Winter Boating Safety

With fall wrapping up and winter weather already rearing its head, many boaters are dry docking and winterizing for the cold season. However, cold weather doesn’t need to stop your fun on the water! There are some who will venture out through the frigid months, despite the colder air and water temperatures. If you love the water like we do, not even freezing wind can keep you away. When asked about Winter on Chickamauga Lake, former Forrest Wood Cup Champion Jacob Wheeler said, “Winter is absolutely the best time to hook up with a fish in the 7- to 10-pound class. A lot of days you might only get four or five bites, but I guarantee they will collectively weigh well over 20 pounds.”

Even though you might drive less on the water in the winter months, safety is still important, maybe even more so. In chilly conditions, planning and preparation look different than the warmer months, but are just as critical to water safety. Here are some tips to remember if you venture out for a winter ride.

  1. Tell someone your plans for the day

You can tell your mom, your neighbor, or the fine folks at Island Cove Marina! All that matters is that someone knows where you’re planning to go, and how long you plan on being out. That way, in an emergency situation, someone knows where to point the rescue efforts. In the winter, you never know if a rogue piece of ice or shallow waters could disrupt your plans. Being stuck on the water during frigid whether isn’t just uncomfortable, it can be incredibly dangerous. Leave the details of your fishing trip with someone you can trust and try to check in if you’ll be gone all day.

  1. Communication is key

Before you go out, make sure you have something to communicate with. A standard very high frequency (VHF) radio will allow you to easily call rescuers and let them know where you are should anything happen while you’re out on the water. Don’t trust your cell phone, because they don’t always receive a signal in some parts of the water.

  1. Forget the air and dress for the water

No matter what kind of weather is in the sky, the water temperature is more important. Sunny and clear in the winter won’t keep the water temperature from getting down near freezing. Make sure you’ve got the right kind of equipment and clothing that will keep you warm and not weigh you down should you wind up in the water.

  1. Know the 1-10-1 Rule

Speaking of being in the water, it’s important to know the basics of cold water immersion. These could be the difference between life and death. If you wind up in the frigid waters, remember the following:

1 – After you are submerged in freezing water, you have one minute              to get your breathing under control and get your bearings back. Your body will respond differently to cold water shock. If you can’t control your breathing after a minute, your chances of drowning increase significantly.


10 – After you’ve regrouped and controlled your breathing, you need to do 10 minutes of meaningful movement to help you recover. Anything past 10 minutes and you could lose feeling and movement in your extremities and greatly diminish your chances of recovering yourself.


1 – If you’re in the water it could take an hour to go unconscious due to hypothermia. If you can keep your airway clear and continue to move, it can be delayed longer.

  1. Remember all general boating rules

Everyone needs to wear a lifejacket. Don’t drive under the influence. Maintain awareness at all times. Even if you’re a seasoned captain in the warmer weather, cold weather requires more focus while out on the water. Don’t leave anything to chance. Stay safe and have fun out on a winter ride!