Boat Safety: Weather Limitations
Updated: Oct 29
It doesn't matter if you are a pleasure boater, angler, paddler, or sailor the weather has a huge impact to your on the water safety. While anglers typically like to push the limits in search of the next big catch there should always be a LIMIT. At some point the weather forecast should be enough to make you keep the boat on the trailer. It's not about being a wimp, or tough, or a real angler it's completely about safety! Sure if everything goes right you should be fine but what if something doesn't go according to plan? A rogue wave knocks you off balance, engine troubles, you hit a shallow water hazard, or a floating hazard?! Hitting the water in bad weather not only poses these risks but others are likely to be at home on the couch so nobody will be around to help you should you need it.
So, what is the limit? When it comes to safety it is always best to air on the side of caution; but we know how hard this can be! From our experience pushing the limit, getting into risky & dangerous scenarios, all in the name of catching the next big one we have found some criteria on how to decide when it's better to stay at home on the couch! Keep in mind this depends on your own comfort level, the size of water body, and what boat you will be in. There is always ways to prepare for the situation but at some points the preparation is not worth the effort / risk.
Season - Depending on the time of the year the limit changes. Early & Late in the year the limit is lower but in the summer the limit is higher. Why? There's a few reasons but the main one being if you do fall into the water there is minimal risk of hypothermia. The other being there are typically a lot of other boaters around in the summer to flag down for help if needed. Earlier and later in the year (Water temperatures below 65 F) the other criteria become even more strict as you need to be prepared for the cold water as it will impact you a lot more!
Wind - Snow, Rain, and Hail are all manageable elements. Putting the top up on the boat (if possible) and rain gear can usually let anglers continue fishing throughout the day despite these elements. Wind on the other hand makes boat control difficult, increases risk of falling overboard, and generally makes fishing hard! On big waters wind makes big waves and if wind is consistent at speeds over 20 KM/H we have have found the waves in open section will be too big for safe driving and boat control (with a trolling motor) while fishing. If you don't have a trolling motor and just control your boat by the motor this limit is even lower. If you typically use a tiller to reverse into the wind and hold yourself in place don't even consider this in sustained winds over 15 KM/H or you will swamp your boat! Big waves also lead to you getting more wet and being wet leads to chills. Depending on the season this can be a huge risk to your safety.
Temperature - The forecast temperature has a big impact on if you should hit the water! If the temperature is cooler than the normal you are at a bigger risk of developing a chill on the water. While on the water there is no way to warm back up so dressing appropriately is a MUST if you want to get out fishing. This can ruin a day of fishing or even put you in dangerous situations. Cold muscles don't work properly. Anytime the temperature is below 10 C be prepared to dress for the conditions and if it is much colder than normal add some extra layers. Anything within the normal range or above the temperature average helps avoid feeling cold. Below 5 C all boaters need to be aware and prepared for freeze up of water on ramps for launching and removing the boat, water in fishing rod guides, and water on carpet in the boat or metal floors. All of which make a day on the water risky for damaging gear and going overboard.
Precipitation - Much like temperature any precipitation can lead to getting wet, cold, and the inability to remain comfortable for the remainder of the fishing day should you not dress appropriately. Despite our best efforts rain gear only goes so far. Even with top of the line rain suits any precipitation in excess of 10 mm throughout the day is likely not worth your time on the water. This of course depends on if the amount hits the area you are in but if it does 10 mm seems to be a cutoff point. If you have a boat top (canopy) then more precipitation can be handled by trolling or fishing from underneath it but if you plan to sit in a boat without one or cast the whole day from an uncovered deck you will likely get cold & wet without top of the line gear! One of the most important aspects to consider are your feet, cold/wet feet impact your entire body. Keep them dry & warm for the best experience on the water. Having a pair of waterproof hiking boots will do this (Note rubber boots are not recommended on the water as if you fall overboard they will fill with water and you won't be able to get them off. If you are not a great swimmer this can pull you under)
While there are no hard and fast rules telling you to stay off the water we hope these insights from our own experiences (good, bad, and dangerous) will help you make better decisions when it comes to boat safety and being out on the water.
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