Keep Warm Boating During Winter: 11 Tips For Hardcore Boaters

Brrrrrrh. The winter season is now upon many of us, and temperatures have plummeted across the Northern Hemisphere. Although getting out on your boat always sounds like a wonderful idea, unless you prepare properly, your boating trip could  be miserable and short-lived. Fortunately there are plenty of ways to ensure that you can keep warm and enjoy boating during the winter season. Afterall, if you’re an outdoorsy person, it will likely take more than a little bad weather to keep you indoors, right?

Boating in the winter is a big adventure, and although it is challenging, it can also be more rewarding. It’s particularly quiet out and peaceful on the water in the winter as fair-weather boaters retire. You can finally visit those sites that you didn’t manage to reach in the summer because of overcrowding. You are free to enjoy hidden gems in total privacy, and there is nothing more picturesque than cruising along an empty frosty lake or river. Glean through our guide on how to keep warm and defend you and your boat against the elements. 

Staying Warm Aboard: Beat The Big Freeze 

1. Insulation for boats 

Insulation will reduce the amount of internal condensation and keep the boat warmer and dryer in winter. 

  • Hull 

Insulating materials best suited to the marine environment include spray urethane foam, a radiant barrier (such as Reflectix), cork, and a dry-cell foam, such as Armaflex. The main differences are cost per square foot to install, the application method, and material properties. Or, you could use a combination of the materials. Consider headlining over the top of the hull too. 

We recommend sealing a radiant barrier directly to the fiberglass surface, using aluminum tape to secure it. Once that is sealed, move onto the covering the entire ceiling and finish by adding closed-cell foam insulation (which has cells sealed off, so air doesn’t get inside the structure at all). 

  • Portlights, windows, and hatches

Cold air can creep in through small ports and hatches. By insulating these openings, you can prevent cool drafts. You can purchase professional insulation systems, which can be installed between the portlight or deck hatch glass and the blackout blind or mosquito net. If you are on a budget, you could look into making your DIY templates by tracing over the existing hatch windows. 

  • Exterior window covers help to keep heat inside the boat interiors. Remember to remove any outside covers on sunny days to benefit from heat radiation. 
  • Door insulation. We recommend using closed-cell foam and attaching it to the door with Velcro strips. 
  • Door and hatch seals

You can use a closed-cell foam and attach it to the door. You can also minimize drought with a rubber door seal. Ensure that all hatches seals have not deteriorated. Measure the gaps and use a Neoprene rubber strip (use glue to attach it to the door) as a draught excluder.

2. Replace Any Bug Screens With Optix Acrylic Glazing

For added heat control, you could trace any bug screens and replace them with Optix acrylic glazing panels available to buy at any hardware store. They are relatively straightforward to install and 

3. Keep The Boat As Dry As A Bone

Try not to leave your boating kit or wet sails to dry out below deck. It will bring unnecessary added moisture to the interiors, contributing to unwanted condensation. A cockpit tent is a good option if you want to leave things to dry on deck overnight.

4. Drinks And Foods

Foods that take longer to digest can help to raise your body temperature and make you feel warmer. Eating foods rich in fiber such as roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or cauliflower will leave you feeling full, taking longer to digest, helping you to feel warmer. Eating nutritious, calorie-dense foods may help you stay a little warmer during the colder months, and your body needs more calories in colder temperatures. 

  • Drinking water regularly keeps your body hydrated and functioning at its best, helping to regulate your internal temperature. 
  • Keep a thermos flask on board, perfect for sipping on soup or coffee, and keep you warm throughout the day. 
Thermal flask being used on a boating trip

Image credit: Braden Barwich by Unsplash

5. Clothing: Layer Up!

There is an art to dressing for cold weather, and you will need as many layers like an onion. Start with a base layer made of Polypropylene or synthetic materials. On top, you will need an insulation layer made of fleece or wool. Outerwear needs to be wind and wet-proof, and a Gore-Tex material allows for proper perspiration to evaporate. Wear thermal leggings and layer over the top with waterproof trousers for the bottoms. There are plenty of brands out there offering stylish but practical designs. 

6. Accessorise From Top To Toe

Here is a list of accessories you should invest in to protect you from the elements:

  • Footwarmers
  • Blankets
  • Fleece neck gaiters
  • Woolen hats
  • Thermal gloves (ideally with a grip)

Keeping Your Feet Warm

Thermal socks will help keep your feet warm without limiting circulation and cramping your feet. Insulated boots are an excellent investment if you spend a lot of time every winter. Prepare for cruising in wet weather by bringing a pair of goggles to protect your eyes in rain or sleet. They will also help to reduce the sun’s glare. 

7. Gadgets 

If you suffer from chilly fingers, boating or sailing will be difficult. Use rechargeable hand/pocket warmers are a great solution and have a functional life of about 6-hours per charge; all you need is a USB cable. They are affordable and eco-friendly because you can keep using them rather than disposing of them. 

8. Consider Adding A Cockpit Enclosure

A new enclosure will protect you from the elements. You can either fit around the boat’s existing frames or, if there are no frames fitted, you can get them designed to suit your requirements. Cockpit enclosures are made in a solid fabric, with the option of adding zip doors, windows, and mesh inserts. 

9. Bedding

Beds on boats are designed in irregular shapes to fit the angled hull. V-berths and guest berths do not follow the dimensions of residential twin, full, queen, or king-sized beds, and boat beds have rounded corners and beveled sides. Keep a wool blanket on board so that you have something to hand on those cold nights. Using ​​goose down(winter weight) is the best way of keeping warm. Just be aware they are pungent once wet!

If you have bunk beds, a sleeping bag- a polyester fiberfill is an excellent option because it traps the heat between you and the fabric. Find out more about boat bedding: riding in comfort.

10. Hot Water Bottles

Hot water bottles are a great and inexpensive way of staying warm for hours with minimal effort required. 

Once you have invested in the right gear, you won’t have to reinvest for at least a few years. Although buying all the right equipment is expensive, it means that you can get more usage out of your boat. Enjoy your winter trips May you have fair winds and following seas! 

11. Install A Bilge Heater

Keep your bilge warm so that it doesn’t freeze or crack using a thermostatically controlled marine grade bilge heater. A great option here is the self-regulating PTC, 400-watt Caframo Pali Bilgesage Heater with automatic thermostat included.

Q&A

Can you bring a space heater onboard a boat?

Although household space heaters can transform your cold boat into a warm, inviting sanctuary, they can be potentially hazardous to your health and safety and thus do not generally belong onboard. Different types of space heaters can release various combustion products into the cabin (CO and CO2), add moisture and may require continuous venting. Not to mention electric heaters can strain your boat’s delicate electrical system. Rather than shopping for the best generic space heater for a boat, it makes more sense to buy a purpose-built marine boat heater that has been specifically designed for use onboard a boat. Diesel boat heaters, propane boat heaters, solid fuel heaters, forced air and electric boat heaters are all available. These solutions may be best suited for dockside liveaboards with marina amenities and hook-ups available. 

If you have a small pilothouse boat with a cigarette lighter plug in the dash, and an adequate size fuse to power it, you may want to look into purchasing a portable mini ceramic heater (like those available from Sea Dog). While they don’t pump out a lot of heat, they can slowly warm up a small pilothouse making it much more comfortable for captains operating a boat in cold weather. 

Written by: Emma Coady

Emma Coady is a freelance writer and marine journalist who creates content for many household names in the boating industry, including YachtWorld, Boat Trader and boats.com. She also writes for several boat builders as well as charter and rental companies and regularly contributes to Greenline Hybrid yachts, TJB Super Yachts and Superyachts Monaco. Emma is the founder of Cloud Copy and enjoys traveling around Europe, spending as much of her spare time as possible in or on the water.

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