WASHINGTON – While many boaters in colder parts of the country have winterized their boats or put them into storage until spring, many still use their vessels for hunting, fishing or transportation. Unfortunately, the risk of a deadly accident is increased with cold weather. Extra caution and preparation should be taken before heading out on the water in winter.
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, including cardiac arrest, quick 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. Wearing a life jacket can keep the boaters head above water, keep the person warm, and provide a chance for rescue.
Wearing the right clothing also contributes to more enjoyable and safer cold weather boating. Consider layering clothing, and including a wet suit or dry suit, to help ward off hypothermia.
Here are some additional tips for safe winter boating:
~ Assess the risks – think 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 and an 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.
~ Be aware of activity around your vessel and potential for fast-changing weather.
~ 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 offered by your local Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla.
The American Boating Association
PO Box 690
New Market, MD 21774