Simple tips for boating safely in cooler weather

When the weather cools off in Florida, it’s kind of a glorious time of year.  It’s a time where you can take a break from the heat and enjoy wearing the occasional jacket or long-sleeved shirt. 

This is actually our favorite time of year to go boating… but it’s going to be a little different experience from rest of the year.  When you’re preparing to go boating this winter, make sure you use these tips to stay safe in the slightly cooler weather.

Dress for the cooler temps

The first place to start is to prepare for a day on the water with the right clothing.  You might usually wear your swimsuits, shorts, t-shirts, and sunglasses and call it a day, but you can’t do that in the winter.

Photo from: Terry Bone; Source:  Flikr

Photo from: Terry Bone; Source: Flikr

You need to wear enough clothing to cover up your whole body, especially since the temperature in a running boat will be colder than it would be inland.  You may even need to cover your head, neck, ears, and hands if the clouds arrive.  Choose water-wicking base layers and waterproof outer layers.

If an accident were to happen and you were in the water this winter, having enough clothing on will keep your body temperature safe until help can arrive.  This is why you should dress for the water, not for the weather.

It’s also important to have extra clothing on board inside a waterproof bag in the event that you get wet or it’s colder than expected, and you should also have your fully-charged phones in a sealed plastic bag in case of emergency.  Don’t forget to pack things to keep your insides warm too, like warm beverages and snacks like energy bars.

Water safety

Just like you would need any other time of year, you need to make sure you’re wearing a life jacket this winter.  Falling into the water at this time of year is much more dangerous and your body can go into shock from the cold.  Of course, you don’t want to risk drowning any time of year, so be sure to always have a properly-fitting life jacket ready to go for each passenger.

Don’t forget sun protection

Just because it’s winter in Jacksonville doesn’t mean you can’t get too much sun.  Be sure to bring sun protection like hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and clothing that covers your skin.  After a few hours in the sun, be sure to apply sunscreen before a burn comes on.

Why winter can be dangerous for boating in Jacksonville

While boating all year is one of the best perks of Florida living, you do have some risks that you wouldn’t see the rest of the year.  Falling into the water in the summer would feel good, but in the winter it’s dangerous with the cold temperatures.  You could experience cold shock which causes hyperventilation, panic, and an increased heart rate due to the automatic gasp reflex your body experiences in the sudden cold water.

Of course, being in the water for too long, such as 30 minutes or longer, can lead to the serious danger of hypothermia.  Being in the cold water for an extended period of time could make you lose muscle coordination which causes swimming failure.

Be sure to have a protocol to signal for help in an emergency and avoid trying to swim back to the boat so that you don’t drown trying to tread water.  Having a contact that knows where you’re going to be and for how long will help to make sure someone is notified if there appears to be an emergency situation.

While boating in the winter can be a wonderful experience, unlike the hot boating experience you’ll have most of the year, it’s important to be prepared for this different experience.  Prepare your passengers by having the right supplies on board, knowledge of how to handle the water should you go overboard, and the right mindset going into a day on the water during the coolest time of year.