Six Tips for Cold Weather Sailing

Sail through the winter with these six tips:

If you’re sailing through the winter, you’ve probably got a favorite wool hat, some toasty socks, and a pair of gloves that provide both warmth and dexterity. Here are six tips for comfort and safety.

Winter sailing with life jackets
A comfortable life jacket is a wise investment. Photo by Will Keyworth

Wear a PFD, every time

If you sail year-round, you don’t need us to tell you that water temperatures will be dangerously cold for the next few months. Set the example for your fellow sailors by wearing a PFD. This isn’t about whether you can swim. It’s about the devastating physiological changes brought on almost instantly by immersion in water this cold. Find a PFD that's comfortable and wear it proudly!


Sailing in winter with a PFD
Winter sailing calls for layers that wick moisture and hold body heat.

Wear layered clothing

Wool, silk, and polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton, which when wet absorbs and traps water in its fibers. A wind- and water-resistant outer shell will go a long way toward comfort, as will a pair of boots designed for sailing. A change of clothes and towel stowed in a watertight bag can stand ready for any unexpectedly wet crew members.

snow covered dock
Snow, frost, and ice can leave docks slippery.


Use caution on docks, finger piers, and while boarding and disembarking 

Ice isn’t the only thing that makes for slippery surfaces; frost and snow can too. Purchase some eco-friendly ice melt before you need it, and slip into your PFD before walking down the pier.

flares are important safety gear for sailing vessels
Flares or other visual distress signals are always important, but especially when there are more hours of darkness and fewer boats on the water. Photo courtesy of BoatUS

Carry a VHF radio and flares

With fewer boaters on the water and more hours of darkness, calling for help could be more challenging than simply flagging down a passing vessel. 

file a float plan for winter sailing
Winter sailing can be lots of fun. Let friends or family know where you're headed and when you plan to return. 

File a float plan

Even if you’re just checking on the boat, because it only takes a second for the unexpected to occur. This can be as easy as texting a friend or family member about your time of departure, intended course, and anticipated time of arrival.

check on sailing boats in winter
Whether in the water or on the hard, sailing boats and other vessels need to be checked in the winter. Photo by Al Schreitmueller


Check on your boat and pier

Water expands when it freezes, and that means the potential for damage to piers, pilings, and boat hulls. A deicer hung from the pier (or mounted to it) will circulate warm water from the bottom of the creek or river. Why not set it up now, before you need it? A timer and thermostat cay be added for energy efficiency.