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Winterizing Your Canoe

Though canoes have no or very few moving parts, it still is worth it to lavish a little TLC on your canoe before retiring it for its well-deserved winters nap. 

Winterizing the Gunwales 

Wood gunwales should be protected for storage by applying a coat of Gunwale Guard preservative prior to storage. However, don't make the mistake of thinking that splashing a coat of Gunwale Guard on your gunwales just before you put the boat up for winter will do the trick. Surprisingly as it may seem, might be the worst thing to do. 

The reason being is after a canoe has been used all spring, summer, and fall or left outside between uses, it's likely to have absorbed some moisture, particularly if you haven't been diligent in keeping the gunwales well oiled. If this is the case, and you slap on a coat of oil all you've done is trap that moisture inside the gunwale. This can lead to deterioration of the gunwale from the inside out, the development of mildew, and an increased potential for cold cracks (click here for more information on cold cracks) if your canoe is Royalex. 

It is critical to make sure your gunwale is thoroughly dry before you apply the “winter” coat of Gunwale Guard. Bring your canoe inside, out of the weather and humidity and let it sit for a couple of weeks. If that's not a viable option, wait for a succession of nice, crisp, dry fall days and hook up a hair dryer and work your way up and down the boat blow-drying the gunwales. Then apply the Gunwale Guard immediately. 

To minimize the chances of cold cracks, it's recommended to remove the majority of screws connecting the gunwales to your hull. 

Vinyl Gunwales are much simpler to prep for winter. Wipe them down with a household cleanser and wipe dry. Apply a UV Protectant such as 303 per the manufacturers' instructions. Not only will this protect your gunwales from becoming brittle but it will also restore the full black color of the gunwales. 

Aluminum Gunwales can also benefit from a cleaning and then inspect for any chips or scratches through the anodized coating. If not sealed, these dings can result in corrosion and the lifting of neighboring edges of the anodization. Obtain a color matched enamel paint. You're not liable to need much. I've had success using the little bottles of paint that are used for model airplanes and cars. Lightly sand the damaged area to remove any residual corrosion and wipe clean with a mild solvent like denatured alcohol. Apply coat of paint, extending a bit beyond the edges of the damage. Let dry thoroughly and then apply a second thin coat, extending a little further beyond the first coat. I will figure out how far I need to apply paint and will lightly sand the gunwale surface to be painted with 220 grit sandpaper to improve the bond between paint and gunwale. 

Seats, Thwarts, Yokes, etc. 

In most cases, little needs to be done to protect these pieces as they tend to actually receive little exposure to UV and the elements. They're either flipped over face down most of the time or covered by your posterior when in use. 

This is a good time though to inspect the overall condition of your seats, etc., so there's no unpleasant surprises when the paddling bug hits hard next spring. 

Inspect the condition of the cane or web seating surfaces for wear and tear or for failure. Look not only at the part of the seat that bears your weight but also for where it attaches to the seat frame. You may catch a failure in its' early stages and be able to repair it. 

If repair or replace is in order, in most cases it is as cost effective and more time effective to replace the entire seat than to try to install new cane. If you opt to replace the seat, keep your old seat to use as a template as replacement seats are sold uncut and have to be trimmed to fit. 
On all varnished wood parts such as yokes, seats, thwarts, etc. check for worn spots or scratches and touch these up with a varnish such as an exterior polyurethane or spar varnish. 

Now is also a good time to snug up all connecting hardware. A word of caution, don't overtighten the bolts, it's sufficient to drive them up snug, not rigid. Stainless steel for all its' strength is also a touch brittle and it is possible to break the bolts if overtightened. 

Storage Position 

The best canoe storage is upside-down in a cool, dry place. The canoe must be off the ground. A rack or sawhorses works well, but some protection can be obtained by using foam blocks. Cinder blocks aren't the best choice as they will absorb moisture that can be wicked into the gunwales over time. If you want to suspend the canoe from above, make sure the canoe's weight is resting evenly on the gunwales. 

Do not store heavy objects on top of the canoe, and do not store a canoe on its side. Both will cause the hull to deform over time. If it will be exposed to wind, make sure your canoe is securely tied. Inside storage is preferred-it protects the hull from temperature extremes and exposure to rain or snow as well as UV. Do not store your canoe a direct source of heat (e.g. a furnace): high temperatures are as detrimental as extreme cold and can soften, distort and even melt a polyethylene or Royalex hull. 

If outside storage is necessary and a cover is desired, some precautions are needed. Make sure the cover will withstand snow loads or heavy rain. A plastic cover will protect the canoe from light precipitation and exposure, but do not allow the plastic to touch the hull. Leave the downwind end open for air circulation; moisture trapped between the cover and the canoe will discolor the hull. Some gray weathering of wood gunwales will occur with outside storage. 

Composite Canoe Winter Storage 

Composite canoes need relatively little attention when being prepped for winter. It's a good idea to give the hull a cleaning followed by a wipe down with 303 protectant. 

More important is the position in which it is stored. Do not store leaning on its' side leaning against a wall as this will often result in a flattening of the side of canoe bearing the boats's weight. Most times this will work itself out when canoe is moved for spring and pressure is released but there's no guarantee and no reason to chance it. 

Store the canoe upside down with gunwales in slings or resting on sawhorses. Avoid placing anything on top of canoe as this too can distort the hull over time. The 303 will help avoid any fading on a canoe stored outside but if you want to put the boat under cover, rig the cover so that it doesn't contact the hull but is suspended above the canoe. If a waterproof or water repellant cover is placed directly on the hull, moisture from condensation can be trapped between cover and hull and can discolor or mar the gel coat. 

There is no need to remove screws in wood gunwales on composite canoes. 

Polyethylene Canoe Winter Storage 

“Poly” canoes need little prep to be ready for winter. A wash and wipe down with 303 will never hurt before storing your hull. Do not store the canoe on its' side or stack items on top of it as this will distort the hull over time and could result in a canoe with a dent or a “wow” when spring rolls around. Normally these are not permanent but why take the chance? 

Store the boat upside down resting on its' gunwales. On the Adventure models with integral molded gunwales it is important to have a broad enough bearing surface that the gunwale is not bent or bowed. If necessary, attach a wider board to your sawhorses or use wider webbing in your slings to lessen this impact. 

Royalex Canoe Winter Storage 

Royalex ® is a thermoformed composite material consisting of vinyl outer layers, interior ABS plastic layers and foam core layers. It is an extremely durable material, capable of absorbing impacts and distortion without permanent damage. For all its' upsides, Royalex has some inherent properties that require additional attention when putting a Royalex canoe up for winter in areas that experience freezing temperatures. Royalex canoes are particularly at risk for cold cracks.