Imagine barefoot water skiing on a lake still half-covered with ice. While growing up, my pals and I put on the drysuits and did this every spring as soon as the lakes began thawing. We’d keep a big cooler filled with hot water on board so we could swing in on the ski boom, warm our bare feet and swing back out for more chilling action. Were we crazy? Yes, arguably insane. But when you have a relatively short summer like we do in Minnesota, creative thinking (and a little courage) is required to get the most out of the boating season.
Since then, I’ve found a way to spend as much time in a boat as possible, making my living as a marine photographer. This can be a cold job. Scraping frost off the windshield at 4 a.m. is common. To keep clients, models and my crew comfortable aboard my photo boat, I use the tips I’ve learned since youth — and share them here so you too can enjoy spring and fall afloat.
One of the best things about off-season boating is having the whole watery world to yourself. Gone are the droves of boats, PWCs and crisscrossed wakes. There is a tranquility to boating that you won’t find in summer. Experience it once and you’ll never let the opportunities pass again.
Fortunately, there are plenty of tricks to make boating in the bracket seasons safe, comfortable and fun. Rig your boat, your tow vehicle and yourself with these tips, and let the adventure begin.
Boating on chilly days is best enjoyed when you’re prepared. Warmth is the key, and more is always better. What do I mean by that? If you think a sweater is all you need to be comfortable, bring two. Think tennis shoes will keep your toes toasty? Bring winter boots. Dress in layers so you can add or subtract clothes as conditions dictate. Be prepared for sun, rain, wind and even snow. Weather can change on a dime any time, but when it does so in spring or fall, it can be dramatic. Temperature swings of 30 to 50 degrees can happen in the span of a single day. Modern technology can keep you warmer than ever, thanks to heated outerwear that plugs right into the 12-volt power outlet in the console. Gerbing’s (gerbing.com) is one brand I recommend, as do fellow boaters, motorcyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Because water temperatures aren’t exactly balmy, I highly recommend wearing a life jacket rather than just having it aboard. In addition to saving your bacon if there’s a mishap, a life jacket provides thermal insulation for your core — and a warm core helps keep all your parts and pieces toasty.
Another accessory that’s great to have on board is a pair of goggles, like those worn by snow skiers and motorcyclists. Two reasons why: Watery eyes from cold wind aren’t pleasant and they’re not safe. Even with sunglasses, it can be like trying to see through a rain-spattered windshield. Sharp vision when you’re at the helm is a safety characteristic you owe yourself, your passengers and other boaters.