Winter is just a few weeks away, but for diehard boaters, cold water won't stop them from sailing — as evidenced by the boats still docked in the water at marinas around the country. If you're one of those folks who are ready for a water adventure despite the cold weather, read on and take note of some tips to keep you prepared for the chilly climate.
File a float plan.
For recreational purposes, boating trips only last for a few hours or half a day, especially in cold weather. In such cases, all you have to do is to give your trip details to family and friends. However, if you are going on a longer voyage, you must fill out an official float plan with the local marina or a boating club. These plans can also be left with friends and family to provide a more accurate account of the course.
A float plan is important because, without one, your loved ones may not have vital information needed to communicate details to rescue workers in the event of an untoward boating incident. Regardless of the size of your vessel, you must develop a float plan. Your plan should precisely identify your boat's appearance, the names of all crew members and passengers for the trip, an itinerary of onboard safety equipment, and list all the stages of your voyage. These details will allow you to set a date and time at which it should become worrisome for your boat to have not yet reached its destination.
Make use of your life jacket.
It is wrong to think that life jackets are only for kids or those who can't swim. In fact, the best way to survive an accident on cold water is to wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. It will keep the head above the water in case of an accidental immersion. The life jacket will also keep the victim afloat. In the event that someone is unable to rescue himself/herself, a life jacket can provide some thermal protection against the start of hypothermia and keep the victim afloat until rescue arrives.
Even if you are a good swimmer, your skills have little relationship to the ability to swim in cold water. According to a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, it is impossible to not die from hypothermia in cold water unless you are wearing an approved flotation device. Without flotation, you won't live long enough if you have become hypothermic, which will ultimately cause you to drown.
Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.
Most of the time, when the air temperatures remain normal at 60 degrees, the water temperatures stay at about 10-15 degrees lower. If you are forced into the water for whatever reason, your chances of survival decrease if you failed to wear the proper clothing. Cold water drains a body's heat up to 25 times faster than cold air, according to a Coast Guard deputy commander. In addition to a life jacket, USCG recommends boaters wear a dry suit in a cold water environment in order to increase the chances of surviving immersion into the water. Avoid wearing cotton, which is one of the worst things you can wear when it's cold and damp because it absorbs water and reduces body temperature much more quickly than other materials.
Prepare your communication devices.
Before going out into the waters, be sure to carry a personal locator beacon in addition to a marine-grade VHF radio. Cellphones may not always have great reception in some areas you may be going, so be prepared to carry extra equipment in the event of distress. These devices will alert the Coast Guard and local safety agencies in case of an emergency. Look for a waterproof, hand-held model that can be worn.
Also, make sure you have all required safety gear, including visual distress signals, a fire extinguisher, and a sound-producing device. Have a whistle, a compass, or a visual distress signal handy by attaching them to your life jacket, so they're easily accessible during an emergency.
In addition, be sure to pack your emergency kit with fresh batteries, a fully stocked first aid kit that includes an easy-to-read first aid manual, medicines, thermometer, flashlight, multi-tool, safety pins, and scissors.
If you can't boat in the winter, that is a great time to make upgrades to your boat including your overhead lights.