Many people from the East Coast and Great Lakes regions ask whether we keep our boats in the water over winter. Yes – we do. While temperatures sometimes drop below freezing and snow does fall in the coastal areas each winter – the climate is mild enough to allow for year-round boating, if you have the right stuff. Check out our tips to prepare yourself and your crew.
- Clothing: While layers is always in order in the PNW, during winter, the layers you choose are more important than ever when the ambient temperature drops and you are exposed to the elements over long periods of time. In addition to the usual tips about baselayers and wind and rain protection, I always carry a couple of soft, comfortable scarves (wool or cashmere is the best here), I focus on hands and feet as my first line of defense against the cold.
- Gloves/Mittens & Lots of Socks: I have mittens I wear over my sailing gloves when I’m at the helm and don’t need to handle lines. I also have a fresh pair of fleecy, clean mittens I wear inside – many times to bed – so that I can keep my body temperature comfortable regardless of the temperature outside or inside when night falls. Having a couple of pairs also helps when one gets wet. Same for socks – I pack LOTS of socks. Nothing is worse than damp feet trapped in boots all day. Keeping my hands and feet warm, dry, and comfortable is the difference for me between a crisp, beautiful winter sail and just wishing it was all over.
- Shoes: Yes – you need good, waterproof deck shoes. But my big winter tip is SLIPPERS. I am partial to a tall fleecy boot that has an outdoor sole (yes, my UGGS go everywhere), but whatever you choose – don’t forget that there is more to a wonderful winter trip than being out in the elements. Wintertime brings solitude to the docks and anchorages here – and having a creature comforts, like your favorite apres-ski/sail shoes makes an enormous difference to me.
- Safety Drills: If you are a competent sailor or power boater, you have practiced person-overboard exercises and probably feel comfortable with the steps for returning to a person who has gone into the water. But in winter – every moment counts. You and your crew must understand your roles, where blankets and other items for hypothermic victims, the method for bringing people on board – and the importance of SLOWNESS. During an onboard emergency – every moment counts – but SLOW IS FAST. Assessing personal dangers before jumping in to help. Taking the time to discuss (and practice) how the group will handle emergencies, will make you and your crew safer and allow for a more relaxing journey.
- Hot Water Bottles: An old-school essential in my kit. I have one (actually 2) at the ready to keep my core warm (popping one down the front of my bibs on a long watch) and help me fall asleep on cold nights. That second bottle? One at the feet and one at the core at night is a dream – but the truth is that I bring it because there is always another crewmate who notices my trick. My spare bottle always brings a smile… and I don’t have to share.
- Hot Drinks: When it’s cold outside and you’re underway – warm, comforting drinks and easy hot food is a lifesaver. Cocos, teas, instant coffees, ramen, and large hands of ginger steeped in hot water – these are always within hands reach in my boat. There are lots of ways to add flair – peppermint sticks, green onion, nice honey, lemon and orange slices – the list is endless. These items don’t take up a lot of space in your bag. If you’ve been invited on a winter sail – surprising your crewmates with creative warm comforts like this will definitely get you
As you research ways to get the most out of winter sailing – check out these videos and articles to inspire you to enjoy an extended season:
Cruising World: Cold Weather Sailing
Sail Magazine: Winter Sailinghttps://sailingmagazine.net/article-2031-winter-sailing.html
Stay safe and have fun out there!
Tracy Sarich – Head Instructor (Canada), NW Yacht Group/Cooper Boating