With days reaching into the 50s, but much colder waters in still in the mid-30s, it’s a great time to remind paddlers and other boaters of the dangers of falling overboard in cold water. Of New York’s 25 fatalities associated with recreational boating in 2011, almost a third of those deaths involved small paddled boats, when water temperatures were cold.
In almost every one of those fatal accidents life jackets were not worn and in some cases weren’t even on board at the time of the accident. The Coast Guard estimates that 80% of all boating accident deaths might have been prevented had a life jacket been worn. In New York, life jackets are required to be worn on any boat less than 21 feet in length between November 1st and May 1st.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2007 496 people died from drowning in boating-related incidents. Four-fifths of all drowning victims are over the age of 14; 80% are male. In 2009, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports indicated that 9 out of 10 boating fatalities from drowning were not wearing life jackets.
The physiology of cold water immersion includes an uncontrollable gasp reflex, causing hyperventilation, leading to unconsciousness or to swimming failure as limbs become numb. Having a life jacket on may keep your head above water and support your body should swimming ability fail or you become unconscious and greatly increases chances of rescue.
Additionally it is recommended that all boaters:
Properly equip and carry essential safety gear, signaling devices and whistles;
Use of either a dry or wet suit when conditions dictate;
Consider taking a cell phone or radio with you, carried in a watertight bag;
Always let others know where you’re going and when to expect your return;
Learn the reach, throw, row, go technique to save someone who’s drowning;
Take a boating safety or paddle sport skills course; and always,
Refrain from mixing alcohol with boating.
Should you find yourself in the water it is recommended that you stay with – and preferably on top of – your boat. Never overestimate your swimming ability, especially in cold water. Even strong swimmers can underestimate the distance to shore or the effects of cold water and drown while attempting to swim to safety in cold waters.
The latest outdoor conditions in the Adirondacks are reported by the Adirondack Almanack on Thursday evenings here.
Photo Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.