Winter months are exciting for those who prefer the colder weather, but they can be quite daunting for others. As a snowbird, the freezing homeland might not sound as much like a wonderland, so why not head to the Sunshine State?
If you’re traveling to Florida for the winter and also like boating, you might have just hit the jackpot; you can explore the waters instead of skating on them. Sunny and less frigid weather, active waterways, and fish that can still bite make Florida the perfect destination for snowbirds!
Before planning your trip, there are some important tips that any snowbird should know about boating and fishing in the Florida waterways. In this article, you will find boating and water tips and safety guidelines for your winter vacation.
Traveling with or Renting a Boat?
Bring your boat along
If you already have a boat and are planning to travel by car, you could always bring your boat with you on a trailer. Prior to the trip, inspect your trailer thoroughly for any potential hazards such as broken lights, flat tires, stiff brakes, discolored bearings, or broken straps.
Once here, you can leave your boat on the trailer when it is not in use, or you can store your boat at a marina. Marinas offer different secure and affordable storage options, including dry boat storage, wet slip storage, or securing it and your trailer together on land.
Sail to our subtropical waters
Who doesn’t want to set sail to Florida’s subtropical climate for the winter? Prior to making this journey, you will need to acquire the proper permissions.
If you were born on or after January 1, 1988, you will need to have completed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) approved boating education course or have passed an equivalent course, for starters. You will also need a boating education ID card along with a photo ID to operate the boat.
Boat renting or chartering
If you don’t have much boating experience, consider crewed charters or hiring a captain for your boat rental. In addition to crewed charters, charter companies typically offer several types of packages, including fishing, yacht and cabin charters. For avid boaters, you could arrange for a bareboat charter or use a boat sharing company to rent from an individual boat owner, allowing you the freedom of taking a boat out, just you and your family.
Join a boat club
If you are a regular snowbird, you might be looking for an alternative to boat ownership. In this case, you may want to consider joining a boat club. For a yearly fee (or even a half-year fee, depending on the club), you can enjoy everything about boat ownership without worrying about traveling with or storing your boat.
Enjoying Florida’s Waterways During “Winter”
Cruise the waterways or breakout the water toys
Silver Springs State Park, Wakulla Springs, Key West, or Miami Beach – these are just a few of the options that Florida has to offer snowbirds when it comes to cruising. Florida is full of popular destinations for cruisers, anglers and kayakers, especially near Sarasota, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, Naples and Sanibel Island. It is safe to say that there is no shortage of waterways that can be explored in Florida. There are 1,800 miles of coastline and more than 12,000 miles of rivers and streams to be seen. If you don’t plan on boating every day but want to try something new, you might want to try some water activities like jet skiing, water skiing, wakeboarding or parasailing.
If you were thinking that just because it’s wintertime, there’s no fishing involved, think twice. One of the best things about Florida during winter is that fishing still occurs, albeit mostly in freshwater. Numerous species of fish still bite during the season, which can make your trip even more exciting. The most popular winter-time fish are Cobia, Channel Catfish, Snapper, Perch, Northern Pike, Walleye, Crappie, Bluegill and Trout.
Colder temperatures impact fish activity, with fish feeding just before the passing of a cold front. Timing is key! Ideal fishing times are between 10 am and 4 pm during winter. Lures most likely won’t work in your favor, as the fish and bait tend to move more slowly in the winter. Fish also won’t be going for larger bait because the colder temperatures decrease their metabolism. Small, live bait is your best bet.
Keep your fishing gear maintained, as colder temperatures can freeze gears and lines, making your rod difficult to use if the mechanics are already stiff, wet or have old oil and grease.
Staying Safe on the Water
Make a plan
For starters, figure you who you are bringing with you because you do not want to go out alone during the winter! If you were to fall overboard, the cold water could cause you to cramp and become hypothermic very quickly.
Boating is an adventure, even more so when it’s in a new location, so take it slow. You might have to get used to the new surroundings and weather. Make sure you always have at hand a detailed GPS or a map in case you get in trouble. Leave your plan with someone that is not coming along, in case you get into an emergency situation and someone needs to find you.
Pack the necessary equipment
Much of this equipment will be onboard if you are chartering, but it never hurts to double check. If you are bareboat chartering, renting, or captaining your own boat, make a list and check it twice. The boat should have manual propelling devices, repair kits and ladders, for starters. You should also have a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit handy. Being on the water is not the same as being on the land and your phone might not help you in case of an emergency, so you will need a VHF or 2-way radio and someone on board will need to know how to operate it. Emergency radios can operate without a network, have long battery life, and are also waterproof. Some other tools which are essential for any boat trip are sound and visual signaling devices and flares.
All passengers need to be properly equipped with a personal flotation device (PFD). Everyone needs to wear a lifejacket over their top-most layer of clothing, and they all need to be the right size. Before getting on the boat, ensure that there are no issues with the lifejackets, such as rips or tears, as they will not be considered suitable and thus, approved.
Ensure all safety equipment is functional and accessible. Items such as fire extinguishers and first aid kit items have an expiration date, so check these before hitting the water.
First Aid Kit
Here are a few of the essential items you should have in your first-aid kit:
- Elastic, adhesive, and triangular bandages, adhesive pads, and gauze/li>
- Burn cream
- Alcohol wipes/disinfectant
- Ibuprofen/aspirin (considering passenger preference/allergies)
- Motion sickness medication
- Saline solution and syringe without a needle
- Scissors, safety pins, and tweezers
- Foil space blanket
- Disposable gloves
- SAM splint
- Eye wash
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Clothing is an important aspect to consider when boating in the winter. Visiting snowbird will likely be more prepared than most, but for those that think Florida waters don’t get cold, we urge you to be cautious even in our subtropical waters.
Most of the time, you should choose something that is both comfortable, but also waterproof. Staying warm is inherently more important when on the water in the winter, especially if you get wet. Avoid elemental exposure by bundling up with long underwear, plenty of layers, thick socks and a head/face covering. Pack an extra set of dry clothes and avoid cotton because it will not keep you warm if it gets wet; synthetic or wool fabrics are ideal. You can also invest in hand and foot warmers.
Food and water
Even if it is a short trip, having some bottles of water and some snacks on board could come in very handy. For winter trips, bring some high energy foods that are easy to eat with gloves on, like energy bars. Do not forget your thermos with some hot soup for lunch!
We can all agree that nothing beats a sunny day, especially when it’s spent on the boat. Even in cold weather though, the sun is still a factor. Sun exposure can wreak havoc without you even knowing it. Reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours and stay covered when you can.
Bonus Tip: Check Local Laws
Lastly, there are a few local laws you will need to brush up on. There are regulations on boating that vary from place to place, as well as fishing in both saltwater and freshwater. Looking to fish? Even visitor must have licenses to bag fish. Make sure you have the proper fishing licenses.