Guide to Boating in the Winter

A man driving a boat with a bubble vest in the colder weather

The balmy summer days have come to their inevitable end. A farewell to the warm season means saying goodbye to sipping cocktails on the deck in summer clothing and swimming in warm waters without a care. Does it also mean the end of boating for the year? 

The quick answer is — not at all! You may have to trade in the sun’s warmth on your face for a brisk, bracing breeze and the swimming gear for cozier clothing, but winter boating is both beautiful and rewarding in its own right. So get ready to exchange the warm summer glow for a clear winter day and climb aboard. 

Let’s look at some boating tips for the winter and touch on a bit of winter boating safety to help you ensure you’re safe and warm enough to truly enjoy the experience.

18 Tips for Safe Boating in the Winter

Safe boating is always a priority, but you may need to modify your summer safety plans to accommodate your winter boating safety needs. There are hazards to look out for in winter boating you don’t have to worry too much about in summer. Consider these tips and tricks below for your ultimate guide to how to boat in the winter. 

1. Keep Your Battery Charged

As the temperature drops, batteries of all descriptions have a harder time working. Like many people, they require extra power to get up and running in the colder months. 

A faulty battery is the last thing you need when you’re out on the water, so it’s best to leave your battery alone when you’re not using it. Instead, you can top up the charge in several ways:

  • Take it home: After a day on the water, disconnect your battery and take it home so you can keep it charged there. 
  • Buy a trickle charger: Trickle chargers supply a constant charge to batteries, whether they’re fully charged or not. If you’re just boating on weekends, the trickle charger won’t allow any ebb in your battery’s charge.
  • Install a solar panel: Much like a trickle charger, a solar panel will use sunlight to top up any charge deficit in your battery.

2. Avoid Condensation

Condensation is one of the trickiest things to avoid in winter. A warm boat interior and colder temperatures outside are a perfect recipe for condensation inside the boat. Leaving condensation unaddressed can lead to mold, which is dangerous and expensive to remove. 

Flowing air is condensation’s nemesis, so maintain the airflow through your boat whenever possible. Insulate your boat’s interior and windows, and consider using a dehumidifier overnight. 

3. Check the Engine Before the Cold Comes on

Take time to check your machine in case it requires tuneups or repairs

Your engine is under increased pressure in winter temperatures — the colder it becomes, the more difficult it is for your motor to start. Before the winter comes in earnest, take the time to check your machine in case it requires tuneups or repairs. Ensure you also top up on antifreeze and coolant to be safe. 

4. Change Your Oil

Consider draining your oil and replacing it with a winter-friendly solution. Using a formula intended for colder weather can help ensure your engine’s parts remain properly lubricated despite the drop in temperature. 

5. Inspect Your Boat for Leaks

A small leak here or there may not sound like a big deal, but it’s crucial to remember that water expands as it freezes. If water gets into a tiny leak and freezes there, it could cause more severe damage than you realize. Imagine what could happen if this process repeats itself throughout the cold season! 

6. Check the Portholes, Drains and Seacocks

Do your first check for leaks as winter boating begins and additional periodic inspections throughout the season. Ensure all the plugs are in place and repair or replace any damaged seals. Again, any water that comes in can freeze and expand, damaging your boat’s integrity and creating slippery surfaces that could lead to injury.

7. De-Ice the Decks

Before heading out of the marina be sure to remove all ice from the decking

Frozen decks can be an accident waiting to happen. Before heading out of the marina for the day, be sure to remove all the ice from the decking. You can use seawater to melt the ice and a sweeping brush to clear away the excess. Remember to wear solid footwear with a good grip and tread carefully when you’re de-icing. 

8. De-Ice the Docks

Your decks aren’t the only icy areas you’ll find on winter boating adventures! Jetties, pontoons and quays are also potential hazards, especially if untreated. Water and a firm scrubbing brush should do the trick, but you may also want to consider adding some safety railing systems to your docks. Easy-to-maintain mooring solutions with nonslip surfaces are also worth looking at in the long term. 

9. Keep Your Rigging, Sails and Lines Dry

Keep your lines as dry as possible. Once your lines have touched the decks and absorbed water, they can freeze overnight, making them stiff and swollen. Unwieldy lines will cause you difficulties, as moving them through rope clutches and blocks will be more challenging. 

When it comes to halyards and sheets, try to get them off the open decking using ventilated bags. Consider removing headsails and spinnakers and taking them home after a day on the water so they can dry properly before you use them again. Storing them on board could result in mold. 

10. Conduct General Safety Checks

Top up your first aid kid and always have it on board

Ensure all your safety equipment is in good working order, including your life jackets. Some docks may maintain shorter hours or close in the winter, so fill up on gas before you set out. Top up your first aid kit, and always have it on board. Take special care to make sure the following equipment is available and working:

  • Anchor
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Tow Lines
  • Air Horn
  • Flares

You’ll also want to ensure you have plenty of blankets, fresh, warm clothes and other essential items you might need in case you have to remain on board for longer than expected. 

11. Consider a Cabin Heater

You may need a cabin heater, depending on where you are and how long you intend to go out. Winter boating enthusiasts can choose from many different heating options, some of which could double up as anti-condensation aids. 

When you’re on the water, diesel or air-blown heaters will be most effective as long as you have a full tank of gas and your battery is fully charged. 

12. Check Your Paperwork

You may already be in the habit of checking your registration at the beginning of a new season. If not, you’ll want to double-check that your registration papers are in order and check with your insurance company to ensure you’re adequately insured for the winter. 

13. Keep a VHF Radio on Board

If you don’t already have one, consider purchasing one of these handy two-way radios. They transmit over a long range and don’t require much power. If you get into trouble on the water, you can send out an emergency distress call on channel 16. 

14. Watch the Weather

Wind chill in the winter months can be miserable if the wind is howling

Inclement weather can be a serious concern. While light winds are enjoyable for winter boating, the wind chill in the winter months can be pretty miserable if the wind is howling. 

It’s also easy to forget about the dangers of sunburn when it’s cold. Just because you don’t feel the heat on your skin the same way doesn’t mean you aren’t burning. The sun’s glare off of flat winter water can actually enhance the sun’s effects, so keep your sunglasses and sunscreen close at hand. 

Finally, if there’s any chance of the weather turning, it’s usually best to save your boating trip for another day. 

15. Plan Shorter Trips

Daylight hours are limited in winter, so you may have to adjust the length of your voyages to avoid coming home in the cold and dark. If you’re a first-time off-season boater, try sticking to daylight voyages. Your speeds will generally be lower and the winds lighter, so plan trips carefully. 

If you’d like to be out on the water a bit longer, leave earlier so you can still come back to port in the daylight. 

16. Keep Good Company

Don’t go out alone on the waters in the winter months. Use the buddy system for safety, as a boating companion will be there to help you if you need it. It’s also more enjoyable to share your boating experience with others. Good company and extra safety all in one — what could be better? 

Even with company, you should let a third party know where you’re going and how long you plan to be out on the water. If you need help or fall out of communication for any reason, this person will know to expect you and be able to take action if you don’t return on time. 

17. Watch for Hazards

Drive a little slower so you have plenty of time to navigate hazards if they do leap out in front of you

Water levels are often lower in winter, bringing hazards closer to the surface. Regardless of how well you know the water, it’s essential to keep an eye out for risks that may not have been visible before the off-season. 

Ask your boating buddy to help with keeping watch. Drive a little slower so you have plenty of time to navigate hazards if they do leap out in front of you. 

18. Stay Prepared

No one wants to go overboard into frigid waters, but as we know, sometimes accidents happen when boating. Ensure you’ve taken every precaution in case someone does go overboard: 

  • Be aware of the signs of hypothermia and how you can help. 
  • Always err on the side of caution and keep warm clothes, energy-replenishing food and heat sources on board.
  • While you may want to warm them up as quickly as possible, it’s safest to bring their body back to normal temperature slowly. 

What to Wear on a Winter Boat Ride

What to wear on a boat when it’s cold might seem obvious, but there’s more to it than just warm clothing. Of course, you want to stay warm and cozy, but your winter boating wardrobe must also be helpful and comfortable. You and your fellow boaters must be as safe and dry as possible, so here’s a quick breakdown of some ideal winter boating attire. 

Layer Up

Layer up when boating in cold weather

You’ll want to protect your head and neck from the cold and a woolen hat is a great place to start. Be sure you buy one long enough to cover your ears and protect them from cold winds. A ski mask is another option that will also protect your neck, but if that isn’t your style, a spare wool scarf will do wonders to keep you warm and protected against moisture. 

When it comes to your body, have one word on your mind — layers. When you think you have enough layers, add another. The most important layers include the following:

  • Base layer: Your base layer is the clothing that sits against your skin, and a high-quality base layer will do more than provide insulation. Look for fabric designed with moisture wicking, which means it moves water off the surface of your skin. You can get tops, leggings and even socks to assemble your ideal boating base layer. 
  • Mid layer: These garments keep you warm — as the name implies, you’ll wear them between your base layer and waterproofs. Fleece mid-layers are a common choice, but you can choose the most comfortable alternative. 
  • Outer layer: Now that you’re insulated, you’ll need to ensure you also stay dry. Most outer layers are waterproof and wind-resistant, providing a last line of defense from the winter elements. The more breathable your outer layer, the more comfort you can expect on your trip. Jackets and salopettes are the most common outer layer alternatives. 

Protect Your Extremities

Hand and footwear are essential on a boat in the winter. Having cold extremities can be unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst. 

Rubber boots will do an excellent job of keeping your feet dry, but they don’t do much in the warmth department. On the other hand, fleece-lined rubber boots are an excellent solution that ticks both boxes. Add a pair of warm socks for the finishing touch. 

Keeping your hands warm can be trickier, as most boaters need to be able to use their fingers and thick gloves limit your mobility. If you’re relaxing on the boat, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a pair of soft mittens. However, fingerless gloves could provide the perfect happy medium if you need to be a little more dexterous. 

Try a Dry Suit

A dry suit consists of layers of insulating fabric perfect for offshore sailing or inclement weather

While you don’t have to have a dry suit for all conditions, it’s worth having one for specific situations. A dry suit consists of layers of insulating fabric, perfect for offshore sailing or inclement weather. These suits seal around the neck and wrists to prevent any water from permeating your layers and making you uncomfortable. 

A dry suit is an ideal option if you’re planning to get in the water for any reason, such as swimming or fishing. Not only will it keep you dry, but it will also warm you up. 

Consider Your Activities

What you wear on a winter boat trip will depend on what you plan to do while on the water. Whatever activities you have planned, ensure you have all the clothing and accessories you need to make them enjoyable. Valuable additions to your winter boating wardrobe include the following: 

  • Bibs: Though they aren’t required, bibs will make winter fishing much more comfortable. They cover your pants and base layer, keeping them dry and protected and adding an extra layer of warmth for winter fishing.
  • Waders: If you’re planning on walking in the water, waders are non-negotiable. Neoprene waders will give you an extra level of insulation for cold water. 
  • Wetsuits: A dry suit might work if you’d like to swim in the water, but consider a wet suit as well. Though it won’t keep you dry, it will warm up the water between the suit and your skin, allowing you to maintain a decent body temperature while diving. 
  • Windproof attire: If you’re considering a leisurely sightseeing trip, your basic boating clothes should do the trick. However, it’s very tempting to open the throttle out on the quiet water when it’s safe to do so. Consider goggles instead of sunglasses for extra wind protection. 
  • Blankets: If your boating trip is less active, be sure you’re prepared to get a bit chilly toward the end of the day. Pack plenty of extra layers and blankets for your legs.

What to Take on a Boat in Winter

Everyone on board should have a life jacket and a wearable personal floatation device

It pays to be prepared and having a checklist of essentials can be extremely helpful if you’re boating in the winter. Bringing some items along can change an average chilly boating excursion into one that’s warm, cozy and comfortable. 

Some things you can bring along to make your time on the water safer and more comfortable include the following:

  • Floatation devices: Everyone on board should have a life jacket and a wearable personal floatation device (PFD). Ensure you have throwable flotation devices aboard as well. 
  • Communications devices: Always have your phone and a VHF radio while on the water. 
  • Signaling devices: If you get into trouble, you’ll want to be able to communicate as fast as possible. Ensure you have flares and an air horn to help others find you and let them know you need assistance. 
  • Hand and feet warmers: Gloves and thick socks are essential, but having warmers inside your gloves can make all the difference. Consider electric socks to keep your feet warm as well. Hot water bottles inside your jacket or under a lap blanket will also be beneficial. 
  • Dry clothing and extra blankets: Ensure everyone on board has a change of clothes. Seal the clothes in waterproof plastic and pack several extra blankets for yourself and your passengers. 
  • Food: Whether you’re planning to have a full meal or just want something to munch on, pack plenty of food. Having food aboard raises people’s energy levels and warm food will help fend off the cold. 
  • Warm drinks: It’s lovely to share a cup of something warm when you’re sailing in the cold air. Pack plenty of tea, coffee and hot chocolate. 

What to Expect When Boating in the Winter

People often associate boating with the warmer parts of the year, but there are multiple benefits to spending time on the water in winter. The experience isn’t quite the same — but that’s half the fun! There’s a lot to enjoy in winter boating, including:

  • Less congestion: Many people pack their boats away at the end of fall. Those who don’t can enjoy quieter waters, which are safer and allow freedom of movement that lets you feel the wind in your hair. 
  • Better sightseeing: Even if you’re boating in a familiar place, when you take to the water in winter you get to see all the sights in a different light. You’ll have the chance to discover beauty and tranquility you didn’t even know existed. 
  • Different fishing opportunities: No matter how cold it gets, the fish are still there. While you might have to adapt your fishing style, you can take on a new challenge with winter fishing. 

Take your sense of adventure with you, use your imagination and enjoy some experiences you’d never imagine in the summer. You can spend quality time with your loved ones, have a picnic on the water, try fishing, enjoy nature and relax in your boat. However you choose to boat in the winter, you’ll find something you love about the experience. 

Learn About EZ Dock Floating Docks for When the Temperatures Warm Up

As the weather warms up again, you can look for a more portable and less high-maintenance dock for your summer boating requirements. At EZ Dock, we can help you find the perfect port or dock for your needs. Enjoy our durable, barefoot-friendly, low-maintenance products anywhere in the United States next summer. 

EZ Dock has served a wide range of commercial, government and private customers worldwide. Whatever your boating requirements, you’ll find what you’re looking for in our wide range of products and accessories

Please feel free to reach out to us to discover how we can help you or request a quote online and let us help you make the most of your boating next summer. 

Learn about EZ Dock floating docks for when the temperatures warm up