From Thanksgiving to St. Patrick's Day, the Lowcountry weather can prove fickle - notably for boaters eager to get out on the water.

Consider the past fortnight. It featured a 50 degree temperature swing from below freezing lows last week to highs Thursday approaching 80.

These sudden weather changes in the Charleston area leave boaters with tough winter choices: should they pick and choose days to go out when the climate's more tropical, or should they mothball their vessels until temperatures reach the temperate zone on a regular basis?

It's a major question for a slew of harbor, river and creek enthusiasts around here. According to the U.S. Coast Guard National Recreational Boating Survey in 2011, South Carolina ranked first in the South (16 states and the District of Columbia) for household participation in recreational boating at 36.1 percent.

According to one respected boating source, the traditional off-season stands up as the best chance for owners to thoroughly check out their watercraft and fix anything out of kilter.

Unfortunately, these jobs often wind up waiting until boating season when repair shops tend to back up, BoatUS noted.

"Spring and summer can be the most challenging times to get work done on a boat because everyone else wants their work at the same time," said Charles Fort, director of consumer affairs for Alexandria, Va.-based BoatUS.

But the organization believes boaters, with "a little foresight," can line up major makeovers now - in some cases at a lower price. Meanwhile, some less complex projects may not require "outside help."

As a consumer assistance guide, BoatUS listed seven "common projects boaters should be looking at doing now, before the spring rush." They consist of:

Canvas and Sails.

"Now is the time to get the new Bimini top made, repair the camper canvas, or get the sail stitched up." The sail and canvas field can be cyclical, so it doesn't hurt to ask for a discount on winter work, the group noted.

Charts and electronics updates.

Computer technology can be a factor here. A chart plotter may need to be updated, unless "you're using the same paper chart you had 10 years ago." Helm electronics software may have downloadable updates "that make them perform better," the boating group added.

Engines and propellers.

Don't expect a mechanic to have time to overhaul an engine in summer. "Getting your boat's motor worked on in June is like waiting to buy Billy Joel tickets at the door." Boat US suggested lining up a mechanic now "if you have a project in mind." Another timely repair job would be to remove dings from the "prop."

Line splicing.

According to BoatUS, owners can handle these projects, which are tedious but may be on boaters' wish lists. "Maybe it's an extra-long spring line you've always wanted, or dock lines that will actually fit your boat's cleats. Curl up by fire, sing a sea chantey, and start splicing." The organization provides a do-it-yourself video at

Paint and varnish.

These are usually warm weather projects, the group pointed out. But it suggested a solution: "Consider taking hatch boards, tiller handles or wood trim projects and work on them now in a heated garage."


Everything from fixing corroded wires to installing an extra 12V outlet at the helm can be on the list. For boaters who want to try the electrical work themselves, they can get tips at

Winter tacklebox overhaul.

There's a common-sense reason to tackle this project in the off season. "You're never going to want to do this once the fish start biting." Yes, BoatUS has a video, at

BoatUS, shorthand for Boat Owners Association of The United States, describes itself as "the nation's leading advocate for recreational boaters." The group says it provides more than 500,000 members with "government representation, services such as 24-hour dispatch (and) on-water boat towing as well as roadside assistance for boat trailers and tow vehicles."

Other perks include boat insurance programs, marina and service discounts and easy-to-find information about recreational boating. Its member-funded BoatUS Foundation helps promote "safe, clean and responsible boating."

For more information, visit

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or