Cold Weather Boating The warm weather boaters have left the water and are dreaming of spring, though a few die-hard fishermen still work their favorite spots.
Enjoying these good times does not come without the risk of paying a heavy price. The water is cold, with temperatures dropping under 50º F. during the off-season, making a fall into the water a real danger of becoming a fatal accident. Their love of cold weather boating exposes winter boaters to very serious risks. The sharply reduced boating traffic adds to that danger making an immediate or prompt rescue highly unlikely.
The main objective in surviving cold weather boating is to avoid entering the water because immersion in cold water rapidly incapacitates and may quickly kill boaters who are not wearing protective clothing. Water removes heat from a body 25 times faster than cold air and most of the body heat is lost through the head. Strong swimmers wearing a PFD have died before they covered 100 yards in cold water. Did you know that in water with a temperature of less than 40º F., a strong man can expire before he can swim 100 feet? Two factors come into play against you while you are immersed in cold water, they are cold shock and hypothermia.
Cold shock from falling into icy water can trigger an involuntary gasping reflex which causes you to inhale water through your mouth. Without a life jacket, a person can drown without ever coming back to the surface. Wearing your life jacket will increase the likelihood of survival if you should accidentally fall into the cold winter water. Cold shock may also result in cardiac arrest. When the head and chest are exposed to cold water, the result is often a very sudden increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Cold water immersion can also result in immediate loss of consciousness.
Hypothermia develops more slowly than the effects of cold shock and you may not be immediately aware of the symptoms. A hypothermia victim starts to shiver as core body temperature falls from 97ºF. down to about 90ºF. When the body’s core temperature falls to 93ºF., physical ability is severely diminished and mental capacity begins to deteriorate rapidly. A victim usually falls into an unconscious state when body temperature falls to 86ºF. If the victim doesn’t drown first, hypothermia will finish him off when the body temperature falls to or near 80ºF. Survival figures show that an adult dressed in average clothing may remain conscious for one hour in water at 40ºF, and perhaps as long as 2 to 3 hours in 50ºF water.
Our mission at Safe/Sea is two-fold: assisting boaters in need, and promoting safety while underway. Boaters who venture out this late in the season for “one last trip” need to exercise extreme caution and vigilance to avoid turning a day of enjoyment into one of tragedy.