Fall Boating Safety

ArticleApril 30, 2013

The leaves are turning colors, there’s a chill in the air, kids are back in school, and fewer people are out on the water. It’s a perfect time to go boating!

Kayaker on a misty lake.

Before you go, prepare yourself for the changing conditions. Here are some things to consider:

  • Water Temperature: Fall days can be balmy and bright, but the water is getting colder. If you spend any significant time in water even as warm as 60°F, you can be in serious trouble. Check out How to Prevent Heat Loss to understand how your body loses heat. Every time you venture out on the water you need to dress for protection from a possible swim.
  • Protective Apparel: Think of fall boating apparel in terms of layers: base layers, insulating layers and outer layers. The article Cold-Water Layering covers these important choices of protective gear.
  • Always Wear Your Lifejacket: That’s smart any time of year, but the video in Let’s Stop the Senseless Loss of Life demonstrates the importance of wearing it when you get dumped in cold water.
  • Weather: In the fall, weather can change quickly. Check the forecast before you go. Good sources are weather.gov, weather.com and wunderground.com.
  • Day Length: Daylight hours are shrinking; take that into account when planning your trip. Bring a headlamp, with extra batteries, in case you get caught out when the sun goes down.
  • Being Seen: Low light, mist and fog can make you harder to see this time of year. Wear bright colors—orange, lime green, or yellow. A strobe, bright safety light or chemical lights can be a lifesaver, especially if you’re boating in an area with power boat traffic.
  • Paddler Training: Getting some instruction in boating skills and rescue techniques is a good idea. Check with local paddlesports dealers for training in your area. Boating clubs can be a source for classes and the American Canoe Association has a broad curriculum of boating courses.
  • Getting Back in Your Boat: If you capsize, getting back in the boat is a vital survival skill. Purchase a paddle float and bilge pump, and practice using them.
  • Make Sure Your Boat Will Float: If your boat doesn’t have watertight flotation chambers in the bow and stern, add some inflatable float bags. Without flotation, in a capsize your boat takes on much more water and can sink.
  • Good Things to Have in Your Lifejacket: Vehicle keys, whistle, knife, lighter or waterproof matches, fire starters (cotton balls soaked in Vaseline are good), and an energy bar.
  • Good Things to Have in Your Boat: Pack a small dry bag with your cell phone if there’s reception in the area, some warm clothes, first aid kit, emergency shelter like a light weight tarp or emergency bivvy sack, and some high-energy snacks.
  • Keep Your Motor Running: This time of year you need proper nutrition and hydration to keep your body fueled and warm. Read Fueling the Fires Within to learn the dos-and-don’ts of food and beverage intake.
  • Boat With a Buddy: It’s always wise to go out with other boaters. In the cold seasons, it’s even more important; there’s safety in numbers.
  • Let Someone Know Where You’ve Gone: Details of where you’ll be boating, descriptions of your gear, etc. will be invaluable if a search is necessary.
  • Last, But Not Least: Make sure your boating gear is in good shape. We’ve got lots of great resources on gear maintenance and repair in our Learn pages.

Have Fun, Boat Safe!