Making the Most of the Off Season
For a lucky few, life of the water is a year round endeavor. For most of us however, we have our core time on the water and our off season. Depending on who you ask this can mean different things - from more time on the dock to dry storage, a few months slowing down to a long winter waiting to get back on the water. Regardless of where you fall and when that ‘off season’ is for you, here are some things to think about to make the most of your time off the water.
Training & Education
Not all learning about boating is done on the water. There are many opportunities to hone your skills off the deck. Depending on where you live some training may be required even to operate personal watercraft. Given some of the down time you may have in slower off season consider the following:
Courses such as About Boating Safety (offered by the US Coast Guard Auxiliary) or the Power Squadron’s American’s Boating Course are two examples of fundamental boating safety courses. Many of you reading this have likely taken a version of this some time during your life, but perhaps it’s time for a refresher on new laws or procedures. If you have a member of your family that is become the age to operate a vessel on their own this course will be both good practice and likely satisfy the boater safety requirement most jurisdictions require for operation. Regardless of the reason, if you find yourself considering such a course, taking a day long session or online version during the slower months may be a good option - not to mention removing one more thing to occupy you during the start of the season.
Beyond the basics of safe boat operation there are also many opportunities to train more advanced topics. Courses on navigation, advanced sailing techniques, weather, GPS, and more are available through private schools as well as volunteer organizations such as the Coast Guard. These courses go more in depth than any introductory course and allow you to focus learning on your interested. Additionally the time requirement for these courses can go from days to weeks, making them less schedule friendly to take during peak season.
‘Catch Up’ Learning
Did you ever figure out all the features of that new radio you installed two years ago? What about the new GPS you had to replace last season? These are examples of what I call ‘catch up’ learning. Things that you usually don’t want to spend more than the absolutely minimum to get up and running during peak season…but we all know we should learn more about. When you have a quiet afternoon in the off season, spending some time to learn the features and functionality of all the advanced equipment on your boat could be time well spent. It will not only given you more satisfaction, but understanding how to use such tools may one day save your life.
Mooring and Dock Opportunities
Whether you already have an established dock slip or mooring spot or are on a waiting list to get one, the off season gives you the opportunity to ‘shop around’ and ensure you’re still in the best position possible.
Existing dock slips and mooring spots are like a warm blanket, they’re familiar - you know the area, how to navigate within it, and you have your routine. That being said if you’re looking to improve your location or get a better price for your desired spot on the water, the off season can provide a great opportunity ask around and land deals that you may otherwise miss.
Things change in the off season that harbor masters may not be as quick to update their customers of unless you’re proactively asking around, so use the time to your advantage. Unexpected vessel sales, moves, family situations, and other factors can lead to changes at any time. Being ahead of the regular rush can out you at an advantage in getting the spot you want. Additionally you can use this opportunity to inquire with other marinas or private parties for openings and better rates for the coming year.
The more you can lock down for the coming year in the off season, the more time uninterrupted you’ll have to spend on the water.
Gear Fit & Expiration
If you’re like most boaters I know, some equipment comes off the boat with your during the slow times or ahead of winter storage. Even if they don’t there should be a time when you inspect safety gear and other equipment for prior fit and expiration.
PFDs are a great example of an everyday use item that should be reviewed and inspected at least once a year. PFDs should be checked for proper condition (e.g. no tears, frays, or other damage that could compromise them) and repaired or replaced as needed. If you have children who regularly use your boat ensure that their PFD’s still fit properly or if they need to be upsized.
Beyond PFDs consider all other safety items that may need to be inspected and replaced. Great examples of these are the content of first aid kits - have them been depleted or expired? Fire extinguishers are another. If you have them in storage where you can inspect them for damage or expiration, replace and dispose of (according to proper local procedure) now when you have the time. It will give you peace of mind when you start the season and one less thing to be in a rush over as you race to the water.
Did you remember to print out your latest insurance cards? Do you remember the last time you renewed your SeaTow membership? These are examples of things that come around every year that can become an early season distraction or even a problem in getting on the water.
Use the time you have to go through your checklist of paperwork, renewals, fees, etc. and take care of them as soon as possible. Put them in a folder and get ready to take with you when you’re ready to kick off opening day. The peace of mind you’ll have in knowing that everything has been taken care of well in advance will be worth the time you invest now.
If you’re really feeling ambitious, think about the last time you did some competitive shopping for your boating insurance. This is one of those things that is treated as ‘set it and forget it’ by most (which insurance companies love), but why not get a few quotes and see how off market you are? If like many you carry coverage tied to other policies (e.g. home, auto, life, etc.) this can still give you some data points to negotiate a better rate.
Do you have other ways you use the off season to prepare? Let us know what they are in the comments below.