You never know what Lake of the Ozarks weather might bring. That’s why boat and dock owners should make plans to winterize their property every year. Fall is the perfect time to start preparing, especially for second homeowners who may not make it to the Lake as often in the winter.
Here’s what you need to know to minimize the impact bad weather could have on your dock and boat this season.

Last winter, weather took a turn for the worse when homeowners were impacted by widespread flooding across Lake of the Ozarks in December. It came as a surprise to everyone who owned a home at the Lake, and many homes and docks were damaged as a result. While some things can’t be prevented, there are many things you can do to safeguard your property.

The annual winter drawdown of the lake level typically happens around the first of the year. Ameren Missouri always takes measures to remind property owners to protect their docks from the lower water levels and other winter conditions that routinely occur at this time of year.

Ameren normally lowers the Lake by several feet during the winter months to provide increased water storage capacity for flood control during the spring rainy season. Expect the annual lowering of the Lake to begin around January 1 and reach a target seasonal low of about 654 feet (above sea level) by mid-February.

Lake elevations down to 651 feet—9 feet below full reservoir—are possible during the winter season. Ameren’s federal license permits the level to go as low as 645 feet in an emergency.

Ameren officials follow a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) guide curve throughout the year which requires the Lake to be drawn down to 654 by mid-February in anticipation of spring rains. The guide curve shows the Lake will begin rising to seasonal levels starting in April and reaching recreational levels of 659 by Memorial Day.

Ameren provides a recording of lake level information—updated daily on weekdays—at 573-365-9205. In addition, Lake level information is available on the Ameren website: www.ameren.com/missouri/lake-of-the-ozarks.

Protecting your Dock

While the winter drawdown is necessary to prevent flooding and provide electricity, it can cause issues for dock owners at the Lake of the Ozarks. Now is the time to prepare your docks for the lower Lake levels.

Summerset Boat Lifts has provided these tips to avoid damage to your dock this winter.

1. Fall cleaning. Clean the surface of your dock with a deck cleaner to remove dirt, fungus and algae. Spray your dock with water to see how the water beads on the surface of the wood. If your dock is not adequately repelling the water, it might be time to get it re-sealed. 

2. Inspect your dock. Check to make sure your dock isn't pinned or hampered by any stumps or other objects that would prevent it from moving up and down with the fluctuations in water levels. Make sure you do not need to replace any components. Replace them now so that you're not exposing a weak structure to the brunt of winter weather. Check all fasteners, hardware, bolts and skirting (the skirting should be well above the water line). Inspect all dock cables and bolts for any loose or rusting parts.

3. Be sure to drain all water lines. 

4. Raise your boat lift to ensure that it is holding air as it should. 

5. Lengthen your dock cables to allow the docks to drop. 

6. Make sure that you have a de-icer to keep the water around your dock from freezing and causing major damage. Protect your dock and boat lift from ice damage by installing a de-icer. The number of units you need will depend on the size of your dock, the depth of the water, Lake conditions and the expected weather conditions. Ice can break up entire dock structures, as well as age the wood and even splinter the surface.

7. Remove any ladders or other attached components in contact with the Lake water. 

8. Store boating accessories. Be sure to store not only dock furniture, but also any life jackets, water toys, fishing rods, etc. If you don't have a good place to store them, look into purchasing a dock locker. Summerset Boat Lifts has a large selection of boating accessories not only to use during the summer months, but also to help you get through the off-season.

9. Be neighborly. Ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your dock and report to you if problems are detected.

10. Seasonal maintenance checks on both docks and lifts can be performed by professionals. Usually companies run specials as business slows down in the late fall to encourage preventative maintenance, so take advantage and have someone do the work for you!

Winterizing your Boat

Before you know it, it will be time to put away the boat for the winter. Make sure you are doing it right so you don’t face costly mistakes that will put a damper on the spring boating season.

Many marinas at the Lake offer winterization services, making it easy, and taking care of many details the do-it-yourselfer may not think of.

A winterization service MarineMax at Lake of the Ozarks offers will typically protect your vessel’s engine, generator, freshwater system, head system, air conditioning system, washer/dryer, heat exchanger, shaft cooler, transmission oil, ice maker and sea strainers. And if you are storing your boat for the winter there are other things to think of — oil changes, engine impeller changes, lower unit fluid changes, anti-mildew bags, odor and moisture absorbing products and more.

Just like your car, proper winterization and service can extend the life of your boat, protecting it from the harsh elements and problems that occur by laying idle for months at a time.

Even if you choose to have a professional winterize your boat, there are a number of things you need to do to prepare. MarineMax provides these tips so you can have a worry-free winter. 

1. Make sure holding tanks are empty and fuel tanks are 3/4 full.

2. Remove all perishable food and beverages.

3. Remove all valuable items including portable electronics.

4. Open all lockers, drawers and compartments and clean thoroughly.

5. Open and clean the refrigerator and freezer.

6. Consider purchasing a mildew-free product to protect against moisture and mildew.

7. Turn your cushions on edge to allow air to circulate or take them to a climate-controlled space.

8. Inspect your lines, fenders and other mooring gear and replace if necessary.

9. Inventory all safety equipment: PFDs, fire extinguishers, flairs, etc.