While most boats are moored for the winter, there is still plenty to enjoy in the winter: in warmer climates for fishing or just cruising, on cold rivers where winter steelhead exists, in coastal waters for migratory species, and so on.
Whether you are cruising from an open boat, cabin boat, or simply kayaking in winter, you need to respect the elements and be aware of the effects of exposure to cold air and water, even on a warm and windless day. While you should always have normal safety gear when boating, here are ten tips for cold water boating in winter.
1. Consider survival wear
Wearing appropriate clothing and shoes is obviously important for winter boating. However, a swim coat or survival suit is a good investment if you are out and about frequently.
2. Wear two pairs of warm gloves
When you fish, a couple is likely to get wet. Save the second pair for the ride home.
3. Use hand and toe warmers
Put hand warmers in your gloves, or at least in your jacket pockets. Use toe warmers in your boots or use electric socks or insoles to warm the boots up.
4. Cover your face and eyes
Use ski goggles to cover your eyes when the boat is going fast, especially if you are the operator. A warm balaclava should cover all of the exposed facial flesh. Remember that the faster the boat moves, the greater the wind chill.
5. Face the star; Go low
If you are a passenger, put your back to the bow and look to the stern when the boat is moving. Get low if possible; Some passengers are sitting on a beanbag on the floor.
6. Leave your PFD on
The shock of suddenly entering cold water dictates caution when boating in cold weather. If something goes drastically wrong, you have a better chance of surviving in cold water with your PFD already on, safe, and properly attached.
7. Make sure your boat / engine is in tip top shape
This is not the time for a crippling breakdown to weigh you down, especially when fewer people are on the water to help you. Don’t go out unless you have 100% confidence in your ship.
8. And let it register
This is also not the time to discover that you have forgotten to register your boat, which sometimes happens in winter and at the start of a new season. It’s best to do it beforehand.
9. Have company
Bring a capable companion (or paddle someone else if you are kayaking) who can help you out if you get in trouble. Alone or with someone, let someone know where you are going and when you can expect to be back and when to set off an alarm if you haven’t contacted them.
10. Don’t take any chances
Could your actions possibly cause you to run aground or run into an underwater obstacle and disable your engine or get stuck behind an ice floe (this happened to me once)? Either way, you could have a long and cold time getting out of the predicament. Be realistic about your abilities and circumstances, especially given the cold weather and water. Think about how to deal with an incident that you could otherwise avoid by making a good decision rather than a risky one.