7 Tips for Breaking Ice With Boat Hulls: Say What?

By Debbie Hanson

Mar 21, 2017

Boating safely in ice requires special gear, precautions, preparation. Learn about some of the important things you need to do when cold weather boating.

What is this talk of breaking ice with boat hulls? While it may sound a bit extreme to boaters in the Deep South, boaters who live in the Mid-Atlantic or Midwest will certainly attest to the fact that snow and ice can be a very real part of spring boating. Does this mean that you can't take your beloved boat out until the weather stabilizes? Not necessarily, but it does mean that you need to know how to boat safely during lingering spells of cold weather.

Boating safely in ice will require you to take extra precautions. Not only should you know how the cold can affect your body, but don’t forget to learn how to keep your vessel prepared for cold weather conditions. Check out this list that contains some important boating safety tips for cold weather. 

Breaking Ice with Boat Hulls: 7 Tips for Boating Safety 

1. The most important thing to do when you go cold weather boating is put on a flotation jacket or float-coat. A float-coat will have a built-in PFD and provide better hypothermia protection in cold weather conditions than a standard life jacket or PFD. On a cold weather trip, it's always wise to bring a dry change of clothes along as well.

2. Check and charge your boat batteries frequently. Keep a spare battery on board if possible because cold weather conditions will drain a boat battery faster than warm or hot weather will. 

3. Make sure that all of your safety equipment is kept dry and in working order. This includes signal flares, sound-producing devices, and any other U.S. Coast Guard required boat safety equipment that is on board. Also, be sure to have a marine radio on board to call for help (using channel 16) in the event of an emergency. Do not rely on a cell phone that may not work in extreme weather conditions. A marine radio can be traced to the location of a boat in distress -- making emergency response time faster.

4. Clear away all snow or ice from your boat deck, hull, livewell, bilge area, and from any exposed equipment. Snow and ice build-up can block scuppers or cause flotation problems. Keep a plastic shovel handy to use for this purpose during periods of cold weather (plastic won’t scratch your boat's gelcoat).

5. Check your fuel lines, and keep your fuel tank topped off to help prevent condensation build-up.

6. During cold weather, there may be a very thin layer of ice on coves, inlets or bays (areas where the water is calm). If the ice layer is very thin, you may be able to position someone at the bow of your boat to try breaking ice with boat hooks. Use a stop and go approach in these situations, making sure that the ice is completely broken before you proceed. Never attempt to run your boat through ice, no matter how thin it may appear. Consider this when deciding where to boat in cold weather conditions.

7. In freezing cold weather, remember that it's warmer below the water’s surface. If you have an outboard engine, keep it trimmed down into the water so that you reduce the chances of freezing your gear case.

Boating safely in ice certainly requires that you do your homework to ensure that both you and your boat are properly prepared. If you are wondering which types of boats are best for different conditions, use our boat comparison tool to learn about the unique features of each type of vessel.
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit shefishes2.com or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.