WASHINGTON – While the majority of boaters in colder parts of the country have winterized their boats or put them into storage until spring, many still rely on their vessels for hunting, fishing or necessary transportation in cold weather, substantially increasing their risk of a deadly accident. Extra caution and preparation should be taken before heading out on the water in winter.
The U.S Coast Guard says the importance of wearing a life jacket becomes even more critical when the danger for hypothermia is added to other concerns. Sudden immersion in cold water can have severe physiological consequences, such as cardiac arrest, fast loss of body heat (the body loses heat 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air) and involuntary inhalation of water (gasping) that results in drowning. Most Coast Guard-approved life jackets when worn are designed to keep the user’s head above water while awaiting rescue.
In addition to wearing a life jacket, wearing the right clothing also can contribute to a more enjoyable and safer cold weather boating experience. Consider layering clothing, including a wet suit or dry suit, to help ward off the effects of hypothermia.
Following are some additional tips for safe winter boating:
- Assess the risks – envision what can go wrong and be fully equipped and prepared.
- Leave a float plan with a responsible individual who knows your intentions, location, and who to call if you fail to return as scheduled.
- Carry a VHF radio or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), signal flares and other means to draw attention to your location.
- Be aware of and prepared for the shock of sudden immersion and incapacitating effects of cold water – dress to get wet and carry a change of clothing in a waterproof container.
- Maintain situational awareness on the water – be aware of activity around your vessel and potential for fast-changing weather conditions.
- Boat safe and sober – save the alcohol for when you’ve safely returned.
- Be sure your vessel is in good operating condition and has the necessary safety equipment on board before you leave the dock.
- Refresh your seamanship skills…take a boating safety course.