Roger Nadin ponders boat storage as he prepares to hang up his sailing gear at the end of the season

5 steps for stress free boat storage this winter

Do you own a boat that is the apple of your eye? What happens when you hand it over to a boatyard for lifting out of the water and storing? writes Roger Nadin

Do you know why one marina uses a crane and boat mover when another uses a slipway trailer, or why one yard uses props to keep your boat upright and another stores your boat in a cradle?

Do you know how much money your yard invests in purchasing boat handling equipment and in training yard staff?

Cradles are the preferred method of storing yachts over winter

Cradles are the preferred method of storing yachts over winter

As with most things, the answer to these questions depend on factors such as geology, geography, staff experience and finance available.

The days of seeing a mobile crane lurching about a yard with a boat swinging on a single hook are, fortunately, long gone.

Today the highest capital cost that a marina will probably incur is purchasing good boat handling equipment.

So, what are the choices:

  • A slipway trailer (a boat mover built for immersion in saltwater) towed by a good used tractor is the least expensive option. But the yard or marina is still looking at the fat-end of £150,000 to fully equip itself to handle 20T yachts and may need to add on the cost of building a slipway. These units can move boats from the water to a storage area quickly and efficiently and usually store boats quite close together – thus saving on storage costs. Such equipment has to be built to survive the ravages of salt water so, lots of stainless steel, high-quality oil-rig grade paint etc. One thing to note is that it is a myth to believe that the hydraulically-operated support pads are used to lift the boat – they are not. The pads provide adjustable support for the hull but the actual lifting is done by the hydraulic lifting and lowering of the full frame.
  • Higher in cost is a self-propelled travel or power-hoist which travels out over the water on a twin-track jetty. This unit can again take boats from the water to storage quickly but there’s the added cost of building the jetty and the disadvantage that the width of the hoist means that boats cannot be stored close together.
  • Of similar or maybe much higher cost is a yacht crane with a boat mover (towed or self-propelled). A crane is ideal when installed on a harbour wall. A four-hook crane provides excellent control of a vessel as it is swung after lifting and is transferred to a boat mover. The cost of a crane includes the finance required to build the piling in the ground on which the crane is installed – this can vary considerably, and careful, professional ground investigation is required before the final decision can be made about installing a crane.
  • Lastly, we can go back to the slipway idea but look at a self-propelled semi-submersible boat mover. These can be quick, efficient and easy to use by minimal staff. But good semi-submersibles come at a high cost since everything must be built to withstand submersion in and the effects of saltwater.

So, now your boat is out of the water, are the staff well trained and are they using the best boat support system to keep your boat safe?

It’s a fact that, until recently, yard staff had little training and much that was available would come under the heading of “we’ve always done it that way”.

Yard and marina staff are very hard-working guys often working in all weathers.

Until recently there has been little or no formal training.

This is gradually changing with equipment manufacturers providing on-site training and the better, more up to date marinas insisting that staff are trained.

A Sadler 29 being lifted out of the water

Make sure you know how much your boat weighs and share the figures with marina staff before it is lifted. Credit: Theo Stocker

What about the cradle that your yard has stored your yacht in or the legs/props that have been used to support your craft? How good are they?

Do they come from a factory that has thoroughly tested them? A small number of manufacturers put such equipment through wind-tunnel tests but very few.

And is your boat by the sea? If so, is your yard using galvanised steel props/stands so that they are protected from the ravages of salty winds?

It is frightening to see yards using steel props that are rusting from the inside out or, heaven forbid, still using wooden props.

If your stored yacht is kept with its mast up through the winter months, has the yard stored it with its bow to the prevailing winds – if not, why not?

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The hull of a boat presents a large area for the wind to push against – have yard staff strapped your boat down to keep it secure?

So, what is stopping every marina or yard having the most up to date and best built boat handling equipment?

As with so many businesses money is the main answer.

Yard and marina owners must be experts in so many areas and there’s usually an accountant trying to keep costs down.

A yard manager may make a different decision to a yard owner – the first having to ensure his annual figures look good, the other trying to ensure that his long-term business gets the best value.

The manager looking for a new slipway trailer will see that there’s a wide range of products on the market.

Some of these trailers look very similar and operate in the same way – in fact some are just cheaper copies of original designs.

Ensure the yacht is strapped down in the cradle during boat storage

Ensure the yacht is strapped down in the cradle

Some slipway trailers cost many thousands of pounds more than others. How does the manager choose?

Pressure to keep costs down may well have him/her choosing the cheapest. Just maybe, the yard will later regret this when poorer materials and workmanship come to light – possibly after the manager has moved to another yard.

Regrettably some yards and marinas find that choosing lower cost equipment can bring almost immediate disappointment: a boat’s hull damaged by poor-quality support pads on a new trailer; a cheaply bought slipway trailer collapsing under the weight of a craft that is just on the trailer’s maximum capacity.

It’s very much a case that “you get what you pay for” when it comes to boat storage.

So, what boat storage lessons can we learn from other’s experience?

  1. Firstly, ensure that you know how much your boat really weighs and exactly what your yard is capable of lifting. There is no point in you asking a yard with a 12T slipway trailer to slip you 10T craft to which you have added such things as additional fuel tanks, a generator and other heavy bits and pieces. A crushed slipway trailer is not a pretty sight!
  2. Talk to yard staff about their machinery – why they are using the equipment that they have, how often is it serviced and what training do they undertake so that you can have confidence in what they do.
  3. Some yards supply cradles for yachts, some lease them to boat owners and some expect owners to supply them. Cradles tend to be a preferred method of storing a yacht through the winter – it can and should be strapped down. In exposed yards, sailboats should be stored bow-to the prevailing wind.
  4. If your boat is supported by props, check the quality of these and make sure the props are strapped or chained together. This ensures that, should one leg be accidentally knocked or driven in to, it should not move and endanger your craft.
  5. Befriend, talk to and visit your yard staff and ensure they understand that you really are interested in how your craft is looked after. And if you have any concerns about boat storage, raise these with the marina manager.

At night when the wind is howling and you are tucked up in bed, you’ll sleep more soundly safe in the knowledge that you and the yard staff have done all that you can.


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