The off-season cruising months offer a respite with deserted anchorages and unoccupied marine park docks. There’s no jockeying required at the fuel dock, and wildlife is unencumbered by the usual steady stream of boats. It’s their domain now.
The keys to making the most of off-season cruising are:
- Let the weather rule
- Staying Dry and dealing with moisture.
- Comfort Food
- Guard Against Cabin Fever
Peace and Quiet
After Labor Day, fewer boats are out on the water, and the trend accelerates as we move through the calendar. Most boats spend half the year idle at the dock, orphans from October through March and there is plenty of guest moorage available in the marinas.
If you decide to go off-season cruising it’s important to practice safety first and be properly prepared.
- Let the Weather Rule and Safety First
Storm fronts occur in fall and winter with more regularity than in summer. For off-season cruising it’s important to be flexible, monitor the weather channel and review the detailed NOAA weather maps in advance. If you plan to cruise in a remote location, out of radio range, carrying a barometer is a good idea so you can monitor conditions. Whatever your itinerary, include extra time for weather changes so you don’t put your boat and crew at risk.
Even though drenching storms will arrive regularly throughout the cooler months, so will the crystal clear and crisp winter days; cherish them for their rarity.
Poor visibility due to rain or fog is more common this time of the year, and conditions can deteriorate quickly. Radar and GPS are invaluable. Check that navigation lights are in working order. Always be prepared for rough water. Secure any loose equipment on deck before getting underway. If conditions worsen, you don’t want to be on deck wrestling to tie something down. Securing everything inside the boat is also important. In rough water, loose items will shift.
Be vigilant when underway. Winter storms coupled with high than normal tides drag a massive amount of drift off beaches and into the water, and choppy winter water can make spotting logs difficult.
As temperatures drop during the off-season cruising months, pay attention to slippery boat decks and docks. Wearing a PDF during the cooler months of the year is a must anytime anyone is on the deck or dock, as well as, good deck shoes and boots with non-skid soles.
A source of heat is number one necessity. They keep the cabin toasty and dry. Outdoor activities in particular, are more appealing if we can easily warm up inside afterward.
If your only means of heat overnight is via shore power, plan ahead. Unless you are near a major center, most marinas, fuel docks, stores and on-shore amenities will be closed or only open on an abbreviated schedule. Call ahead, so you don’t get caught without.
Before leaving the dock ensure all scheduled/required maintenance and inspections are completed. Breaking down is never any fun but during inclement winter weather it could be a dangerous situation. We carry spare filters, belts, pumps, hoses and hose clamps year-round which allow us to make minor repairs if required.
- Staying Dry Dealing with Moisture
Layering is the way to go for staying warm and dry. Both fleece and wool retain their warmth in damp conditions. Toss in a couple of pairs of long underwear (polypro), all-weather nylon pants and lightweight waterproof pants, jackets that fit over the fleece and wool hats. For footwear, choose wool socks (warm, absorbent and fast drying SmartWool are a good choice), deck shoes, rubber boots, and for hiking lug sole boots work well. For the hands, Manzella Polartec gloves with their rubber grip palms and fingers work well.
During the off-season cruising months, adequate ventilation is necessary as humidity is higher, and you’ll bring moisture inside with wet clothing. Indoor cooking, particularly with propane and alcohol, also adds moisture to the cabin air. High humidity steams up the windows, encourages mold and impedes wet items from drying. We crack open a couple of hatches on opposite sides of Easy Goin’to facilitate ventilation, and with the furnace, we stay warm and dry.
- Guard Against Cabin Fever
If you’re accustomed to living in a house with many rooms, don’t expect to be comfortable for a few days on a boat. Too much closeness can sour a trip. Have plenty of books, magazines, games, and puzzles so that everyone, kids especially, can entertain themselves during inclement weather. Within reason, insist that everyone get off the boat at least once a day, if only to take a short walk or a row around the harbor.
- Comfort Food
No matter the season, keep cruising menus simple. During cooler weather months, one-pot meals, hearty stews, soups, pasta, rice dishes and an endless supply of java and coco hit the spot. Root vegetables such as potatoes, and carrots, and fruit such as apples and citrus travel well in any season.
- Final Word of Advice
Off-season cruising isn’t just good for the spirit it’s good for your boat. Unused engines and pumps forget how to work. Condensation collects in the tanks and fuel lines. Everything gets cold and vaguely damp. Keeping your boat running through the winter months and it’s more likely to be running smoothly right into spring.