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9 Crucial Tips on How to Protect Yourself
When Boating in Cold Waters

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

Schmidt & Clark, LLP is not currently accepting these types of cases and has posted this content for information purposes only. We encourage you to seek a qualified attorney, if you feel you might have a case.

Cold-weather boating can be an exhilarating experience, offering unique wildlife encounters and serene landscapes. However, it also presents challenges and risks that require proper preparation and preventive measures.

As an experienced legal attorney with a background in cold water accident cases, I will provide valuable tips for staying safe while boating in cold waters. These essential insights cover everything from monitoring weather conditions to having first-aid supplies.

Quick Summary

  • Check the weather and water temperature, file a float plan, and load up with safety equipment before boating in cold waters.
  • Prepare for the worst by layering clothing, carrying communication devices, and maintaining batteries.
  • Let someone know your destination, prepare a first aid kit with essential items, and familiarize yourself with hypothermia prevention tips to ensure safe boating in cold conditions.

9 Tips on How to Protect Oneself When Boating in Cold Waters

Cold water boating can be particularly risky due to the threat of hypothermia and the body's rapid heat loss in such conditions.

However, with the right preparation and safety measures, you can still enjoy boating in cold waters while minimizing these risks.

1. Check the Weather and Water Temperature

A person checking the weather using a smartphoneMonitoring the weather and water temperature is imperative before and while on your cold water boating trip. Generally, cold water is defined as water below 70 degrees, which can be influenced by cold air. 

Staying informed about the weather and water temperature helps you make informed decisions about your boating plans and ensures that you're well-prepared for any changes in conditions [1].

In addition to checking the local weather forecast, regularly monitor water, air, and core temperatures while you're out on the water.

Remember that optimal boating conditions require the combined air and water temperature not to exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. File a Float Plan

A man filing a float plan

Completing a float plan is crucial for maintaining your safety during cold water boating [2].

A float plan is a document that outlines vital information about your boating excursion, including:

  • Personal and vessel details
  • Safety equipment
  • Expected location
  • Trip duration

Providing this information to emergency responders can be invaluable in locating you in an emergency.

3. Load Up with Safety Equipment

A boat with life vests as safety equipment

Although safety equipment is significant for any boating journey, it becomes even more vital in cold water conditions.

A life jacket is a key piece of safety equipment, as it:

  • Helps keep your head above water if you fall overboard
  • Assists in maintaining heat in your body's core areas
  • Significantly increases your chances of survival

In addition to life jackets, other essential safety items for cold water boating include thermal blankets, which can treat hypothermia symptoms if someone on board suffers from the condition.

Search and Rescue (S.A.R.) life jackets with additional features like whistles, S.O.L.A.S. reflective tape, and pockets for storing an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or handheld V.H.F. radio are also highly recommended [3].

4. Prepare for the Worst

A top view of emergency supplies

While considering worst-case scenarios is unpleasant, preparing for emergencies becomes necessary when boating in cold waters.

Ensure you know the location of all safety devices on your boat, such as:

  • V.H.F. radios
  • G.P.S.
  • Emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs)
  • Personal locator beacons (PLBs)

Pack extra supplies for emergencies, such as:

  • blankets
  • food
  • water
  • warm clothes
  • hot water bottles

Having these items on hand can significantly affect your survival chances should an unexpected situation arise.

"Choose to always wear a life jacket, it can literally save your life. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates 80% of boating fatalities could have been prevented if people wore their life jackets."
- Washington State Parks

5. Layer Up

A man wearing layers of clothing for cold weather

Being dressed properly is fundamental for cold water boating safety.

Here are the key layers to consider:

  1. Base layer: Start with a base layer of synthetic fabric like polyester or wool, which helps wick moisture away from your skin.
  2. Insulating layer: Add an insulating layer, such as fleece or wool, to provide warmth.
  3. Outer layer: Finish with a waterproof and windproof outer layer to shield against the elements.

By layering your clothing this way, you can retain the body's core temperature and protect yourself from the cold water temperature and air temperature.

6. Carry a V.H.F. Radio or Communication Device

A man using a communication device

A V.H.F. radio or communication device is indispensable for cold water boating safety.

These devices allow you to call for help and communicate with other vessels, marinas, Coast Guard, bridges, and relevant parties.

Before embarking on your cold water boating adventure, make sure to:

  • Please familiarize yourself with the device and its features.
  • Learn proper radio etiquette.
  • Understand the various channels available.
  • Regularly inspect the battery and antenna connections to ensure your V.H.F. radio or communication device functions properly.

7. Maintain Your Batteries

A black battery for boatsMaintaining your batteries is vital for the optimal functioning of your boat's electrical systems, particularly in cold water conditions.

Inspect your batteries for signs of corrosion or damage, and clean the terminals with a wire brush if necessary.

Check the electrolyte levels of your batteries using a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the electrolyte.

Additionally, verify the proper functioning of your boat's charging system by checking the voltage with a multimeter.

8. Tell Someone Where You Are

You should notify a reliable individual about your boating plans and location as a precaution for emergencies.

Ensure you provide them with your intended destination, expected return time, and other relevant information.

9. Prep a First-Aid Kit

A close up shot of first aid kit

Having a well-stocked first-aid kit is indispensable for cold-water boating safety.

Essential items include:

  • Scissors
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • First-aid cream
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Sting relief


What Should You Do if You Suddenly Find Yourself in Cold Water on a Boat?

If you suddenly find yourself in cold water on a boat, you should control your breathing to reduce the risk of cold shock. Wear a lifejacket, which provides buoyancy and insulation to help you stay afloat. Use the Heat Escape Lessening Position (H.E.L.P.), which involves crossing your arms over your chest and bringing your knees to your chest to minimize heat loss from your body.

How Do You Prevent Hypothermia On A Boat?

You prevent hypothermia on a boat by dressing correctly and layering clothes that offer insulation and retain heat. This includes wearing a personal flotation device, moisture-wicking base layers, and waterproof outer layers. 

How Can I Last Longer In Cold Water?

You can last longer in cold water by conserving energy and maintaining body heat. One way to do this is through cold water immersion, which involves minimizing physical activity and remaining stationary, only swimming or paddling when necessary.

If You're Involved In A Boating Accident, Contact Us Today

Even experienced boaters can face accidents, which become exceedingly challenging in cold water conditions. If you're involved in a boating accident, seek professional help.

Our team at Schmidt & Clark, LLP is equipped to provide the resources and advice needed to ensure your safety, as well as the safety of others. Don't hesitate to contact us for a free lawsuit evaluation after a cold water boating accident.