You can do many things with your boat to make it more conducive to cold-weather adventures. Adding a canvas enclosure creates one sure-fire advantage, as does having a lower partition — aka a wind blocker — for boats with walk-through windshields.
To keep clients, models and my crew comfortable on my photo boat, an onboard heating system is an absolute must. But when I picked up my current boat, it wasn’t rigged with a heater. So installing an aftermarket kit was a necessity.
Onboard heating systems, like the Heatercraft I installed, (see Installing Aftermarket Heat, page 4) take the edge off anything Momma Nature throws at you. If you don’t want to go with permanent, engine-generated heat, there are electric and propane alternatives to consider. Even a bulkhead-mounted marine oil lamp, like the Weems & Plath 600 ($119, westmarine.com), will give off a surprising amount of heat while bringing a hint of nautical charm to your boat’s cabin.
Depending upon what type of boat you have, consider ways to quicken the winterization/de-winterization processes. Inboard and stern-drive owners might consider installing a Groco “safety seacock” that allows for quick winterizing, bypassing the raw-water intake line and providing a place to fill with antifreeze without pulling hoses. Groco also offers a kit that converts a standard seacock to the same dual use ($77 and up, jamestowndistributors.com).
If you run an outboard, check out how Evinrude E-TEC engines winterize with a built-in process and the push of a button. With any outboard, trim the engine down when not in use. When on the trailer, this allows water to drain; when in the slip, it keeps the gear case under water, which could be warmer than the air.
Make sure your boat has extra life jackets and blankets on board. I like an emergency blanket and often carry a space blanket ($13.50, campingworld.com). Naturally you’ll want the necessary fire extinguishers, a weather radio for up-to-the-minute information or, better yet, a VHF marine radio, and a complete first-aid kit.
One of my favorite “great ideas” for off-season boating is spill-proof mugs. I want my coffee hot and not in my lap. I never hit the water without mine. Another smart idea is a large container of sand in the tow vehicle. This will provide traction at boat ramps that get slick with skim ice.
While I don’t recommend dodging ice floes while barefoot skiing, I urge you to experience more early- and late-season boating. The memories will warm your heart, and you’ll see boating, the water and scenery like never before. It’s boaters first to launch and last to haul that win these prizes.