Winter is the magical hidden boating season that the majority of boaters never unlock. When you venture out in the cold you have the benefit of fewer crowds and often flows on creeks and rivers that you wouldn’t get in the summer. Depending on where you live, you may find you have more boating options in the off-season. This is all wonderful but you must also know that winter boating can come with greater risk. Here are some of our top tips for being safe and successful.
Dress the Part
If you haven’t already invested in a drysuit, now is the time. A drysuit is a full body suit with watertight gaskets and zippers that, when fitted properly, allow no water into the suit. You can choose from base level materials up to Gore-Tex materials that allow the fabric to breathe. This helps mitigate the issue of sweat building up in your suit, which could make you feel cold when you slow down. Under a drysuit you may choose to wear synthetic base layers in top and bottoms or a union suit, which is a neck to ankle suit that keeps your body warm without midriff gaps. Remember to never wear cotton on the river, especially in the winter. Wet cotton clings to the body and does not provide any insulation. The expression “cotton kills” exists for a reason. Synthetic and wool materials help your body remain warm even when wet. Wetsuits are a less expensive option. They do not keep you dry as they function by insulating your body with a thin membrane of water between the suit and your skin. You can always layer a splash top or dry top over a wetsuit.
You must remember to bring a hat that fits under your helmet. Ensure that the hat does not compromise the fit of your helmet. Many companies make a hat called a skull cap that is made of neoprene or synthetic material that fits trim enough under a helmet. For colder and windier days, a full neck/face balaclava is even better.
What you wear on your hands can be trickier to lock down. You need to find gloves that are warm but also allow you to have a firm grip on your paddle or oars. Several outdoor gear companies make neoprene gloves in various thicknesses for boaters and fishermen. Pack dry mittens or gloves to switch out when needed.
Pack Extra Gear
In addition to the normal safety, first aid, and rescue gear you carry in other months you will want to be certain to carry a few additional items. If you get caught in a rescue scenario, things can go downhill very quickly. We recommend adding an emergency blanket to your first aid kit if you didn’t have one in there already. This can be used to warm a swimmer or as sleeping shelter in an extended emergency. Also carry waterproof matches and/or a lighter to be able to start a warming fire. Extra, dry, clothing layers can become a must if you are out longer than expected. Ensure that your dry bag is in fact dry. We also like to have HOT HANDS, warmers in the dry bag to warm up frigid fingers or toes when necessary.
Food and Water
You can get dehydrated very quickly out in the cold and it can sneak up on you quicker than in hotter weather. Make sure you pack enough water and drink frequently. An insulated bottle with a hot beverage is always a nice extra. In addition to water make sure you have enough calories. You will burn more calories than you think and the extra calories will also help keep you warm.
Have A Plan
In the winter months you want to want to have a solid plan and always paddle with a partner. Let someone who is familiar with the area know where you are going and when they should expect you back. Travel with appropriate emergency kits in your shuttle vehicles. Often the trouble lies in the roads and vehicles needed to get to the river! Consider keeping an additional first aid kit, blanket, flashlight and batteries, water, snacks, jumper cables, spare tire and other car tools in your vehicle.
You might feel a little bulkier and have to pack a few more things but winter boating is well worth it. The rivers can be so beautiful with the leaves down, showing off the relief of the mountains or valleys. Snow in a canyon is stunning. And, the sense of accomplishment you feel from your adventures are always worth it.
Winter Care For Your Raft
It is a good idea to maintain your raft all year. We recommend using 303 on your raft a few times a year and especially before you store it for extended periods of time. If you are packing it up for the winter make sure your raft is clean and dry first. Then find a place to store it free of abrasive materials, UV exposure, pests and rodents. DO NOT ever store your raft in the sun under a tarp. This can cause the materials to degrade quickly. It is also best to store your Rocky Mountain Raft inflated. This is the best way to care for PVC rafts and give them the longest life possible. Refer to our online OWNER MANUAL here for additional maintenance and storage recommendations.