Fishermen Wellness: Don't Catch the Winter Blues
Winter in New England poses challenges whether you’re on land or at sea. In Maine, winter can be an off-season for fishermen, and they sometimes reduce their fishing activities or abstain altogether. Many diversify their livelihoods by engaging in other jobs such as snow plowing or carpentry. But like everyone, it’s important that fishermen take some time to care for themselves to get through the cold dark months that make up the winter season.
Here's some things that fishermen can do this winter to help make sure they are ready for their next busy, demanding fishing season:
Take care of your skin. Surely, you’ve been wearing sunscreen and/or a baseball hat to protect your skin but what about your dry or chapped or water-logged hands? There are a few great products on the market today that can help alleviate dry cracked hands that are common amongst Mainers, but especially fishermen. Marin Skincare is a great way to protect your skin, support a Maine company, and support a business that utilizes the great product fishermen harvest, lobster.
Drink lots of water. Dehydration doesn’t just happen when it’s hot outside. Dehydration can happen when it’s cold, too, and it’s potentially more difficult to notice. In winter, the air tends to be drier, and the cold temperatures can lead to increased respiratory water loss. Additionally, you may not feel as thirsty in colder weather which can lead to reduced fluid intake. Keep an eye on the color of your pee (Darker colored urine means you needs to drink more water!), if you’re getting headaches, and feeling fatigue or dizziness. Drinking plenty of water can also help alleviate dry skin, too.
With more down time, less sunlight, and plenty of time to think about everything that’s wrong in the industry, you may also find yourself feeling down. The urge to drink more may arise because anything is better than feeling so much stress, anxiety, and depression. Try to take it easy on how much alcohol you’re consuming, but if you do find yourself drinking more, make sure to drink plenty of water and consume alcohol responsibly. If you want someone to talk to about drinking or some of the stress you’re feeling, you can also find resources on our Fishermen Wellness page.
Take Vitamin D. Sunlight is the most natural source of Vitamin D and since we get less sunlight in the winter in Maine, it’s important to supplement. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, bone health, immune system support, muscle function, and cell growth. It can also help with your mood, too. If you aren’t into vitamins, you could also try a Happy Light! Light therapy has been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression, lack of energy, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and even feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and irritability. You can find inexpensive light therapy options on Amazon. Look for a light that offers 10,000 lux and make sure to read the recommended sitting distance, and for how long you should sit in front of the light.
Catch up on sleep. It’s dark out. Just go to bed.
Use this time to do some strength training. Fishermen are considered industrial athletes and strength training helps enhance physical performance, reduces the risk of injuries, and improves overall well-being. You can find a local gym and work with a personal trainer or coach that can help you improve your strength, or just spend some time moving and doing light weights. Strength training now, while it may be tough, can make things way easier later. Strength training can also improve balance and reaction time, which are both incredibly important on a boat.
Make your doctor appointments (or massage or physical therapy or dentist). If you’re in your off-season, this is a great time to make your appointments because, even if you’re working on your boat in the shop, you have a bit more control over your schedule and aren’t as dictated by the weather. Just get it done. If you are still fishing, while your schedule is still dictated by the weather, you’re likely fishing less. Make an appointment but be clear with the doctor’s office: tell them you’re a commercial fisherman and that there’s a chance that if the weather shifts, you’ll have to go fishing and you’ll give them as much notice as possible so that you can reschedule.
Take baths with Epsom salts. Even just soaking in a warm bath can do wonders for your muscles, but the theory is that soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts can help alleviate inflammation and soreness.
Warm up before you go fishing. You probably give your boat a few minutes to warm up before you leave the mooring, you should do the same for your body. Give yourself a few minutes, move around, do some light stretches in the wheelhouse, and get moving before you get moving.
Spend time with family and friends. Human connection, even when you don’t like people, is incredibly important to well-being and mental health. Spend time doing things with people you love. They miss you when you’re out fishing.
In the brisk winter months in New England, fishermen face unique challenges that extend beyond the waters. During the off-season, it becomes paramount for fishermen who brave the cold Gulf of Maine to prioritize self-care. From protecting your skin with local products like Marin Skincare to staying hydrated in the cold, each step contributes to ensuring a robust and healthy return to the demanding fishing season.
For more information about all of these topics, listen to the Fishing Forward podcast from Coastal Routes radio available on Spotify HERE. Episodes include topics like The Professional Fishing Athlete, Hydration, and Sleep.
Monique Coombs, MCFA's Director of Community Programs, is a certified personal trainer. Her current certification is from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) but she has been certified previously by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). She is also a NASM-certified Nutrition Coach.