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Ten tips to help you enjoy winter sailing.

19 Nov 2019

Winter Sailing Tips

Sailing in the winter can still be an enjoyable experience, but it is wise to consider several things as we head into the winter cruising season.

Most of our winter sailing tips are common sense to make the best of the winter on the water. Much of the advice to the more experienced sailor will be second nature after years of practice. For the novice sailor who has yet to experience 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 much longer if you 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 bugs). A full tank with a reduced air space area means less chance of diesel bugs 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 in the warmer summer months, so it’s wise to check that 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.

Slippery Pontoons

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. Clean walkways and pontoons regularly with a stiff brush and water. Avoid using 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 be 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. This is 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 if you or your crew misjudge the conditions. Keeping various clothing options available is a good idea: hats, balaclava, neck scarf, fleece, topped off with a 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. Remember to pack a flask of your favourite hot drink or soup in the winter.  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, 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 soften or dissolve, and the cylinders 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.

Shorter days

With the reduced daylight hours in the winter months, it is important to plan shorter sailing trips. If a longer voyage is unavoidable, start before sunrise to 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 not a comprehensive list, and we welcome you to share your winter sailing tips with us.

Author: Jimmy Green

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