For many Minnesota residents, the summer months are the ideal time to be out on the lake. When cool weather starts to drift in around mid to late September, most boat owners think about putting their boats away for the season. However, if you love to fish, late season fishing shouldn't be missed! Seasonal migrations are beginning, water temperatures decline, and the fish are less active for the cold winter months. This leads to great fishing opportunities for the savvy fisherman. In addition, you can enjoy the serene beauty of a quiet lake or river, empty of pleasure cruisers and water sports aficionados. Not to mention, fall fishing is best in the middle of the day, so no early mornings for those who enjoy sleeping in!


At Canvasworks in Cokato, MN, we love working with boat owners to help them make the most of our lakes and rivers year round. Read on to find out our most important safety tips so you can stay safe while you’re enjoying fall and winter fishing in Minnesota.


Respecting Nature

Anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors and on the water is aware of the power of nature. Sudden storms or weather changes can turn a fun outing dangerous quickly, especially when you add a body of water to the equation. In the fall, when air and water temperatures are cooler it is even more important to be aware of the weather and possible changes. Being aware that the power of nature can be dangerous doesn’t mean you should be afraid to enjoy your favorite pastime. A healthy appreciation for the potential dangers can help you plan your trip carefully, making sure you have the right gear for any circumstance.


Making sure your boat contains the right emergency survival tools can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Accidents happen, so it’s important to plan for cold-water survival if you should fall in the water. Even out of the water, cold winds and spray from rough water can quickly chill your body if you aren’t properly protected. A fisherman’s top, designed to protect you from the elements, can help keep you warm and dry while out on the lake.


Avoiding Hypothermia

Anyone who plans to spend time on the water this fall and winter should first understand the dangers of cold water. Even water well above freezing can cause cold-water shock and hypothermia. Falling into cold water also causes an involuntary gasp reflex that can result in even strong swimmers drowning.


After the initial gasp as your body reacts to the shock of the cold water, you will begin hyperventilating. This stage passes relatively quickly, it is important to keep your airway clear and try not to panic. Wearing a life jacket will help reduce your chances of drowning by keeping you afloat even as you adjust to the cold water. As your body rapidly cools you begin to shiver in order to produce heat. Unfortunately, this causes a loss of dexterity which makes it more difficult to rescue yourself. At this point your goal should be to get out of the water. Either into your boat or back to shore if it is very close in order to lessen your risk of hypothermia.


Once you have gotten out of the water it is imperative that you protect yourself from hypothermia if it has not yet set it. First, you will want to get out of your wet clothing and into dry clothing. When you are changing make sure you stay out of the wind to prevent further heat loss. Keep out of the wind once you are into dry clothing. Fisherman’s tops and other boat enclosures can provide a great wind block, but tarps can work in a pinch as well. Once you are in dry clothing work to warm yourself using external heat sources as well as warm, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages.


Getting back to shore and into a warm shelter is very important after you've gotten out of the water. However, you want avoid further chilling yourself so take the time to get yourself dry and sheltered on the boat before traveling to shore. The cold wind created by traveling to shore could make an already dangerous situation worse.


You should contact emergency services as soon as you are able to do so safely no matter how good you feel. An early sign of hypothermia is confusion, so you may not be the best judge of your health or after falling into cold water. This is one of the reasons we always recommend boating with a friend, especially during late season fishing or when fishing on large lakes. That friend's help in an emergency situation could mean the difference between life and death.


Increasing Your Chances of Survival

Even the strongest and most experienced swimmers are in danger from cold-water shock and hypothermia. Planning ahead is crucial to your survival in the event of falling into cold water. When planning a cold weather boat excursion it is important to consider your clothing, safety equipment, and emergency supplies.


●        Proper clothing is your first layer of defense. Avoid cotton, it is a very poor insulator when wet. You’ve probably heard the advice about dressing in layers and this holds even truer when you’re going to be boating in cold weather. First, you want a moisture-wicking layer next to your body. Follow this with at least one layer for warmth, maybe more depending on the weather. Wool and fleece are great to use as layers for warmth and there is a wide array of moisture-wicking fabrics available in today’s world. Your outer layer should block the wind as well as any wave spray, rain, or snow. There is one last layer that should never be left off, even if the weather is milder than expected, your life jacket. Wearing your life jacket before you need it could literally mean the difference between life and death. One last layer to consider is a floating dry suit. They are a great option if you are fishing very late in the season, on large lakes or alone.


●        Safety equipment is important to have with you on every boating trip. The following is a short list that you should have with you on every boat trip:

○        Your fully charged cell phone with an emergency charger

○        A waterproof flashlight with extra batteries in a waterproof container

○        VHF radio for emergency communication. If you are boating on larger lakes signal

○        flares or even an EPIRB or a personal locator beacon should be added

○        Paddles or oars in case of engine troubles.

○        Fully stocked first aid kit that includes supplies to combat hypothermia

○        Fire extinguisher

○        Life jackets for everyone on the boat

●        Emergency supplies can vary depending on your season and where you are boating. You can use our short list to start and modify it to accommodate any extra needs for your trip:

○        A change of clothing

○        Shock blankets

○        Thermos with a warm, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated drink

○        Emergency food supplies

○        Something that will work as a wind block


A Few Last Points on Cold Weather Boating

Always have a float plan and make sure at least one other person has a copy. If something happens to you, someone will know when and where to start looking. If you don’t check in when expected they have an idea on where to start looking. Remember, boating with a friend is always safer than boating alone. This is even more true when out on the water very late in the season or on a large lake.


We've only scratched the surface of cold weather boating safety in this article. For more information check out your state DNR website as well as the many accredited hypothermia websites on the web. If you’re considering a cold weather boating trip it is important you are fully informed on how to handle an emergency situation. It could be a life or death difference.


Contact Canvasworks for Your Custom Fisherman’s Top or Boat Enclosure Today

Cold weather fishing can be a uniquely thrilling experience. However, it’s important to take every step possible when it comes to protecting yourself while you’re out on a cold lake or river. We can help by designing a fisherman’s top or boat enclosure for your boat to meet your needs.


To check out some of our beautiful custom marine product designs, visit our gallery. Then speak to a member of our fabrication team at 320-559-0165 or contact us online to get a quote today.