Most people use their boat only in the summer season and then tuck it away for winter. While this is generally the thing to do, this is not your only option.
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 it will be a great experience!
6 Tips for Passenger Comfort While Boating During Winter
One of the most important things you will want to be sure of during winter boating is the comfort of you and your passengers.
With a few considerations, winter boating can actually be quite comfortable.
1. How to Dress The Best Way
The most important factor in comfort while boating in the winter is what you wear. One of the most important things to remember when deciding what to wear out on the water is to wear layers.
You want to make sure that when deciding what to wear, you opt for more layers of thinner clothing instead of a bulky sweater or two.
Thin layers are better for trapping more air and keeping you warmer. It is also better to wear thin layers so that you have easier maneuverability instead of being bulky.
Make sure the clothes that you pick will ward off biting cold winds, will shed water, and will trap body heat inside.
A popular choice for winter boat wear is a drysuit. They are breathable and comfortable but also protect you from both cold weather and cold water.
It is essential that you dress for the water and not the air. Even if the air feels warm, the water can be near freezing and you will want to be dressed for the worst-case scenario.
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 in your hands and feet to properly move around and operate your vessel.
Waterproof thermal gloves are an excellent option for the protection of your hands.
Sunglasses are also necessary, even in winter boating.
It might seem counter-intuitive to wear sunglasses while it is cold out, but the sun still shines and can be blinding when it reflects off the water.
You might also consider wearing ski goggles in place of sunglasses. These will not only protect your eyes from the sun, but they will also help to protect your face from the cold wind since that is what they are designed to do.
2. Considerations About Food And Drinks Onboard
Bringing hot drinks on your voyage can help to warm you up while out on the water. You will want to be sure they are not highly caffeinated due to caffeine being a diuretic.
Hot drinks can be kept in a flask or other temperature holding container.
Avoid alcoholic drinks while winter boating. Alcohol can increase your susceptibility to hypothermia by increasing blood flow and causing body heat to travel to the surface of your body where it will dissipate quickly.
In addition to warm drinks, you will want to bring food. When hungry, you often are more susceptible to the cold.
If your boat has the ability to warm up food, it would be a good idea to bring something simple that can be warmed.
If not, try not to bring any cold food.
Food and water are also essential for survival if necessary.
3. Bring Additional Heating Sources
While it is not necessary, cabin heaters can make winter boating much more comfortable. When you are not near a marina and are cut off from utilities, you still have options for possible heaters.
One option includes a diesel heater.
These use the boat’s diesel tank and run using the battery.
These heaters should not be left on all night, but even running them for a little while can keep your cabin warm and dry.
Other heater options include:
- Kerosene heaters
- Meths heaters
- Gas Heaters
Make sure whatever you use is properly ventilated and all instructions are followed to reduce the possibility of an incident.
4. Keep Travel Distances Short
The winter season has fewer hours of daylight than the summer season. This means you will want to make sure you do not plan for long trips you might have made in the summer.
Short trips are ideal on a winter day and are often enough cold winter air for most passengers.
If you know you need to accomplish a longer passage, consider setting sail when it is pre-dawn to allow yourself to arrive before it gets dark.
After the sun goes down and it gets dark the air can get even colder.
5. Ensure Safety Against Hypothermia
While it might not be the most comfortable consideration, safety is highly important for you and your passengers while out on the water during any season, but especially winter.
One major consideration to be made is to wear a lifejacket at all times, but especially when the weather or water conditions are bad.
During the summer, you might not wear a lifejacket at all times. This is because it is not as essential as it is in the winter.
Even a strong swimmer needs to wear a lifejacket at all times during winter boating.
Hypothermia is a high risk during the winter boating season. Hypothermia can be caused by wind-chill, capsizing, or even damp clothing.
Hypothermia is extremely dangerous and can cause death. Signs of Hypothermia can include:
- Intense shivering
- Slurring speech
- Slowing pulse
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of consciousness
A few minutes in freezing water can cause hypothermia, cardiac arrest, reduced dexterity and coordination, water inhalation, or even 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 chances of drowning 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 are faced with surviving during a capsize or other situation and you don’t need to swim, you should resist the urge to swim. Trying to swim will quickly sap body heat as well as your energy.
If your boat capsizes or swamps, try to stay on top of it. This will also increase the chances of you being seen.
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 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 Coast Guard to arrange for emergency medical personnel.
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 to safety equipment 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 are required by law to be on board every vessel.
7 Tips for Your Boat While Boating During Winter:
In addition to the comfort of your passengers, you also need to make sure you make the proper precautions and preparations for your boat itself.
7. De-Ice Your Vessel
It is essential that you 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 as they will become slippery and can cause you to slip. Slipping on the deck of a boat can lead to falling in the water or even hitting your head or other injuries.
Ice that builds upon the hull or other equipment can alter the boat’s balance and maneuverability. This can lead to issues and can even cause the possibility of sinking.
If you are out in salt water, the salt from the water can be helpful in removing the ice when used with the proper scrubber. Make sure the water does not collect on the deck when you are finished.
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 become very uncomfortable, make breathing harder, or even cause hypothermia.
One way to combat dampness if by making sure cushions, lifejackets, and other comfort items are aired out. If cushions or other elements stay damp, they can also collect mildew.
Insulating 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 can be very rewarding in making your boating experiences more comfortable.
You can also consider a cockpit tent.
A cockpit tent allows you to keep the boat hatch cracked open without letting in huge amounts of cold air. This allows air in the cabin areas which can help to keep away condensation.
You can also keep wet or cold clothing outside and make your vessel easier to live on.
You should also consider window covers.
Boat windows cause large amounts of heat loss and can be a big cause of condensation.
Covering your windows in foam or other insulating material can help to lessen this issue.
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.
You will also want to keep your lines dry.
This can increase comfort by keeping your hands warmer and will prevent the lines from freezing.
When you are done with your boating excursion, take anything that is 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. Consider Bringing an Icebreaker
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 in case 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. Ensure a Lasting Battery
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 one-amp 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.
This will help to prevent water from sitting in lines or wells and freezing. Much in the same way that you want to be careful about freezing pipes in your home, you want to be careful about this 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.
It is likely that fuel stations will have shorter hours in the offseason.
Also, a full fuel tank is less likely to have condensation.
Make sure your engine and all of its parts do not freeze. Make sure you have the proper coolant and antifreeze for your engine.
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 highly important 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 someone knows you are out on the water and what your plans are. This allows them to initiate a call for help if you do not arrive back as scheduled.
You will also want to have a communication radio on board and know your local emergency channel. This can be a great help in case of an emergency.
Having a cell phone onboard is a good idea, but they can be unreliable away from shore and you will need another way to communicate.
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
The final and most important piece of advice is to be smart about alcohol. Make sure you exercise smart and efficient handling with your vessel.
Also, refrain from alcohol use. Alcohol is one of the leading contributors to boating accidents due to slower reaction times, questionable judgment, and other debilitating factors. Not only that but it can also increase your chance of hypothermia.
If you follow the proper precautions, you can have an enjoyable, comfortable, and safe winter boating season.
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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.