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Staying afloat this winter?

Once Autumn passes we tend to see boatyards filling up and many boats being winterised, chocked up and emptied. However winter offers some great benefits for those boat owners who consider leaving their boat in the water. Empty cruising grounds and the possibility of flat calm waters can make this a great time of year to be out on the water. We’ve listed below a few tips, ideas and good habits that can make winter sailing enjoyable and stress free.

For those who will be putting there boats away this winter, we have a separate article published here.

Maintenance

Most boat owners understand the needs for proper maintenance and engine checks before using their boat, however these become even more crucial in the colder months. Whilst boats that remain afloat don’t suffer quite so much when the mercury drops below zero, the cold can still cause issues. Ensuring your cooling system has the correct amount of antifreeze can prevent damage to the engine and pipework. It’s also not a bad idea to fill the raw water system with antifreeze too if you’re shutting the seacocks. The other common issue that faces winter boat users is water freezing on deck. As long as you’re not on any inland waterways the solution is all around you. A bucket, brush and some saltwater is usually enough to prevent any ice on deck. This will help keep your deck safe when moving around and also prevent damage to the boat.

Keeping your fuel and water tanks topped up is also sensible. Of course, filling your fuel tank is good practice for preventing condensation but it also stops you being caught short if unable to fuel up. Manned fuel barges usually open for shorter hours in the winter months and can close for maintenance. Fuel hoses, and water taps of course, can easily seize up in the winter months too. Extra jerry cans, again sensible all year round, often find more usage in winter. For sailors, coil running rigging individually and avoid leaving lines exposed to the elements purely for comfort – there is nothing worse than working with frozen or soaking lines.

Below Decks

Preparing the boat for colder weather doesn’t just stop on deck. Below deck some small changes and additions can be the difference between a great day or one to forget. Ensuring you have the right clothing is a good first step. Good foul weather gear and plenty of layers is the key. I often found when on a delivery trip that doubling up on t-shirts helped insulate against the cold without feeling like the ‘Michelin Man’ underneath my salopettes. Having a bag of spare hats, gloves and socks is also a must. If you do get caught in the rain it is great to have a pair handy whilst the other pair dries out. With the sun barely making it above the horizon some days a good pair of sunglasses are useful, especially if navigating into an unfamiliar marina.

A well stocked galley is another important aspect of winter cruising. Keeping the kettle boiled plus a steady supply of snacks or biscuits will boost morale better than anything when on passage. Evening meals are another good excuse to mix it up; stews and pasta bakes are easy to prepare through the day and great winter warmers.

Weather

We’ve all been ashore on a crisp winters day thinking what perfect boating weather it is. A winter high pressure system can offer settled weather, clear skies and flat calm seas. However limited daylight hours and changeable conditions mean changing your approach to passage planning is sensible. Finding reliable weather forecasts can take time but pays dividends. Using a variety of websites, such as the Met Offices inshore waters and shipping forecast are great for the general picture. But other websites like Windfinder and Magic Seaweed are now providing great local information. I’ve long used an app on my iPad called ‘iGribs’ that is easy to use and downloads small, custom files for easy offline access.

Planning for shorter day trips is advisable with the limited sunlight hours we have. Leaving earlier in the morning, before sunrise can mean getting to your destination with the light still in your favour. Never be shy of contacting marinas ahead to check about suitability, not just berthing. Most dock masters know which directions their pontoons are exposed to and are happy to advise on this. 

Safety

Safety gear needs to be well maintained all season long however the lower temperatures give good excuse for checks and servicing. Lifejackets need servicing annually to check for defaults, damage and expired parts. Liferafts and other items have a longer lifetime but it is always good to keep a record and get items serviced when usage drops in the Winter. Quieter harbours and cruising grounds also offer open space to practice emergency drills without worrying about getting in other water users way.

Cold Water is defined as anything below 15 degree Celcius – a temperature Poole harbour doesn’t rise far above even in the warmer Summer months. By the end of Winter the temperatures around the United Kingdom have plummeted far below this, even on the milder South Coast. The risks and consequences of Cold Water Shock increase dramatically as the temperature falls – the RNLI offer great education and information on this topic. Of course prevention is better than a cure so not falling overboard in the first place always helps!

Getting the most out of your boat is easy to do this winter and we’d love to hear your suggestions or habits if you are planning on staying afloat.

Parkstone Bay Yachts are an independent yacht brokerage based in Poole, Dorset, and are the sole UK agents for Contest Yachts, RM Yachts, Nordship Yachts and Wauquiez Yachts.