Cold Water Boating
Warmer days entice us onto the water after spending months seemingly trapped indoors. Though eager to get aboard our boats and go, we must never leave caution behind.
While practicing safe boating is a year-round necessity, there are more precautions to take when water temperatures are chilly. As it will be months before local waters climb above 60 degrees, an accidental immersion isn’t just a wet nuisance. Capsizing or falling overboard can prove fatal; a person may lose sensation in their arms and/or legs, diminishing swimming and self-rescue capabilities. A plunge into icy waters may also cause shock or hyperventilation.
From now until May 1, New York State law requires that all boaters on recreational watercraft less than 21 feet wear a securely fastened U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while underway. Though this law has a specific end date, chilly waters don’t care about calendars. Boaters should not remove their life jackets while outside the cabin no matter how warm the sun feels.
Should someone (or everyone) go overboard, remain calm. Quickly perform important functions first, such as locating all persons, getting anyone still in the water out, and calling for rescue. As it’s unlikely that there will be other hardy boaters nearby to lend a hand, quickly summoning help is crucial.
Every boater should carry a small waterproof bag containing an emergency locator beacon (EPIRB), a portable marine VHF radio, a cell phone, whistle, signal mirror, and pocket flares. Backups of all communication and signaling devices should be kept on the vessel, too, so that someone aboard can signal if the person in the water cannot do so.
Surviving a brisk water plunge is more likely if the person who goes overboard can get back into the boat fast. Boats without a ladder or swim platform should have a foot sling or a webbed strap.
If you’re boating with your canine companion, the water is just as dangerous for them as for you. Fit dogs with properly sized, brightly colored life jackets with handles for grabbing and lifting.
Before you head out, let others know about your boating day. Write up, text, or use a float plan app that lets you share a summary of your planned boating location and timetable with a friend, family member, or marina staff. Specify your boat’s name, type, length, color, and the location of its towing vehicle, if applicable. Sharing this info ensures that there’s no delay in getting help if your plans go awry.
Boating while impaired gets the cold shoulder no matter the season. Don’t consume alcohol or take any drugs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of your prescription and over-the-counter medications. Quick rule of thumb: if you shouldn’t be driving your car, you mustn’t be piloting a boat.
Cold water survival videos