For some of us, a little winter weather isn’t enough to stop us from enjoying a day out on the boat. Many areas offer year-round fishing opportunities. Yet, winter boating brings with it unique hazards, challenges, and considerations. Here are some important winter boating accident facts and safety tips to reduce your chances of getting hurt.
- Wear your life jacket. In cold water, not only do you have to worry about how to avoid drowning, but you also have to consider the effect of hypothermia. Cold water can result in loss of body heat, and in some cases, even cardiac arrest. Falling suddenly into cold water can also trigger an automatic inhalation response. Wearing a life jacket that keeps your head above water can protect you from drowning if you’re gasping for air because of the cold.
- Assess the risk of capsizing. In cold water, capsizing is not an option. Hypothermia can set in quickly. Don’t go out during high winds and stormy conditions. Bring safety beacons with you so that you can trigger a rescue if the worst case scenario obtains. Weather can also change suddenly during the winter months. Go out when you know that the weather isn’t likely to change suddenly. Check radars and weather reports carefully.
- Tell someone where you’re going. If you plan to head out, someone should know where you’re going and when you plan to return. Make sure to check in with the person when you get back and give the person Coast Guard contact information and coordinates to provide if they don’t hear back from you. Avoid going out alone during the winter. Bring a buddy.
- Dress for the weather. According to the American Boating Association, you should dress appropriately and prepare for getting wet. Bring a change of clothes and also bring warm blankets. Carry a dry sack to hold this potentially life-saving gear. Hypothermia is one of the top killers and you don’t necessarily have to fall into the ocean to get it. Sea spray can get you wet. Combine this with winds and you have a recipe for hypothermia. Worse, hypothermia can lead to confusion, clouding your judgment.
- Check your boat. Checking your boat for leaks, carrying extra fuel, and making sure that everything is in the best possible working order is much more important when you’re heading out in the winter. A small leak can lead to disaster when the water is cold. Check batteries. Bring chargers.
- Take a safety course. Many areas offer boating safety courses and some areas might even offer specialized courses for those who wish to boat in the winter. Learn about the risks of hypothermia and have knowledge about how to treat someone suffering from the early and late onset of the condition. A little knowledge can go a long way to saving your life or saving the lives of others.
While most people have winterized their boats by now, for some of us, the fun is just starting. Still, make sure that you are prepared for the worst and understand the risks of winter boating before you venture out.