Boating safety is especially important in the winter when even strong swimmers can experience great difficulty surviving in cold water. Hypothermia is a risk in water below 70′ F, and “cold shock” can occur in frigid water. Winter storms may create hazardous conditions, while low temperatures can tax batteries. Depending on your vessel and the water conditions, the risks vary greatly. However, if you take safety precautions, winter boating can allow you to get out on the water during more of the year, visit areas overpopulated in the summer, and have a new experience. Here are some tips for staying safe on the water this winter.
Check the Weather
Before boating, check your local weather for dangerous conditions. It takes a lot less rain and wind than you probably expect to cause significant damage to a boat. Winter storms can take a heavy toll on boats and even result in sinking.
File a Float Plan
Tell someone staying ashore where you are going and what time you expect to return. Make sure you take enough clothing to dress in layers and stay dry and warm.
Review the capacity plate on your boat and do not exceed any of its limits when loading the vessel. Exceeding the weight limit can compromise the vessel’s performance and increase your risk of submersion. If you bring more gear, supplies, or people than usual, ensure you are within the recommended weight limits.
Wear a Life Jacket
While on the water, always wear a life jacket. About 75% of boating fatalities involve capsizing, boaters falling overboard, or flooding or swamping boats. Sudden immersion in frigid water can cause people to experience temporary paralysis and drown. Also, thick clothes often worn to protect against cold air temperatures become heavy in the water, making it difficult for those wearing them to stay afloat. A life jacket will help keep your head above water in an immersion accident until you can control your breathing and dramatically increase your chances of survival. It can also serve as thermal protection against hypothermia while keeping you afloat until you can rescue yourself or someone else can help you.
It is best to avoid drinking alcohol while boating to prevent placing yourself and others in dangerous situations such as leaning over too far, jumping from vessel to vessel, and moving around too much or standing, leading to passengers falling overboard or a boat capsizing. Also, keep a sharp lookout, maintain surrounding awareness, and advise other passengers about general boating safety tips. During boat launching and recovery, you should pay close attention to docks and the ground near shorelines for any ice so you do not end up slipping and hurting yourself.
Check Your Boat or Yacht Insurance
When was the last time you reviewed your boat or yacht insurance coverage? Do you have a lay-up period? Lay-up is a period that the boat will not be used. These policies are typically for boats located in climates with cold winters. During a lay-up period, the boat insurance coverage includes damage that may occur while stored but not navigated. A lay-up period is an opportunity to save on boat insurance premiums, but you’ll want to verify that you are not boating without adequate yacht insurance coverage.
For more boating safety tips, visit the United States Power Squadrons️️ website.