Tips for those of us who sail in winter?

Frank Langer

1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
In the Pacific Northwest it's possible and often enjoyable to go sailing on a good weather winter day--sun shining, temp slightly above freezing, 10 to 15 knot wind.
I would appreciate any advice to make these days safe and enjoyable.
My thoughts and experience over the years include having the boat in the best condition possible to avoid mishaps and breakdown, mustang survival suit and hat, gloves, warm socks, sunglasses and sunscreen, not going out if there is frost or ice on deck, letting someone know your plans, and doing everything a bit more slowly and carefully than in warm weather, having more snacks and hot drinks available in case of stranding.
I would appreciate any other tips you might have for those of us who sail year round.


Member III
In winter I like both a good dodger, which right now I do not have, and cabin heat. If anyone gets too cold they can go below to warm up. With my previous heat setup I could steer from the top step on the stair and be mostly warm from the cabin heat. My new engine setup does not produce enough heat, so at the moment I am heatless.

I like to have hand warmers that can be stuck inside mittens or gloves. I always dress in layers minimizing cotton and maximizing wool. Just in case someone gets hypothermic I like to have a nice warm sleeping bag to shove them into. I also make sure my stove is filled up. That allows heating drinks or soup without fussing with the alcohol to fill it underway.

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Blogs Author
I grew up sailing Penguins in the New York area. We wore wool and galoshes and loved it. Frostbite racing was invented on Long Island Sound so people with cruising boats hauled out could keep competing, and it drew the titans of the 1950s sport. I hardly remember any safety precautions.

There's usually not much wind in winter, and nobody goes out in an active weather system. In the '80s we raced Solings every other weekend year round in Annapolis, often digging snow out of the boats. It was grand and the bay was empty. Theory was that cold air is heavier, more dense, than hot summer air, but it may have been more talk than science. The courses were small triangles so folks didn't get numb.

So there's a long history to keep going, and it seems to me that a boat with a cabin is a natural shelter which leaves hardship to the imagination.

Wear any clothes you like. I think the key to success is the people in the clothes, since there are always those who will think you're nuts. :)

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Regarding the part where you motor out and back, we have enjoyed our "Heatercraft" engine coolant-driven cabin heater for over a decade. I plumbed it into the coolant circuit that goes to the water heater coil. Anytime the engine is under load it will produce copious quantities of real heat. The fan has 3 speeds and we never use any but the lowest.
Admittedly worthless when the engine is off, but on a push to motor up the WA coast for 26 hours it's a huge increase in comfort. Not expensive for what it is and does. Think of it as the boating version of your car's heater.
We are just now -finally- adding a furnace to the boat. In comparison, it's a complicated install process, but should be worth it for overnighting in chilly weather.
Winter Winds -- yup. Usually light around here, or blowing hard and miserable with rain or snow some days.


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
One thing I've noticed is that when temperatures are in the 30's decks can ice up (and thaw again) in an instant. That place you put your foot firmly a minute ago is now frictionless. (And vice verse). You have to test every step. And I'm not too proud to crawl if that's what it takes. Probably a good time to test out your blue-water jackline and harness system. (Which I'll figure out one of these days.)
A few years ago, we were out in those conditions and a nearby boat lost a crew overboard. Nobody saw him go. The body floated up in the spring.

When I did a long wintertime "delivery," I ended up making a sort of nest in the companionway. That way I got some cabin heat, but mostly stayed out of the cold wind. I'm hoping that if the dodger project ever gets done, I can make a piece of canvas to drape over the back of it and make a sort of mini pilot house. Also - not sure if it's by design - the exhaust stand pipe on my boat is located directly below the nominal helmsman's seat, and when the motor is running it makes a nice little warm spot!

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
We go out and do races in the winter - good gear is essential. Those shake-to-activate hand and boot warmers can be lifesavers if you're stuck on the rail for a long windward leg. I got my girlfriend a battery-powered heated vest and heated socks - I was skeptical of the tech at first but some friends swear by them. As with any outdoor activity, ease of adding/removing layers is important. It's easy to get too hot and need to vent, and then to cool down and go back to insulation mode.

I often think of Christian's stance on dodgers, and usually refuse to have mine on the boat, but just a few sails into the cold season and I'm begrudgingly attached to the thing. It really helps in the cold.

Don't forget sunscreen just because it's cold outside.

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Blogs Author
Also, weather cloths. They really work, even when close hauled. Easy to rig, can be longer than these.

Last edited: