With the water less crowded and the crisp air bracing you, winter sailing can be incredibly invigorating. As with everything beautiful, however, it does come with its own challenges and risks. With the change in weather, you’ll find yourself with a whole host of new worries when it comes to keeping your boat in top condition, which is why we have put together this short list of 5 winter sailing safety tips to take into account on top of your regular sailing precautions.
The dip in temperature will mean that things you normally give only a passing thought can have a huge impact on your trip. For instance, keeping your deck ice-free to prevent slipping is an obvious precaution and a quick brush over with some salt-water will save you a lot of hassle and any potential mishaps. Even after you have cleared away any ice can see, it’s a good idea to do a quick walk around your boat before you head off. After all, ice isn’t always visible and it’s better to risk slipping in when you’re close to land than when you’re out on the water.
Condensation below deck is a year-round issue but you can safely assume it’ll only get worse as the weather gets colder and the disparity between outdoor and indoor temperature grows. While it may not directly affect your sailing experience here and now, excess moisture can cause all sorts of long-term problems. For instance, damp environments are a fertile breeding ground for mould, which can be difficult to get rid of once it has a foothold.
In addition to damaging equipment and appearing unsightly, mould can have a negative effect on the health of those around it, especially if they are asthmatic. We recommend investing in a dehumidifier and cabin heater to make sure your time spent below deck is comfortable and enjoyable. At the very least, it’s worth getting a moisture absorber to help reduce the levels of moisture in the air.
While it’s not something a lot of sailors will need to think about, larger sailboats like the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey and Jeanneau Sun Fast will have a small inboard engine to assist when entering and leaving port. As something that is often taken for granted, keeping your engine fueled and running is a minor but important step.
Before setting sail, make sure that your fuel and water tanks are topped up, which can be an issue with fuel berths operating less frequently and water refill points potentially freezing over. While your engine is at very low risk of freezing over, it is a point to bear in mind and making sure you have some marine engine antifreeze on hand to run through the system is an easy precaution to take. With the added difficulty of starting a diesel engine in the winter, you should also make sure your batteries are recharged and ready to face the increased strain.
It seems obvious but something to consider when sailing in the winter will always be the change in temperature. Even if it seems like a manageable temperature in the morning, that can shift and not necessarily in your favour. Making sure that you have appropriate clothing and suitable coverage for the conditions should be your first concern when planning a sailing trip.
This goes further when you remember that any ambient temperature change is going to be even more apparent when you’re out on open water with nothing to act as a windbreak. The best advice we can give is to wear lots of thin layers rather than a couple of bulky ones but top it all off with a lightweight waterproof jacket. The thinner layers will trap air between them to keep you warm and will restrict your movement a lot less than the thicker layers would.
While always essential attire, lifejackets and personal flotation devices are especially so in Winter. Falling overboard is always a risk and you will want every advantage possible should you suddenly finding yourself in freezing cold water. A lot of sailors shy away from wearing life preservers as they can hinder movement and be uncomfortable and in these cases, we recommend waistbelt PFDs. While they may not keep wearers safe as readily as traditional buoyancy aids, they are comfortable to wear, quick to deploy, and considerably better than nothing.
Being in the water isn’t the only time you have to worry about being wet. It’s hard to stay completely dry when sailing at any time of year, but it goes without saying that with Winter comes an increased chance of rain. At best, spending time in clothes that are cold and wet will negatively impact your sailing experience, but there is also the risk of hypothermia that you’re better off avoiding. ‘Prevention is better than cure’, as they say, which is the aforementioned lightweight waterproof jacket is so essential. However, they also say ‘hope for the best; prepare for the worst’, which is why it is equally important to bring a towel and a change of clothes along too.