: 7/12/2019

Engine Winterizing Kit   plumbed to flushing adapter on outboard lower unit.

What you’ll need

  • Wrench and socket that fits screws on your engine’s air box cover. Take the motor hood off and you will see the cover on the front of the engine, usually made of black plastic. If your engine has a fogging oil fitting, you do not need to remove the air box cover. Four-stroke outboards have a plastic air intake that you spray the fogging oil into.
  • Fuel stabilizer in a size to treat your fuel tanks. For example: Star brite’s EZ-To-Store, EZ-To-Start comes in 8oz. and quart sizes. One ounce treats five gallons of gas.
  • Fogging oil in a spray can. Get the kind with a maintenance valve fitting if you have a Johnson or Evinrude outboard, 1990 and newer, with a maintenance valve.
  • Motor flusher attachment—“ear muffs”
  • Optional: Engine Winterizing Kit with 2-5 gallons of antifreeze, depending on the size of your outboard

Stabilizing the fuel

SNAPP™   Quick-Service Small Outboard Engine Filter

First, does your boat have a fuel-water separator? If it does, change the filter element. If not, consider installing one of these handy devices, like the Racor SNAPP™. It will help to keep gunk out of your engine, since the ethanol in E-10 gasoline is a solvent that dissolves rust, dirt and resins from your fuel tank. The fuel-water separator also will alert you to the presence of water, so you’ll know if the gas in your tank has “phase separated” into layers of gasoline, alcohol and water.

Next, fill your gas tank about 95 percent full, and add the proper amount of fuel stabilizer. The stabilizer prevents the fuel from deteriorating over the winter months. Don’t completely fill the tank, because extreme changes in temperature can cause the fuel to expand, forcing fuel out of your overflow vents. With the tank filled and stabilizer added, run your engine for about 15 minutes, which ensures that the stabilized fuel gets into the fuel lines, carburetors and filters.

Your other choice is to use up all of the fuel before the season’s end and put the engine away with a completely empty tank. Clean, stabilized fuel or an empty tank—those are the choices to ensure you won’t be dealing with “sour” gas during spring commissioning.

Next, drain the water from the motor

Drain the water from the motor, even tilting it up and down several times to ensure all the water drains out. If you use your motor in brackish or polluted water, you'll want to flush the outboard with fresh water to minimize deposit accumulation. Make sure the cooling system is drained completely as well. 

There is some risk winterizing this way as any leftover water remaining in the block could cause a crack. Water that remains in the exhaust passages will run into the cylinders causing serious damage. Because of this potential damage, we believe flushing with antifreeze is an easier and safer winterizing plan, especially if you own a bigger engine. Running antifreeze through your outboard is a quick step to aid in preventing corrosion during the winter as well. 

Two types of antifreeze

There are two types of antifreeze. One is the common automotive antifreeze like Prestone. It’s great for cars, but not good for outboard engines. Because automotive-type antifreeze is highly toxic, we’ll need to use a non-toxic variety for this application. That way it can be used more safely, in case some of it ends up in storm drains or the water where you use your boat.

This less-toxic antifreeze is made from propylene glycol.   West Marine Engine and Water System Antifreeze   is premium “virgin” propylene glycol antifreeze that has not been recycled. It also has corrosion inhibitors to protect the engine and cooling system.

Marine Engine Stor   includes an adapter that fits Johnson/Evinrude engines with a maintenance valve.

Three levels of concentration

With -50, -60 and -100 degree antifreezes available, which should you choose? For use in winterizing your engine, we recommend the highest concentration available, the -100. Why use this product when the temperature never dips below -50°F? Simply because there’s always some leftover residual water inside the engine, and that dilutes the antifreeze you pour in. What goes in as -50 may not come out as -50, so that the resulting freezing point may be much higher than the rated temperature.

A final note about non-toxic propylene glycol antifreeze concerns its “slush point,” which is plus 11°F for the -50 antifreeze. Slushing is OK and will not harm your engine or other systems. For more technical info about understanding burst point and freeze point, and about our West Marine Antifreeze, click on the link at the bottom of this article.

Putting in the antifreeze

West Marine sells a do-it-yourself winterizing kit to make this job simpler. Begin by connecting your garden hose to a faucet, hooking it to a motor flusher, placing this over the raw water intake, turning on the freshwater and starting your boat’s engine. Let the outboard warm up to operating temperature, so the thermostat will open and let coolant circulate through the entire engine. Warming the engine up is important, as it also lets the fuel stabilizer circulate through all fuel lines plus the carburetors or injectors.

Fogging the engine

After warming the engine up, turn it off and hook up the winterizing kit to the motor flusher, in place of your garden hose. The cowling should be removed, so you have access to the air intakes on the front of the engine. (Note: Newer Johnson/Evinrude engines have a Maintenance Valve, and CRC’s Engine Stor® Fogging Oil has an adapter that fits these.) Start the engine up again, open the valve to the tank of the winterizing kit, and watch the antifreeze level drop in the tank. You should begin to see antifreeze discharging from the exhaust.

When the tank is nearly empty, begin spraying fogging oil into the carburetor. This will usually cause lower-horsepower engines to stall, while higher horsepower engines may cough and sputter, but continue running while emitting white smoke. Spray a good amount of fogging oil through the intake and then disconnect the fuel line from the engine, and continue spraying fogging oil into the engine until the engine dies. Usually the engine will run rough and emit white smoke just before it dies.

Giving it a good dose of fogging oil will apply an anticorrosive coating to the interior surfaces of the cylinders. Letting the engine run out of fuel burns up all of the fuel from the carburetors, preventing the formation of varnish deposits from evaporating gasoline. If you have an EFI engine, the process is a little different. Put an ounce of 2-cycle outboard engine oil in the fuel-water separator, and then run the engine briefly to coat the internal components.

You can also fog the engine, if you’ve completely emptied your fuel system, by individually removing each spark plug, spraying fogging oil into each hole, and then rotating the prop by hand (with the engine in gear) to spread the oil around the cylinders. Since you’re removing the plugs, now is a good time to check their condition, re-gap them and replace if necessary.

Cleaning and lubrication

Before putting your outboard away, you’ll want to change the oil in your lower unit. See our Advisor on that topic for the details. You should also completely fill the oil tank (for oil-injected 2-stroke engines) so that water won’t condense inside the tank and contaminate the oil supply.

Clean and lubricate all pivots and other gears with the grease or oil your Owner’s Manual recommends. Select one of the many   corrosion inhibitors   we offer and spray it on the powerhead.

Remove the propeller, inspect it for damage, and have it repaired or replaced as needed. Check the shaft for monofilament fishing line wrapped around it, which could damage the seal. Lubricate the shaft with grease and reinstall the prop, or leave it off to discourage theft if the engine is staying attached to the boat. Finally, you should store the engine in an upright position, so any water will drain out. Now you’re done, and your outboard is ready for hibernation.

Winterizing: Closing Up the Cabin?

Closing up the cabin for winter? Check and make sure you'v


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Hiking down a trail as leaves crunch beneath your feet, pulling on a fleece jacket before manning the grill, warming the night with a crackling fire in the firepit – all signs of cabin life continuing beyond summer.  

It wasn’t always this way. In days past, September meant kids returning to school and cabin owners closing up their getaways until spring.

But closing up the cabin is not what it once was – at least not for all families. Sure, some owners still tightly button up their cabin after Labor Day, not to return until May. But, increasingly folks are finding alternatives to locking up their investment for a good portion of the year.  

Whether you’re gone during winter or visit your place throughout the year, there’s still some preparation to be done for winter.

Preparing for Winter

Handy Checklist

Adjust as needed for your climate and your frequency of winter use.

Outside Duties

  • Clean and store   boats, dock ornaments, ladder, life jackets and ski equipment.
  • Mow the lawn one last time (if you   have   a lawn at your place).
  • Clean and winterize lawnmower and other gas-powered yard equipment.
  • Rake and remove leaves within at least 30 feet from your cabin.
  • Store  fire pit   decorations, emptied flower pots, drained hoses and sprinklers, and deflated water toys.
  • Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, pipes, windows and doors; then seal leaks with caulk or insulation to keep out cold air and pests.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl spaces by wrapping them with heat tape or thermostatically- controlled heat cables; also open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to un-insulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
  • Clean out gutters, and inspect roof for shingles that are raised or cracked; leaking roofs and clogged gutters can lead to significant water damage.
  • If your lake is prone to ice movement, take in dock and boat hoists. Remove hoist motor and electric line.
  • Turn off outside pump breaker, hoist motor breaker, dock light breaker.
  • If you’re in the snow belt, store outdoor furniture, picnic tables and hammocks.
  • Make sure your winter sports gear is ready to go. Snowmobile and   ATV   tuned up? Skis waxed? Where are those snowshoes?

Inside Duties

  • Ensure that the power and water are in the proper mode for vacancy.
  • Set thermostat at the appropriate temperature for the region. If you heat your place in the winter, set the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees; if you keep the A/C on when you’re gone, set it to 80 degrees.
  • Clean furnace filter to maintain an efficient heating and cooling system and reduce the risk of fire.
  • If you’re shutting off the refrigerator, leave the door cracked open to prevent musty smells from developing. Also, unplug computers and major appliances. (Last spring my family lost a computer, two televisions, a microwave and a dryer to a powerful bolt of lightning.)
  • Pull shades, or cover furniture to keep it from being bleached by the sun.
  • Put mothballs or dryer sheets near linens.
  • Restock and store first-aid kit.
  • Take out all perishable foods; store those that remain in air-tight/crittertight containers. If you don’t heat the cabin in winter, carry out canned goods so they don’t freeze.
  • Turn off dehumidifier and hot water heater.
  • Close damper for   fireplace. Seal box to prevent critters from entering cabin.
  • If you don’t heat in winter, drain the pipes by attaching a hose to the lowest point in the plumbing, then blow out all water with an air compressor.
  • Winterize washing machine; kitchen appliances.

Battening Down the Hatches  

Bill Rafalko, from Scranton, Pa., admits to being trained to close the family cabin, which is situated on Lake Winola in northeastern Penn­sylvania. Their cabin was a three-season place and was not winterized.
 “When I was a kid and we were preparing the cabin for winter, my dad was always telling me to crawl under this thing or that,” recalls Bill with a chuckle. “I was in some pretty nasty spaces.” But through all the muck, Bill learned a thing or two – like how to drain the pipes by attaching a hose to the lowest point in the plumbing and blowing out any water with an air compressor. He also learned to pour a small cupful of RV antifreeze into toilets to displace trapped water – and then sponge out the tank to prevent the porcelain from cracking.  

Taking Precautions  

Bill’s father also taught his son proper season-ending safety precautions, such as storing   firewood   at least 30 feet from the home, raking away leaves from the cabin’s perimeter and cleaning out the gutters. Those fire prevention tips belong on the autumn to-do list of anyone living in a forested area, whether you’ll be travelling back next weekend or next spring.

Topping the list of “must-dos” for those away long term is cutting the water supply to ensure that a leak won’t develop. Even a small leak can become a huge problem.  
 “The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a gallon to be roughly 11,350 drops,” says Tully Lehman, of the Insurance Information Network of California. “If you’re away from your cabin for six months with a small leak dripping the whole time you’re gone, by the time you return, almost 1,400 gallons of water will have dripped out. Not something you want to come back to!”

You also want to avoid returning to a cabin that’s been invaded by curious critters. In fall and winter, they’re looking for someplace warm and comfortable too. You know what they say: “The best defense is a good offense.” Check for air leaks around electrical wiring, windows and doors, and use caulking or insulation to plug up any holes or gaps in the cabin’s exterior to keep pests from entering.   

Stash away any items that foraging winter   wildlife   might find appealing, such as bird feeders and boxed and bagged food items. Store linens in plastic bins and place fabric softener sheets and/or mothballs around the interior of the cabin to deter mice. Traps are another option, though deciding which to use can cause friction in a household.  

“I like the traps called “Havahart” – where you release the animal unharmed back into the wild,” says Bill. “My wife, Gerie, on the other hand, loves this stuff called ‘Sudden Death.’” They tried Bill’s humane traps first, but that came to a screeching halt when Bill absent-mindedly left a trapped mouse in the back of Gerie’s car.  

“Now we do it her way,” says Bill.  

Keep Some Eyes on Your Prize  

Whether you’re away for a few weeks at a time or all winter long, you want to be able to monitor your place for peace of mind. Freeze alarms can be configured to monitor temperature sensors and heating and cooling systems. If your cabin’s in a remote location that suffers frequent power outages, be sure to buy an alarm unit with rechargeable battery backup.  

Of course, if you’re away for extended periods, nothing beats having someone take care of your property so it doesn’t scream “Nobody Home!” Many cottage care businesses offer services such as cleaning, gardening, lawn mowing, leaf raking and snow removal (key since decks buried in snow can buckle under pressure, and some roofs are susceptible to damage from ice dams).  

“We check on the property and alert owners to fallen tree limbs, animal intrusions or burst pipes,” says Donna Goff, owner of   Mountain Aire Cottage Care   in New Milford, Pa. “We try to catch problems before they turn into full-blown disasters.” For example, last winter the heat was out at one of her clients’ cabins. So in the middle of a snowstorm Goff met up with the fuel company to get the furnace started again before the pipes burst.

Call on Your Friends  

Another alternative is to strike a deal with friends. Gary and Jackie Gillings of Union Pier, Mich., were thrilled when their long-time golfing buddies – who only used their place seasonally – asked them to “babysit” their cabin from Sept­ember through May.  

“It’s a great arrangement for everyone involved,” says Gary, who spends most fall, winter and spring weekends at the cabin located north of Grayling, Mich. “Our friends are happy their property isn’t sitting vacant. And we get to use the place for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and sledding.”  

To show their appreciation, the Gillings pay the utilities and chip in on taxes; they also install and re­move the dock each year, put their friends’ pontoon boat on the lake each spring and professionally clean the carpets prior to their friends’ early June return. “They say that the place looks better when they return than when they left,” Gary says.

Step by Step  

If you do close up for winter, there’s nothing like a thorough routine and checklist to make sure nothing is missed. “It was my father who created and staunchly taught me the meticulous step-by-step opening and closing routines,” says Kent Byus of Corpus Christi, Texas, who owns a cabin just outside of Ruidoso, N.M., in the Lincoln National Forest.

Several summers ago, upon arriving at their mountain getaway, the Byuses detected the faint odor of what they assumed to be natural gas. A professional assured them that no dangerous gas was present, so they dismissed the smell. Then the following winter, the Byuses noticed that the place wasn’t warming very well.  

Old furnace, they thought.  

It wasn’t until the summer of 2006 that the family uncovered the root of all problems – a 35-pound, havoc-wreaking raccoon who had apparently made its way in by opening the foundation skirt and squeezing in between the panels.  

The theory is that for at least two winter seasons the raccoon had made himself at home, entering and leaving at his convenience. During that time, he had torn away two of the conduits that connected the furnace to the cabin’s vents (hence, the seemingly inefficient furnace). In addition, nearly half of the 1,000-plus square feet of insulation had been reduced to torn tiny pieces. And, “Rocky the Raccoon” (a name chosen by Byus’ son and his friends) had pulled, tugged, pounced on and otherwise leveraged the sewerage line, causing at least two years of waste to be deposited under the cabin instead of being drained into the septic tank (hence, the odor).  

Rocky’s quest for shelter cost the Byuses $8,000-plus in repairs. Now that they’ve properly shielded the foundation from future four-legged invaders, the Byus’ mountain sanctuary is a formidable fortress.

“Thanks to Rocky’s raid, we have a heightened sense of details that we wouldn’t otherwise appreciate,” says Kent. “During opening and closing weekends, we look closer, inspect more and take greater precautions with things that appear out of the ordinary.”

No Fuss – Just Collecting Bucks

Four years ago, Steve and Lorraine Pollack of Lawrenceburg, Ind., bought a 1,700-square foot chalet near the Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. They visited over spring and summer breaks to   fish, raft, shop and relax. But they don’t have to mess with any mundane close-up activities because they rent out the chalet year-round using a rental service, which splits the profits 50/50. The Pollacks are pleased with the set-up because they get to use the place whenever they want without having to deal with the headaches of maintaining or repairing the property; the management company takes care of all that.  

“They send us a monthly check, minus the cost of repairs,” says Steve. “It’s hassle-free.”

Most seasonal cabin owners agree that it’s not so much the hassle of closing up that bothers them but rather what closing up symbolizes.

“The closing ritual marks the end of summer socializing, the beginning of cooler temperatures,” says Bill. “And,” he adds solemnly, “the re-emergence of Sudden Death.”