Most people only use their boat in the summer season and then tuck it away for winter.
While this is generally the thing to do, Boating during the winter season is a perfectly viable way to get more use out of your boat.
Here are some ways you can make sure to have a great experience!
6 Tips for Passenger Comfort While Boating During Winter:
Boating in the winter is all about the weather and taking appropriate steps to stay warm and dry.
With a few considerations, winter boating can actually be quite comfortable.
1. How to Dress for the Cold
The first rule of staying warm is to wear loose layered clothing that retains heat even when wet.
When deciding what to wear, you want to make sure you opt for thinner clothing layers. You also want to avoid cotton and instead wear quick-drying synthetics or wool.
Remember that you need to be able to move freely and retain heat if you get wet. We recommend an outer garment designed for marine environments or a dry suit, especially in icy waters.
Drysuits are designed specifically for sailing in winter conditions and are required for commercial applications in cold environments.
You must dress for the water as well as the air. If the unthinkable happens and you end up in the water, what your wearing becomes a matter of life and death.
You will also want to protect your hands, feet, and head from the cold.
Most of your body heat is lost from your head. To keep your head warm, you will want to wear a lined hat that will retain heat.
You will also need feeling and dexterity in your hands and feet to properly move around and operate your vessel. Neoprene gloves are an excellent option for the protection of your hands.
Choose boots that are waterproof with non-slip treads and well insulated. Wear wool socks and change them often when staying out for long periods.
Eye protection is also essential in winter conditions.
The winter sun can be blinding, and the winter wind can cause your eyes to water uncontrollably. Therefore having appropriate eye protection is a must.
Ski goggles are an excellent choice for eye protection. They are designed for winter conditions and offer protection for a larger area of your face.
2. Considerations About Food And Drinks Onboard
Bringing hot drinks or broth can help to warm you up while out on the water. It is best to avoid caffeine and instead opt for herbal teas or hot chocolate. Hot chocolate has far less caffeine than coffee and offers some much need calories.
Staying hydrated is imperative to make sure to drink plenty of water.
Always avoid alcohol when boating in the winter. Alcohol causes vasodilation In the skin leading to heat loss. Alcohol and caffeine are also potent diuretics that lead to dehydration.
Having food and snacks aboard is also a must. Your body expends more energy in the cold, so make sure you have adequate calorie intake.
If your boat has the ability to warm up food, it would be a good idea to bring something simple that can be warmed.
3. Bring Additional Heating Sources
While it is not necessary, cabin heaters can make winter boating much more comfortable. There are many portable options for heaters that use fuel or work off your boat’s electrical system.
Heaters pose certain safety risks and can drain the fuel and/or batteries.
If you do not normally go out in the winter, make sure you have plenty of fuel and fully charged batteries if you plan to use a heater. Always monitor energy use and cycle the heater on and off to conserve resources.
4. Keep Travel Distances Short
When the days become short and the air gets cold, many people do not want to take a long excursion on the water. Shorter trips are better in the winter and are a fun way to spend a few hours, but make sure you plan to be back before sunset.
Short trips are ideal on a winter day and are often enough cold winter air for most passengers.
If you must be out at night, make sure you are prepared for the colder air and nighttime conditions. Have fresh batteries for searchlights and take extra precautions to avoid going overboard.
5. Safety Against Hypothermia and Frostbite
Hypothermia is lethal and can happen year-round in colder waters. Frostbite can lead to tissue loss and amputation of the affected areas if not treated quickly.
Make sure you know what to look for and carry the appropriate emergency equipment to treat cold-weather injuries. Always have an evacuation plan.
Hypothermia is extremely dangerous and can cause death. Signs of Hypothermia can include:
- Intense shivering
- Slurring speech
- Slowing pulse
- Loss of coordination
- Memory loss
- Shallow breathing
Prolonged hypothermia can lead to paradoxical undressing and delirium. A few minutes in freezing water can cause hypothermia and quickly lead to cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, and drowning.
Knowing the 1-10-1 principle can increase your chance of survival if the worst happens. The 1-10-1 principle says that:
- You have 1 minute after being submerged to get your breathing under control. If you cannot do this, you increase your drowning chances due to “cold water shock.”
- You then have 10 minutes of meaningful movement to help self-recovery. After 10 minutes, the dexterity in your extremities will be lost, making self-recovery unlikely.
- You have about 1 hour until hypothermia sets in and can cause unconsciousness.
If you know you are going in the water, enter as slow as possible, keep your head dry if you can, and keep as much of your body as possible out of the water.
Treatments for Hypothermia Include:
- Removal of wet clothing immediately.
- Then dress in dry clothes and apply coats and blankets.
- If needed, you can also attempt to use body heat to help someone with hypothermia warm up.
- Avoid exercise and sit tight with your legs together and your arms wrapped around your chest while trying to warm up.
- Warming up should be done slowly.
- Do not position someone with hypothermia too close to a heat source.
- Drink warm drinks that are not alcoholic.
- If the victim is not breathing, administer CPR.
- Contact the local authorities or Coast Guard to arrange for emergency medical treatment and evacuation.
We recommend you wear your life jacket at all times in cold conditions. The shock of cold water and the rapid loss of coordination and dexterity make swimming difficult.
Even a strong swimmer needs to wear a lifejacket at all times during winter boating.
Exposure to cold air can also cause chilblains and frostbite. These are related conditions caused by damage to the small blood vessels and freezing in the skin.
Symptoms of Hypothermia Include:
- Skin color usually changes red at first, then turning blue, grayish, yellowish, or white
- Burning, prickling, or numb sensation
- Hard or waxy skin
- Blisters after rewarming
It is important to rewarm the affected areas slowly. Never rub the affected area or place it in hot water.
6. Have The Proper Safety Equipment:
In addition to lifejackets, you will want to be sure you have all other necessary safety equipment.
This equipment includes:
- Signal flares
- Sound devices
- Fire extinguisher
- Emergency locator beacons
- GPS devices
- Extra clothing and blankets
- Marine radio to call the emergency channel for help.
- First aid kit that includes equipment for severe injuries or hypothermia
We have written an extensive guide surrounding the safety equipment that you always need onboard your vessel!
Having and preparing the proper safety equipment can mean everything in case of an emergency. It is definitely better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Some safety equipment, such as lifejackets and fire extinguishers must be on board every vessel.
7 Tips for Your Boat While Boating During Winter:
In addition to your passengers’ comfort, you also need to make sure you make the proper precautions and preparations for your boat itself.
7. De-Ice Your Vessel
You must clear any standing water or ice from your vessel.
Places to look for ice include:
- Exposed decks
- The hull
- Fuel lines
- Steering cables
- Bilge pump
- Any other exposed equipment
Decks covered in ice can be very dangerous snd slippery. Take extra precautions to avoid fall injuries and going overboard.
Ice buildup on the hull or other equipment can alter the boat’s balance and maneuverability.
8. Make Sure To Avoid Condensation and Dampness
Condensation is a reality that must be dealt with on a small recreational boat during wintertime. Condensation is the collection of water vapor on cold surfaces, creating a damp environment.
Dampness and condensation can cause uncomfortable conditions, fog your windows, and increase the likelihood of hypothermia if your clothes get damp.
One way to combat dampness is by making sure cushions, spare clothing, lifejackets, and other comfort items are aired out. If cushions or other elements stay damp, they can also collect mildew.
Insulating the cabin can also help prevent condensation. If you insulate your boat, it is likely to stay dryer and warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Insulation can involve a lot of work but pays off by keeping the cabin comfortable.
Another option is to run a small dehumidifier.
This can really help dry out your cabin and minimize condensation. However, you will need a source of power to run this.
When you are done with your boating excursion, take anything wet or damp home to dry.
This includes sails, clothes, blankets, and anything from the interior of the vessel. This will also decrease your chances of mold.
9. Avoid Ice
Some marinas can have water that freezes in cold weather. While it may seem like you do not want to boat in icy water, this is not always the case.
Thick ice is not ideal for boating because you will not get very far, but thin ice is not as big of a deterrent.
Often thin ice only settles in still water like in the marina. As long as you proceed with caution, you should be able to go out when you see thin ice.
You will want to bring a boathook if you run into any ice that you need to break up.
10. Make Sure You Check Your Insurance
Nothing could be worse than something happening to your vessel while out on a nice winter day, except realizing that your insurance doesn’t cover you for that damage.
Make sure your insurance policy covers any damage that could be incurred during the winter season.
Knowing what your insurance covers and make sure you have the proper coverage is essential.
11. Maintain Your Batteries
Cold weather can affect the integrity of your battery. If your boat is sitting in cold weather, you may be prone to a dead or weakened battery.
This can be combatted by leaving your battery on a “trickle-charge.”
This will keep your battery alive and strong through the cold winter days when it is not in use. One great way to do this is to use solar chargers. They are an inexpensive way to hold a charge at all times.
12. Shut Off or Plug Up Your Plumbing
Before you launch, you will want to plug up any plumbing that you might have that doesn’t turn off.
Much in the same way that you want to be careful about freezing pipes in your home, you want to keep water from freezing in the pipes and wells in your boat.
A frozen pipe can burst or crack, which can cause damage to your pipes or even your boat’s hull.
Some things to consider plugging include but are not limited to:
- Fishbox drain
- Sea chest
13. Watch Out For Your Engine
Keeping your fuel tank filled is a good idea when you plan to take your boat out during the winter season. Fuel stations will likely have shorter hours in the offseason.
Add fuel stabilizer in the winter, especially when you dock or store your boat.
Also, make sure that you have coolant/antifreeze rated for the local winter conditions.
3 Other Precautions to Keep in Mind:
In addition to preparing you, your passengers, and your vessel, there are other considerations to keep in mind.
14. Communication Is Crucial
Communication is essential anytime you go out on the water, but especially during the winter as it can be more dangerous.
You will want to make sure you have a float plan and that you inform someone who is staying ashore where you will be and when you plan to return.
Carry a mobile phone or have a radio aboard to call for help if you need it. Make sure you know the local emergency channels and carry a backup radio just in case.
Signal flares, emergency whistles, air horns, signal mirrors, and high vis panels are also essential emergency gear.
15. Know What The Weather Is Like (Always)
Knowing the weather forecast is important anytime you go out on the water. Extreme weather conditions can be highly unsafe in any season.
At the first indication of bad weather, you should head back to shore immediately.
16. Be Smart About Alcohol
As previously mentioned, alcohol use is a bad idea when boating in the winter.
Captains should never consume alcohol while underway, and passengers should avoid it during winter months. Alcohol causes heat loss, bad judgment, and uncoordinated movement making hypothermia more likely and more difficult to detect.
If you follow the proper precautions, you can have an enjoyable, comfortable, and safe winter boating season.
Shelby Sullivan is our specialist when it comes to pontoon boats and recreational watercraft. She is often found sailing the freshwater lakes of Michigan. She is also a light-traveler who enjoys camping and traveling the world. Read more about Shelby here.