Four Reasons to Keep Boating Right Into Autumn

It was another great summer, whether you were partying on the docks or rafted up with your friends by the side of the lake, or towing your kids on tubes and wakeboards. Every weekend and vacation day was planned and filled to the brim.

Now Labor Day Weekend is here. Whether you think of it as the last bit of summer or the first bit of fall, it’s always a great three-day stretch to be out on the water. But it also marks the time when, if you live in the northern part of the country, you can’t help but think about the change of seasons and the dismal moment when you have to lay up the boat for winter.

Fall is a fine season for fishing,  exploring,  cruising, and getting away from the crowds of summer.
Fall is a fine season for fishing, exploring, cruising, and getting away
from the crowds of summer.

Well, hold on there, Salty. Here are four reasons to postpone that moment for a month or two longer and enjoy some of the benefits of fall boating.

Less Crowded

It’s amazing how the start of school around the country brings immediate changes to traffic on the nation’s roadways. Well, the same is true of the waterways. All of a sudden those lines at the fuel dock disappear. There’s space at the dockside restaurant up the river that you circled so many times all summer. And that local launch ramp where it took you an hour or more to queue up in July? It’s all yours, autumn boater, along with your fellow die-hards. And aren’t you the ones who back up straightest and launch fastest anyway?

Fall Fishing

Whether you’re a saltwater or freshwater angler, you already know that fall is the finest fishing season. If you live inland and have a shallow-draft boat that gives you access to the edges of lakes and rivers where the bass are feeding before winter, so much the better. In saltwater bays and offshore, a capable boat with some deadrise aft and good seakeeping abilities will get you to the bluefish and stripers, albacore and tautog, and flatfish like halibut and flounder. Be sure to leave a float plan with family and friends, and dress to stay warm.

Leaf Peeping by Boat

If you haven’t had a chance to cruise along a shoreline thick with the reds, oranges, and yellows of fall, you and your family are in for a treat. Pack a picnic, something warm in your thermos, and a fishing rod (just in case). Make the most of the mid-day sun. If you’re on a river, you can buck the current one way and drift downstream the other. Give yourself time to poke into coves and inlets. Keep an eye out for waterfowl along the banks and migrating birds up high. If you have time and a boat with bunks, make a voyage out of it. The farther north you live, the sooner you can start.

Migrating waterfowl take a breather on a New England lake.
Migrating waterfowl take a breather on a New England lake.

The Shorter the Layup, the Better for the Boat

Talk about an excellent excuse: We have to protect our investment, so we can’t haul until Halloween! But it’s true. Even though you’ll be sure to flush your engines and change your oil before the snow flies, the less time your boat, its engine oil, batteries, electrical connections, pumps, and its bilges lie fallow, the better. Mechanical systems like to run, not sit in mothballs with the temperature and humidity going up and down. Also, you’ll probably be getting the most out of your boat insurance: Many policies on boats in temperate-zone waters say you have to be hauled out between November 1 and April 1.

And a Few Cautions

Fall in the northern part of the country can also be a risky season for boaters who lack experience or aren’t careful about the weather. South winds blow a little wilder and north winds sharper, and they get up more suddenly than they do in summer. The days are shorter, which makes planning cruises and long outings trickier. The water itself is colder, and there’s an increased danger of hypothermia if you fall in. And there are fewer people out there to help you if you get in trouble. So pick your weather, adjust plans accordingly, and stay safe out there.

Happy fall boating!