For many of Ohios avid boaters and anglers, balmy spring temperatures act as a siren call luring them back to the waters of our states many lakes and streams.
Early season boating, however, introduces a risk that wont be as prominent during the summer months: perilously cold water. While the air temperatures may be mild, water temperatures are still dangerously cold, potentially turning a day of fun and fishing into a day of disaster.
A majority of us would never intentionally submerge ourselves into icy water, which can immobilize and cause distress to the body within a matter of moments. Yet every year accidental submersions into cold, winter waters take a toll on a boater.
How devastating is cold water to the body?
Imagine completely submerging yourself, fully clothed, in a bathtub of ice water, or simply try holding your hand in a sink full of ice water. Shocking, isnt it?
If you were to fall in to a stream or lake with water temperatures slightly above freezing point and 40 degrees, your life would be in immediate danger. Within minutes the cold water would rob you of your motor skills. Any movement in the water, particularly swimming or treading water, would accelerate your bodys heat loss. And, without a lifejacket, drowning would be a very real possibility.
At this time of year, an unplanned or unexpected cold water immersion resulting from a person falling overboard or a boat capsizing is a critical emergency that has immediate life and death consequences, said John Wisse, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
What happens to the human body in cold water? Hypothermia, a long word with short and nasty consequences. Cold water takes heat away from the body 25 times faster than cold air. Normal body functions slow down, thinking is impaired and speech becomes confused. Reflexes are slowed and muscles become stiff and unusable.
While the chances of falling overboard or capsizing may be low, the threat to your life should it happen is very real. Already this year, the ODNR Division of Watercraft has reported two separate incidents where canoeists fell overboard in icy Ohio waters and drowned, mostly due to the effects hypothermia.
The danger of cold water cannot be overstated, but by being properly prepared for these conditions, early season boating can be safely enjoyed.
Here are some cold water boating tips to remember:
- Always wear a life jacket.
- Wear layers of warm clothing, avoiding cotton fabrics. Wool and polypropylene clothing worn inside a waterproof jacket or wetsuit offers excellent protection.
- Carry a fully charged cell phone. Lake Erie boaters should have a marine radio tuned to Channel 16, the marine distress channel.
- Keep fully alert to weather conditions.
- File a float plan and let a responsible person know what time you plan to begin and return from your boating trip. Call that person when you return home.
- Make sure all required safety equipment is aboard your craft.
- Get a free vessel safety inspection
- If an emergency does occur, get rescue assistance immediately.
- If you do find yourself in cold water, try not to panic. Think survival. Keep movement to a minimum and if you do have to tread water, do it slowly. This will reduce heat loss.
Now, with these warnings firmly entrenched in your mind, go ahead and heed the sirens call. Enjoy a spring day boating Lake Erie, the Ohio River or one of the states many inland lakes and streams. Just boat safely.