Finish the Job

A wake boat's engine and ballast system need a little extra care to be purged of H2O for cold-weather layup.

shutterstock_68087029The winter boat layup comes complete with a checklist of basic chores, and every boat manufacturer recommends specific tasks. If temperatures dip below freezing — or below zero in the northern U.S. and Canada — winterization tasks include running antifreeze through the engine, topping off the gas tank and adding a fuel stabilizer, and storing sensitive electronics in a warm, dry place.

If you own a wake boat, however, you’re not quite done. Pumps that empty and fill ballast tanks need close attention, as do heaters, if the boat is so equipped. One quick tip is to make sure you raise the nose and drop the stern when draining the ballast tanks, to make sure all the water is removed, since the drains are in the rear of the tanks.

The biggest problem for any boat in extremely cold weather, whether it’s a wake boat or not, is water that gets left in the engine block. It expands when it freezes.

“Leaving water in the motor is going to cause the most catastrophic situations,” said Kevin Grove, assistant service manager at Minnesota Inboard Water Sports in New Germany, one of the largest Malibu dealers in the U.S. “I repaired six frozen motors in the spring of 2016. How bad it is really depends on where the water stays. If you don’t get it out of the exhaust manifold, the water can freeze and crack it, and suddenly you are leaking water into the boat.

“But if you don’t get the block fully drained, frozen water cracks the block and you are putting in a new motor. What we do to prevent that is run all the boats up on antifreeze. We have tanks that sit on the back of the boat, and the boat can sit there with a Fake-A-Lake attached and recycle antifreeze through the whole cooling system.”

Grove tests the antifreeze coming out of the exhaust to make sure it’s good to 40 degrees below zero, and then the boat can safely go into the shed. When spring comes, all the antifreeze has to come out, so there’s not a pink puddle somewhere to cause an environmental problem.

A cracked heater core is another common wake-boat concern, because it doesn’t take much water to cause a major issue.

“It’s a big problem, because the heaters break easily,” said Jason Bridget, service manager at Action Water Sports in Traverse City, Mich. “The hoses are made of rubber and will stretch if ice expands, but if the heater pump has ice inside, it can split.” To winterize the heater, disconnect the most convenient heater hose line and pump antifreeze through until it comes out the other hose and into the block. Another technique is to blow a lot of air through the heater hoses to purge the lines.

The decision whether to fill the ballast tanks with antifreeze for layup is up for debate. Some experts said that if the tanks are properly drained, only a little water will remain at the bottom, and it has plenty of room to expand without causing damage. Others, including Chris Eller, owner and head driver of Coble Ski School in Lillington, N.C., recommend using antifreeze.

“With the ballast tanks, it’s important to make sure that you put RV antifreeze in your tanks to prevent any freezing,” Eller said. “You would think there is enough room for expansion, but even a small amount of water in the right place can cause major issues.”

Eller says the best way to completely protect the entire system is to run antifreeze through the ballast pumps, which will fill the hoses and keep the pumps lubricated over the dry winter months.

“This is not quite as big of an issue with older bilge-style pumps,” Eller said. “It is more so with the impeller-based systems. Most boats have to be split open to repair ballast tanks, so a little time spent on prevention can save some serious money and lost water time in the future.”

Fat Sacs, manufactured by Barefoot International out of Milwaukee, are essentially bags made out of the same material used to build whitewater rafts.

During layup, Fat Sacs should be drained and allowed to air dry. If necessary, separate the bag from the cover and let both dry completely before storage. Some boat owners roll them up and store them in an ice chest.

The filling and emptying of ballast tanks and Fat Sacs is often performed by a Jabsco Pump, a workhorse that is original equipment on some boats and added to other boats by the owners. These powerful pumps need attention once a year, because the rubber impeller can wear out.

“On some boats, there’s one really large pump that is used to fill and drain the ballast system,” Grove said. “It’s a cheap maintenance fix to change the impeller once a year. Some people also carry extra pumps in their truck or in their glove compartment if it’s a small pump for a Fat Sac, so they can change them out if they fail.”

TO THE WEB (Fat Sacs) (Minnesota Inboard Water Sports) (Jabsco)


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