At the Helm: Tips to stay warm on the water

November 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

Well, summer’s gone and the normally pleasant fall temperatures sure didn’t last all that long. As a matter of fact, as of last weekend it sure seems a lot like an early winter here in the Rio Grande Valley and all along our coastal waters with high winds and very low overnight and daytime temperatures.

So, if you’re planning on taking advantage of the great fishing this time of the year, here are a few tips and suggestions for staying warm out on the water.

Know before you go

While our local TV and radio stations do their best to forecast the weather in the Valley and along the Lower Laguna Madre, it’s often just not enough information or accurate enough for boaters to rely on. For the most up to date, highly detailed and accurate marine weather forecasts of winds, tides, air and water temperatures, storm and other weather information just press the “WX” button on your boat’s VHF marine radio.

These National Weather Service marine forecasts out of Brownsville run continuously and are available 24/7 and most Valley boaters should be able to access this from their home on their VHF or on-line before heading out.

Even when you’re armed with the latest weather information it’s important to remember that weather conditions change rapidly, and that just because it is nice and sunny at your home in McAllen or Harlingen, out by the bay it could be a totally different story.

For that reason you might want to contact local bait and tackle shops or a friend who lives out by the water for the current conditions. And, keep in mind that as a rule, winds, waves and currents will only get stronger as the day goes on, and that it’s normally 10 to 20 degrees cooler out on the water at this time of the year.

Fish will still be there …

Wishful thinking and taking chances that the weather and tides will be okay despite what the marine forecast says is like playing Russian roulette and the odds are that you’ll be wrong.

I can’t tell you how many wintertime stories I’ve heard about very bad days out on the water, some with near deadly results. There are those where boaters head out without taking into account that the stiff wind or a front that will push the outgoing tide faster than predicted, and they end up stranded, aground all night long in near freezing temps without food, water or much less protective clothing. Or, because of the frigid temperatures and rain, their boat’s motor or battery fail and of course there isn’t anyone out there to assist them. The fish will still be there another day, so don’t take chances.

If you do go, be prepared

If you and your family or buddies do decide to head out for a day of fishing it’s extremely important to be prepared for the current forecasted conditions but also to be prepared for the worst.

Always wear layered clothing and a hat to help keep your body’s warmth inside, and bring along another set of dry clothing in a water-proof bag. Also, don’t forget to bring foul weather gear in case of rain or heavy fog, and maybe even a blanket or two should someone onboard get too cold or wet, or begin to show signs of hypothermia.

Hypothermia is the opposite of heat stroke or heat exhaustion and is a potentially fatal condition where a person’s core body temperature drops below the threshold for maintaining all normal bodily functions, about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and the body begins to shut down. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit or below without replenishing the body’s heat and energy will result in severe shivering and mental confusion, followed by stroke and possibly death.

Should anyone onboard show symptoms of hypothermia it is imperative to raise their core body temperature and get them to eat and drink as quickly as possible and then seek immediate medical attention.

The key to preventing hypothermia is to stay warm and dry, and to continually replenish body fluids and energy with food and drinks. Now I know this will sound crazy, but eating or drinking hot foods and beverages will only lower your body temperature more. So, it’s best to bring along plenty of cold sandwiches, fruit, water, orange juice and the like, and even if you’re not hungry or thirsty, eat and drink often.

In addition to having yourself and passengers prepared for the cold weather conditions it is also important to prepare your boat and motor. Having a VHF marine radio, distress signal kit, extra motor oil and fuel, a water-proof flashlight with fresh batteries, and a spare marine battery that is fully charged onboard are always advisable, but especially during colder weather conditions.

Okay, so now you know what the weather and tides will be and you’re not taking any unnecessary chances heading out onto the water, and you’re fully prepared for whatever you and your crew might encounter, that leaves only one other question, “Where are the fish going to be?”

While I’m hardly a fishing expert, I’ve heard many times that on cold mornings and overcast days the fish go to deeper waters that are supposedly warmer, if you can imagine that.

My guess is that deeper waters would be ship channels, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the passes at the South Padre Island and Port Mansfield jetties.

Then, as the day becomes warmer, especially on cold, sunny days, the fish tend to migrate to the shallows that have been warmed by the sunshine. Give it a try and Happy Thanksgiving to all.


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