Cold Weather Fishing Safety

Cold Weather Fishing Safety

Posted by : David N   /  

Cooler weather is arriving across the country and that means it's time to prepare yourself for cold water fishing.


The dangers of cold water are very real, and thinking you don't need to concern yourself with them can be a deadly mistake. 

Boaters, paddlers, and anglers can take some simple precautions to ensure that they are safer in cold water.


By far the most important safety tip we can offer you is to always, always, always wear a well fitted PFD, in good condition. The North American Safe Boating Campaign, known as Wear It!, affirms that PFDs save lives. 



A person who falls into cold water has one minute to adjust to the cold shock, 10 minutes of meaningful movement to get help & escape the water, & one hour before he/she becomes unconscious from hypothermia. That means that your safety window is quite limited- so practice how to get back into your kayak or canoe quickly, now, while the water is still warm. 

Always check the weather forecast for the area you'll be fishing in, and plan accordingly. 

A charged, working cell phone in a dry bag is an essential piece of winter safety gear. Make sure to keep it securely inside your .pdf so you don't lose it if you capsize. Cold weather will drain your battery faster than usual, so a fully charged backup battery pack is a good idea- you can buy external battery packs for under $10.


Learn CPR. Drowning can happen very quickly. Knowing CPR can save a life buy buying time til rescuers arrive. There are classes everywhere. Find an online or in person class near you here.


Any time you head out, it's a good idea to let someone at home know the details of your float plan- just in case. Texting them a quick snapshot of your vehicle, with the license plate showing, is another easy way to help the authorities locate you in an emergency. You can download a free float plan template at


Plan your route.  Winter conditions aren’t really a time to just wander around out there. Make a plan- and stick to it. If you know your wind direction, paddle into it first while you're fresh. Use the wind behind you to help propel you as you return home. Stay in sight of shore if possible.


Winter is duck hunting season. Avoid areas that hunters frequent, and know where and when they're likely to be active. Wearing blaze orange can help, but it's not a guarantee. 


Dressing for cold water fishing is a critical part of your overall safety plan. The right gear can save your life. Dress for the water temperature- not the air temperature, and bring an extra set of warm clothes in a dry bag. Consider the performance of your clothing in the water & choose lightweight, less absorbent synthetics, warm outer layers and lightweight, sturdy footwear. Check that you have plenty of shoulder flexion & arm rotation when layered up. Don't forget a hat and gloves, and chemical hand warmers in a dry bag.

If you capsize:

  • Do your best to remain calm. A gasp when you fall into cold water can cause you to inhale water. As little as 4 oz of water in the lungs can drown an adult. 
  • Stay with your boat if possible
  • Get out of the water as quickly as you can
  • Call for help immediately if you have a medical emergency
  • Resist the urge to apply heat to the extremities of hypothermia victims, doing so can cause cardiac arrest. 

Plan for your trip home, too. You're likely to be cold and hungry. A thermos of hot tea or coffee waiting in the car, and something to eat, can revive you while you pack up your gear.


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