If you live in a warm-weather climate, there’s usually no reason to place your boating activities on hold during the winter months. On the other hand, if you live way up north, you’ve probably had to bid your boat a fond farewell until springtime.
If you live somewhere between these two extremes, however, you may be watching the forecast between now and March for opportunities to head out on the water. Just remember that boating in cold weather carries with it a special set of safety requirements.
It doesn’t take frigid temperatures to make cold-weather boating dangerous without the proper precautions. Even if the water is 60 degrees, falling in could put you at serious risk for shock and hypothermia. Also, keep in mind that there will be fewer boats out there, which means fewer people available to help if trouble arises.
If you choose to brave the cold — or simply cool — temperatures out on the water, keep these winter-boating safety tips in mind.
Before you head out, make sure someone knows exactly where you’re going and how long you’re likely to be out there. Tell them that you’ll call or text as soon as you get off the water, and give them specific instructions on what to do if you fail to return as scheduled.
Your boat’s batteries are more likely to lose their charge in colder temperatures, so keep them on a maintenance charger. Remember that you’ll need them not only to get the boat started, but also to run your electronics. Also, if you shut down your engine while you’re out on the water, remember that the alternator won’t be refreshing the batteries, so minimize your use of electronics to make sure you’ll have enough juice to start up again.
Keep in mind that it will feel 10 to 15 degrees colder out on the water than it does on land. Also, remember that water drains body heat 25 times faster than air does, so if you were to fall overboard, shock and hypothermia would become a real possibility. Dress in warm layers, with a synthetic, water-wicking base layer and a water- and wind-proof outer layer. Remember to keep your head, ears, neck, and hands protected. And, of course, wear a properly fitted life jacket at all times.
Pack some clothes in a waterproof bag and keep them on board in case someone in your party gets wet. It’s a good idea to bring some food (energy bars are a good choice) and an insulated container of hot coffee or tea. Finally, make sure your cell phone is fully charged and keep it in a safe place in a sealed plastic bag.
Before you leave the dock, make sure your boat is in good working condition and run through a complete safety checklist. If anything is lacking or not up to par, it’s best to plan for another day — better safe than sorry!
For more information, check out BoatUS Foundation’s web pages on Cold Weather Boating.