Now that we are rolling into January it is a good time to review winter boating safety. Our next tournament is coming up on January 16th so we have a couple weeks to prepare. This is not necessarily a comprehensive list of every possible thing that could/should be considered. I will review this information on our January Zoom meeting. In the event I inadvertently left something important off this list please bring it up during our Zoom meeting. Also, many of these pointers are relevant all the time every month of the year. It is just with winter it could be a matter of survival if something happened that we were not prepared for while on the water.
1. Maintenance: Keep your boat and motor maintained including your trailer and tires. A breakdown on a cold road is no picnic either. More specific areas to monitor are listed below.
2. Batteries: If your batteries are old and getting weak they will certainly fail you in cold weather. Maintain and test your batteries as needed to avoid problems. Also, if your boat does not have a switch to allow you to jump start your starting battery from your trolling motor batteries, keep jumper cables in the boat. This is a necessity 12 months a year but in cold weather it could be critically important in getting you safely back to the ramp. If your batteries are giving you ANY problems and the battery tester confirms some issue, replace them as they are not going to heal. They will undoubtedly fail you at the most inconvenient time.
3. Fuel and 2-Stroke Oil: Make sure you have plenty of fuel and avoid the situation where you run out of 2-stroke oil while on the water….I recommend you keep a quart bottle of 2-stroke oil in the boat in the event you ever forget to fill your oil reservoir and run out on the water….a quart bottle will get you another 20-30 miles on the water and back to the ramp. Trust me on this one you will be grateful if you ever run out. One benefit of the new 4 stroke motors is that this problem is eliminated.
4. Extra Clothing: It is good to keep a gym bag with a complete change of clothing in the event someone in your boat winds up in the water. A couple towels and a blanket are advisable as well. Water temps are currently in the low 50’s at Lanier. Hypothermia can set in within minutes.
5. Consider a Ladder: I fell in at Guntersville several years ago in 70 degree water and light clothing on. Getting back in the boat was a challenge to say the least. I bought a ladder for my boat within a week and hope I never have to use it. Heavy winter clothing in cold water could be deadly. Don’t underestimate this danger. Think about if you were fishing alone what could happen.
6. Life Jacket: Many of us wear inflatable life jackets, some of us 100% of the time while on the water. However, the performance of inflatable life jackets is compromised in very cold weather. You must be aware of this fact because if you are wearing heavy clothing and get thrown out of the boat in very cold water your inflatable life jacket very likely will not fully inflate. This could be deadly. Therefore, I recommend that you have a standard life jacket to wear when the big motor is running and use your inflatable 100% of the time you are on the deck fishing in winter. Yes, I realize there will be exceptions based on common sense decisions that each person will make. However, long runs at high speed in cold water is potentially a problem with inflatable life vests in cold water.
7. Kill Switch: This is an everyday must but could be fatal if not used in winter if you got thrown from the boat. Simply make this an automatic reflex anytime you start the big motor.
1. Ice: In the event temperatures are below freezing after launching the boat, pull the trailer out of the water SLOWLY allowing the water to drain off the trailer. This will minimize how much water is spilled onto the ramp which will turn to ice if cold enough.
2. Walk with Care: Assume the ramp and surrounding area is slippery to avoid a fall. Use care while walking out on the dock to boat. Most docks are metal and often slippery when wet and dangerous if icy.
Randall Heinrich – Tournament Director