Cold Water Boating

rick iceBoating in the summer is one thing, but boating in the early spring is another—particularly after this past winter with the Great Lakes totally frozen over. The early spring water is just above freezing with ice still floating is some areas. Hypothermia is a real possibility and you should avoid it at all costs. The water temperature is only 5° to 7° Celsius or 40° to 43° Fahrenheit—that is non-survival cold!

Thanks Rick for sending this picture of you holding a chunck of ice on Lake Huron on May 18 2015.

On your first cruise of the season, you are still sorting out procedures, lines etc. You’re still rusty and un-rehearsed.

Consider these three Cold Water Tips to help you stay out of the unforgiving icy water lurking invisibly around your boat, like a hungry shark just below the surface.

Scenerio #1

You’ve just been launched at the ramp or travel lift, and pushed free into the fairway. You’re alone onboard your boat heading for your dock; but, you don’t have your fenders and lines set. They are still stored in the cockpit. The wind is blowing hard enough, that you don’t want to chance a single-handed docking without your fenders hung, and there’s no one near your dock to catch your boat. Now what?

You consider idling and drifting around the harbor as you tear around the deck like a madman, tying then reaiming your boat, repeatedly. You know the water is mighty cold and that it would be disastrous to trip and fall overboard. So, how do you stay safe, while hanging your fenders and tying your dock lines on your cleats?

Tip #1

Whenever I am faced with this situation, I have a procedure that keeps me safe and gives me lots of time to calmly prepare for docking.

  • As in all bad weather, put on your pfd or life jacket.
  • Pick an empty dock or pier where the wind is blowing off of it.
  • Attach one stern line to a stern cleat by putting the eye through the cleat and over the horns, so you know it will not jump off on you.
  • Back in to the chosen cleat or post (preferably port because you can see that corner better).
  • Once close enough for you to reach the dock cleat, shift into neutral.
  • Carefully and quickly, step onto the swim platform and flip the Stern Flipp Line over the dock cleat or post. Be sure to hold on with one hand to a rail or handhold at all times for safety.hang in the wind
  • Tie the bitter end back to your stern cleat with a figure eight cleat hitch. (Leaving enough slack that your boat hangs well clear of the dock as shown.)
  • Now, you can relax. Take your time to hang all your fenders with a round turn and 2 half hitches and attach all your dock lines to your boat cleats.
  • Hang out here as long as you need to, because you will hang safely in the wind, like a windsock.
  • Check your cockpit sole to verify there is nothing to trip on, before you untie your stern line and head for your dock.

This simple procedure is also a lifesaver, when you need to ride out a storm. Just secure your bow or stern line (depending on the boat) into the wind. The stern (your control end) is better and safer, because of the improved visibility and communication. See the Advanced Docking Lessons for complete and detailed instructions for this procedure and many others.

So, if you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t panic.

Ride it out! Enjoy cold-water boating.

Scenerio #2

Finally, a nice warm day shortly after launch, and after you’ve completed your “Spring Checklist” that we emailed you a few weeks ago; your First Mate is anxious to get away from the dock to enjoy a short early spring cruise, even though the water is still mighty cold.

You pull away from your dock and head out into open water beyond the harbor entrance. Your First Mate goes forward to pull up the fenders and secure the bow line, as she did during the warmth of last summer. The difference, in the early spring, is that the water is darn cold.

There’s a chop causing the bow to rise and fall. If she trips and falls overboard out in cold open water, the speed of your unpracticed man-overboard procedure will be too slow.

So, what do you two do to raise the fenders, yet keep safe?

Tip #2

circle the harbourI suggest you circle around the calm harbor before going out, for as long as she needs to raise the fenders, and store the dock lines. The chances of tripping and falling are greatly reduced within the calm confines of the harbor.

Once she is safely back in the cockpit with the fenders raised, then head out for your short spring cruise—enjoy the sunshine and your boat. Stay safely aboard to enjoy many more cruises together.

Upon return to the calm waters of the harbor, your First Mate can re-hang the fenders with a round turn and 2 half hitches. When she is ready, then you can head for your dock. No rush. No slip. No fall. Enjoy cold water boating.

Scenerio #3

You and your crew are planning a cruise to your familiar anchorage for an early spring visit. Since the water has just shed the ice, you aren’t planning to swim, or even dangle your feet in the frigid water from the swim platform.

With the water so cold, you are concerned with your First Mate going forward to lower and raise the anchor. What if she trips on the side deck and falls overboard?

Tip #3

Keep your First Mate safely aboard, while forward of the cockpit.

harness tether
jack line

If you have a harness and tether like on many sailboats, use that. Sailors use harnesses, tethers and a jack lines to stay aboard. Power boaters should also use safety lines especially in the spring, when sending your First Mate forward to handle the anchor and line. Put the harness on your First Mate, then clip the harness tether to the jackline.

If you do not have a harness, you can use a couple of dock lines to rig these.

  • Before leaving your dock, rig a life line or jack line from the cockpit to the forward point of the bow rail. Tie it tightly with a round turn and 2 half hitches in both ends.
  • Tie a bowline snuggly around her waist to create a harness.
  • Tie a second bowline around the jackline to create a tether.

Tie them short, so if there’s a fall, she can’t slip past the bow rail and stanchions, yet long enough to reach the anchor and cockpit. This combination will allow her to move from the cockpit to the anchor, but not overboard

Set it all up at your dock and insist that she does a couple of practice walk-throughs to verify the lengths and tautness are correct for both movement and safety.

Alternatively, contact or (519) 538-2887 to order your adjustable safety harness, tether and jackline. There are different sizes and prices, so talk to Doug.


Stay Safely Aboard

These three Cold Water Tips will help keep you and your First Mate safely on the deck and out of that icy water.


Stay Safe. Enjoy Cold Water Boating.


FLIPP Line – Described in detail in all Introductory Docking e-Lessons

Jacklines, Harnesses and Tethers – For more information and to order, email or call (519) 538-2887

Tying and Using Knots e-Lesson click here

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