Winter Sailing Tips
Sailing in the winter can still be an enjoyable experience, but it is wise to keep in mind several things as we head into the winter cruising season.
Most of our winter sailing tips are simply common sense to make the best of the winter on the water. To the more experienced sailor, much of the advice will be second nature after years of practice. For the novice sailor who hasn't experienced winter sailing, this quick checklist will help you get the most from your winter and avoid the common pitfalls.
Keep your tanks topped up
You never know when it may turn extra cold, even the weather forecast can be wrong sometimes. Keeping topped up on fuel and water will mean you can last that much longer if we have a cold snap or an unexpected hard frost. Sometimes water supplies are turned off to protect pipes in freezing conditions. It's easier to top up in the middle of the day rather than when pipes are frozen, and surfaces are slippery in the early mornings.
Keeping Fuel tanks topped up in the winter will help reduce condensation. Moisture in the tank can be a breeding ground for microbes (diesel bug). A full tank with a reduced air space area means less chance of diesel bug forming.
Fuel from the bottom of your tank will have a dark colour, sticky deposits or smell of rotten eggs in severe cases. Anti -diesel bug additives can cure the problem.
Check your boat batteries
Starting an engine in colder temperatures will require more power than it does in the warmer summer months, so it’s wise to check your batteries are in full working order. A small solar panel, or a recharge at home now and then will help to keep a marine battery topped up.
In winter the pontoons can be wet for days and moss, algae and lichen will grow in the winter months. Surfaces can become lethal if they are not treated. Regularly clean walkways and pontoons with a stiff brush and water. Avoid the use of chemicals or pick an environmentally friendly option for stubborn areas.
If you are starting early, decks and slipways may be icy. A quick saltwater wash will clean the ice away. Saltwater will naturally reduce the risk of ice and you can always use a bucket of saltwater and brush to clean the ice away. Saltwater starts to freeze at around -5c. so providing temperatures do not go below freezing, this should a safe option.
Keeping dry and warm
It is always wise to layer up in the winter months. The breeze on the exposed open sea can carry a severe wind chill factor making temperatures feel much cooler than on land. Wearing multiple base layers or thermals under salopettes will keep you warm.
Gloves are essential, keeping a spare pair is also a wise move should your first pair become saturated. You need to keep your hands in tip-top condition. Moisturising with hand cream before during and after your day on the water can help protect them. Essential when handling rope and sails at any time of year. ‘Click’ hand warmers stored in your pocket can also bring some welcome relief.
A spare layer or two stored onboard is useful in case you or your crew misjudge the conditions. Keeping a variety of clothing options available is a good idea, hats, balaclava, neck scarf, fleece, topped off with sailing jacket and trousers.
Food is very important, always have a regular supply of snacks and drinks available for the duration of time you are afloat. in the winter remember to pack a flask of your favourite hot drink or soup. If you are a dinghy sailor keeping a second hot flask in the car for when you have finished at the end of the day will soon warm you up.
The sun is lower in the winter months and on sunny days you do not want to be blinded by the sun while out sailing. Keeping your sunglasses in a handy safe location is a good idea, maybe even store them in your grab bag.
Keep lines dry
Wet lines are never easy or fun to handle in the cold winter months. If it’s possible to keep any of them dry while afloat or between trips then take advantage of the opportunity. This will improve their longevity and reduce the chances of them freezing.
If your lifejackets get wet, it is important to dry them out. They can develop mildew. The automatic firing tablets might start to soften or dissolve and the cylinders start to corrode. This would lead to life jacket malfunction or failure in an emergency. It is always important to look after your lifejacket.
If you are sleeping on board your yacht, ventilation is very important to help reduce condensation. Running a dehumidifier for a couple of hours each day or when necessary can help reduce moisture in the cabin and help reduce mould.
With the reduced daylight hours in the winter months, it is important to plan shorter sailing trips. If a longer voyage is unavoidable, start earlier and maybe even before sunrise so that you can arrive before sunset. It is safer to arrive in daylight rather than in the pitch black.
Don’t go overboard! - Enough said.
These winter sailing tips are by no means a comprehensive list and we welcome you to share your winter sailing tips with us.