Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cold Water Boating Safety

October 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 


 At this time of year, temperatures plummet while water safety precautions rise.

Though you practice safe boating in the summer, the other three seasons have two additional perils. The first is the inhospitable (life-threatening) coldness of the water and the other is the lack of other boaters to lend a hand or call for assistance if they spot something amiss.

Watching a TV weather forecast or checking your phone’s default weather app isn’t enough for boaters, according to Joseph Cioffi, WPIX TV and FiOS1 News meteorologist. “Apps and TV weather forecasts are woefully lacking in providing the specific information boaters need regarding wind direction, speed, gusts, water temperatures, along with various advisories and warnings. It is better to either use an app specifically related to marine weather conditions or consult the National Weather Service Marine Forecast page for more specific information regarding where you are boating.” http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/home.htm

Be specific when you search for an updated forecast. “Conditions in the back bays can be quite different from those near shore and from those offshore,” cautions Cioffi. “Oftentimes weather offshore is quite different from that right along the coast, and wind direction and speed play key roles in daily water temperatures.

Courtesy Alaska Office of Boating Safety

Courtesy Alaska Office of Boating Safety

“Water temperatures warm and cool unevenly with the seasons. There is a four to six week lag between the peak summer land temperatures and the peak ocean water temperatures,” he explains. “And the reverse is true in the winter where water temperatures do not hit their lows until early March and begin rising, albeit slowly.”

To determine the hazard posed by the water’s temperature, consult a localized marine app or http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/cwtg/. Always err on the side of caution, as tools such as these take readings from large areas. Protect yourself — consider a temperature reading of 70o F as cautiously as you would 65o F.

Some boaters shrug off consulting and monitoring the weather. I’ve heard more than one old salt say, “If the water’s not frozen, I don’t have anything to worry about.” That statement rankles Cioffi, who calls such a careless attitude “not only completely false but downright dangerous.”

“Once water temperatures drop below 70, there is a small risk of hypothermia in sensitive individuals,” he advises. “Once water temperatures start to fall below 65 or 60, then the risk of hypothermia increases rather sharply and it can set in very fast — in a matter of a few minutes.”

Jeffrey S. Johnson, boating law administrator for the state of Alaska, agrees. “The unexpected immersion into cold water can result in shock, uncontrollable gasping and hyperventilation, vertigo, and panic. Without a life jacket on, there is a serious risk of drowning.”

Boaters cannot dismiss the risk of cold-water immersion. A blow to the head, a broken limb, a shock to the system — these and many more things can cause you to lose clarity of thought and/or your ability to move. Within the first 10 minutes or so of being in cold water, arms and legs begin to lose sensation and strength, reducing both swimming and any capability to scramble out of the water to save yourself.

“Boaters should be wearing life jackets, without exception, when the water temperature is cold (68o F or colder),” Johnson says. “Without a life jacket on, there is a serious risk of drowning.”

In five states, it’s mandatory to wear life jackets in cold weather months. The beginning and end times vary in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. See requirements here: http://www.americancanoe.org/?page=Cold_Weather_PFD_Law

Father and son kayaking on a rural lake, front viewWhether there’s a law or not, wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket that fits your intended activity and your body. All life jackets aren’t equal — there are ones for rough waters, ones modified for kayaking and so on, so seek advice on the type of jacket that offers maximum protection for your chosen activity. See www.uscgboating.org/images/howtochoosetherightlifejacket_brochure.pdf for information and/or ask the advice of a knowledgeable marine retailer.

Unless you’re wearing an inflatable device, fit is crucial. Start with the manufacturer’s recommended height and weight range. Try it on, adjust correctly, fasten properly, and then hold your arms up over your head. Ask a shopping companion or salesperson to tug upwards gently from the tops of the arm openings — it’s not the proper fit if rises up over your chin or higher when pulled.

If you boat with your dog, it’s important that he or she wears a properly fitted jacket, too. Make sure it’s brightly colored and has a handle. [Note: If your canine companion gets a shortcut in the summer but shags out in colder months, you may need two life jackets, as the frosty-time jacket may be too loose when the sun’s sizzling.]

All vessels should be equipped with a ladder, swim platform, foot sling, or a webbed strap — your likelihood of survival is better the faster you get out of the cold water.

Getting out of the water is vital, but so is locating all persons and calling for help. If you’re not the person who’s gone overboard, assess the situation and perform the most important functions first. Account for and locate all persons who’ve gone overboard, offer assistance, and call for help.

Help may take longer to arrive as there’s less boater traffic, so know what to do to help someone who’s been immersed in cold water. Here’s good information:




Additional tips:

  1. Prepare and share a float plan. Write down, email, or text your marina, family member, or a friend a summary of your plans for the day, including when you plan on returning. Specify your boat’s name, type, length, color, and the location of its towing vehicle, if applicable, and include a photo of your boat as well. You may also use the U.S. Coast Guard mobile app to file a float plan. The app also features an emergency assistance button — with your device’s locations service enabled, it will call the closest command center to summon help. http://www.uscg.mil/mobile/
  1. Carry a waterproof bag filled with communication devices including an emergency locator beacon (EPIRB), a portable marine VHF radio, cell phone, whistle, pocket flares, and a signal mirror. Johnson advises boaters to “carry these devices on your body. Having them on the boat won’t do you any good if the boat sinks or you are otherwise separated from the vessel.” More on EPIRBs: http://www.safeboatingcouncil.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=88:saved-by-the-beacon&catid=20:site-content&Itemid=173
  1. Be aware and vigilant about the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. While it’s a peril all year, the threat increases in the colder seasons — cold engines produce more CO than warm, and covers are more likely to stay on when the temperatures are chilly. Put on an extra layer of clothing, leave the covers off, maintain fresh air circulation, and run exhaust blowers extensively.
  1. Never boat while impaired. Don’t consume alcohol or drugs. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of any prescription and over-the-counter medications — if you shouldn’t drive, you shouldn’t boat.
  1. Take a boating safety course. “Learn ways to avoid capsizing and swamping, how to prevent falls overboard and how to properly load a boat, anchor, and handle a boat in rough water,” ticks off Johnson, who adds, “Keeping a boating emergency from happening is always better than trying to recover from it.”

By Lita Smith-Mines


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