|Cold Water Safety|
Table of Contents:
Wintertime. The summer sailors have packed it in, and the deserted inland and coastal waterways are peaceful and relaxing - until you get into trouble. Although most boating accidents occur in July during the height of the summer boating season, the potential for serious injury rises dramatically in the off-season when there are fewer boaters and law enforcement officers on the water to provide assistance or rescue. U.S. Coast Guard 2007 national accident data show that less than one in 15 boating accidents in July of that year involved a fatality; in December it was one in five. That’s something to think about.
Swamping, capsizing, falling overboard and the sudden storms that can cause them, become significantly more hazardous in the fall and the winter when water temperatures drop. The key to avoiding a crisis is to be thoroughly prepared before going out. The steps outlined here can make mishaps less likely, and the chances of surviving them much greater.
Consider Every Scenario
It seems a no-brainer, but there is no margin for error in the off-season. Consider every scenario, beginning with the possibility of becoming stranded. Be sure you have enough fuel to complete your journey. The rule of thumb is to use fuel in thirds: one-third out, one-third back and one-third for emergencies.
Along with a first aid kit, add an onboard emergency kit that includes a dry change of clothes, some high-energy snack food, some fresh water, a thermos of coffee, cocoa or other warm liquid, a roll of duct tape, and a waterproof, portable flashlight with extra batteries, flares and matches. Be sure to stow all of these materials in a waterproof bag to protect them from the elements.
Remember to carry a mobile phone only as a backup to your VHF marine radio. Cell phones frequently lose signals and are unidirectional; in other words, while only one person receives a phone call, many will hear a VHF radio distress call. If boating activity takes you far from shore, consider adding an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. Rescue 21, the advanced command, control and communications system created to improve search and rescue, is currently being deployed in stages across the contiguous 48 states and will eventually extend to Alaska and Hawaii, too. This new system gives the Coast Guard the ability to pinpoint the location of a distress call from a DSC-VHF marine radio connected to a GPS receiver.
Life jackets are essential pieces of cold-weather boating equipment. Lightweight, inflatable clothing is popular during the summer months, and in cold weather, they will both keep you afloat and provide additional insulation. Since there’s rarely time to put on life jackets during an emergency, make sure that everyone wears them at all times when the boat is in use. If individuals end up in the water, their chances of survival will increase dramatically if they are wearing life jackets.
Also, think about how you would get back into the boat after a fall overboard. Climbing back in can be next to impossible in heavy, wet winter clothes, even for someone who is uninjured. Consider providing a sling if your boat has no boarding ladder.
Learn Emergency Measures
Don’t be deceived by warm days; the water temperature can still be frigid. If a boat becomes swamped or capsizes, the dangers of cold shock and hypothermia make the situation critical.
Cold shock produces an involuntary gasping reflex that speeds drowning, hence the need to wear a life jacket. Hypothermia means losing body heat faster than an individual can produce it, causing body temperature to drop. Because water causes heat to leave the body 25 times faster than air does, cold water-immersion hypothermia can happen quickly, leaving victims too numb to move their fingers, arms and legs.