Advantages and Tips for Winter Boating
Boating season doesn’t have to end after Labor Day, provided you live in a climate where winter boating can be done safely.
Winterizing your boat when cold weather starts to kick in can prematurely cut your boating season short. Of course if you live in the north east, midwest or northwest, winters are probably too extreme for recreational boating. However, if you live further south where the winters are mild, winter boating opens up extra quality time on the water. Here are some advantages to and tips for boating in winter.
Getting More Quality Boating Time
Extending boating season into winter gives you the opportunity to use your boat to its fullest potential and prolong your nautical satisfaction.
A boat is a major investment, so having it sit idle for months on end seems like a massive waste of your hard-earned money. Boating beyond the typical season can provide the satisfaction of getting bonus time on the water in an off-season setting, giving you the chance to experience a different kind of adventure than what you get in the spring and summer months.
Enjoying One of the Best Boating Seasons
The words “winter” and “boating” don’t usually go together in some people’s minds, but it can actually be the ideal season as long as the conditions are safe.
Despite being cooler, the weather is usually more stable than during spring, summer and fall, when thunderstorms or fog can unexpectedly turn a pleasant boating day into a nightmare. Winter tends to bring about more peaceful waters, as well as impressive scenery.
Colder weather provides a chance to see more marine wildlife as many predators head for warmer environments. Certain species of fish make their presence known as winter sets in, and the calmer weather conditions are ideal for a tranquil day of fishing.
Taking Advantage of Less Boat Traffic
Winter boating often produces wonderfully calm waterways with less boaters and traffic nuisances around.
Smaller crowds means fewer lines at fuel docks and boat ramps even at popular boating destinations. Some days you may find you have an entire lake all to yourself. It’s the perfect chance to enjoy some peaceful scenery without the “party boats” blasting music and littering the waters with beer cans. If fishing is on your agenda, less traffic also means more fish!
Finding Cheaper Boat Slips and Docks
Marinas and docks take a financial hit during winter, which can work to your advantage for bargaining on otherwise expensive rental fees.
Slips and dock spaces are often cheaper during the winter as marinas reduce prices to attract business. Even if your local marina hasn’t dropped its prices, it doesn’t hurt to approach the owner and negotiate a “winter special”. Small business is better than no business, so why not haggle a bit during a time where marina or dock owners may be struggling to turn a profit?
If you trailer your boat and the idea of renting a slip seems excessive to you, consider this: Hauling your boat out of the water after every trip is a royal pain, especially during winter. Finding discounted slips and docking spaces is more than worth it if it saves you the trouble of getting your boat in and out of the water throughout the cold season.
Tips for Winter Boating
Fewer boaters around means less people to assist you if something goes wrong.
Make sure you have distress signals and other safety and survival equipment onboard, especially a VHF marine radio. File a float plan with someone ashore so they can alert the authorities in case of something goes wrong and you don’t return as planned. Inspect your boat and outboard to make sure they’re well maintained and in good working conditions. Keep in mind that a mechanical failure in winter with nobody nearby to help is far more dangerous than during the summer when a quick rescue is more likely.
Always monitor the weather throughout the day and heed the forecasts before setting out. If the forecast isn’t favorable, postpone your trip for another day. And of course head back to the shore immediately if the weather goes bad while you’re already out on the water.
Colder winter water can easily send a man overboard into shock, so make sure everyone on your boat is wearing a PFD at all times, and have an action plan ready to recover anyone who falls off the boat.
Dress appropriately with several layers of clothing you can remove and put back on as needed. Carry onboard a base layer, a mid-layer and an outer layer, plus a waterproof layer. Staying dry is particularly important in winter, because wet clothing in cold weather can rapidly cool the body and speed the onset of hypothermia, especially at the extremities. Pack waterproof gloves and footwear, as well as a spare set of clothes to keep warm and dry.
Finally, bring along hot drinks and food. A cup of hot coffee or soup on a cool winter’s boating day plus a hot meal or two are lifesavers when boating in cold weather.