Boating Tips For Cooler Weather

February 2021 Feature Scott “Sky” Smith

Well, it’s that time of year again. Part of me really does like fall and winter weather. Of course, that’s when its 30 to 40 degrees. The other part of me hates the below zero temperatures we get here in the Midwest. You know, below zero would be okay for a day, maybe two. But when it lasts a week or even months…then I’m done with it.

Another thing about cold weather for many of us is no boating. But sometimes that’s okay.  Having a break can reinvigorate the boating season and can give us something to look forward to when we can once again get out of the house and enjoying the fresh “lake breeze.” Oh, and look forward to no face masks as well.

I would like to say that I just got back from a show, but this year, that just means I left my office and went to the kitchen. I can remember getting back from trips to the south where it was 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity. The cool Midwest weather felt great. Sure, I like warm weather, but too hot is sometimes just too hot. Now it’s just a walk into a different room with no major boat shows this year and the weather doesn’t change much.

Anyway, just because it’s cold doesn’t mean we need to stop boating. Many people (especially those with lakefront property) leave their boats in all year long if “icing in” is not an issue. Even then you can take precautions like using a bubbler to keep the boat from being damaged by the ice.

Cold crisp weather can be very good for boating and if you fish, I don’t think the fish can taste better than out of a really cold lake, although I do draw the line at sitting on a bucket beside a hole in the ice.

But cold water can wreak havoc on your boat’s systems. If you have an inboard-outboard you need to have the engine protected with antifreeze. Additionally, other water systems in the boat can freeze. So even if the boat is in the water, you need to winterize the systems.

And there are other cold water boating risks. Besides it is just plain cold, wet hands can stick to metal and cold water drowns. Okay, so hot water drowns too, but cold water just speeds things up.

One year at the Seattle Boat Show I listened to a speaker on cold water survival and I think the speaker used the “50-50-50” line. If memory is correct that meant 50 degree water, 50 years old you would last 50 minutes. After a bit of research, I discovered that was just an old sailor’s myth.

If you do a bit of research, it looks like 50-degree water can be almost an instant end. Any temperature less than 70 degrees is dangerous. So really, probably the worst thing about cold weather boating is if you accidentally fall in. If it’s really cold and you are bundled up, you don’t have as much flexibility. If you have gloves on you cannot get the same grip; if there is ice on the railings what do you grab onto? You get the picture.

There are also a few other things that you need to be aware of.

“Cold Shock,” for example, results in a lack of breathing control. When a person hits cold water, they have an involuntary gasping for air reaction. With the gasp, often a person fills their lungs with water, hence the danger. Gasping underwater, bad. With cold water, muscle movement or control disappears. If you are bundled up, you already have reduced movement and clothing can absorb water, making your ability to stay afloat more difficult.

That is where a flotation device comes in handy. But if it’s not on you before you hit the water, you probably won’t be able to get a life preserver on. And the wrong flotation device won’t hold your head out of the waves, especially if you have a lot of heavy clothing on. Life jackets can help but only if they fit well and hold your head out of the water and waves. Oh, and hypothermia will set in around 30 minutes.

So seriously, cold water boating can be refreshing, fun and exciting. Don’t be scared to go out when the water is cold. Just make sure you take a few precautions before you head out.

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