Safety tips you should know for boating in cold water this season

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October 14th, 2008

Don’t let the temperature outside fool you: Cold water immersion and hypothermia can occur in water as cool as 70 degrees at any time of the year, even on a warm and sunny day.

Boat Safe, Boat Smart, Boat SoberArizona winters are mild, and recreational boating and fishing are popular year-round, but an unexpected immersion into cold water can cause hypothermia and even lead to a life-threatening situation.

Entering extremely cold water causes an immediate gasp reflex that can fill the lungs with water.

“With the paralyzing effects of cold water, wearing a life jacket is the only precaution that will bring a person to the water’s surface and help keep the head above water preventing immediate drowning,” says Kevin Bergersen, boating law administrator for the state of Arizona.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department wants to provide everyone with safety tips about cold water immersion and hypothermia:

  1. When entering the water, it is important to wear a life jacket, move slowly and stay calm.
  2. Wearing a life jacket at other times will also help keep your head above water. This is especially important after falling overboard, when a life jacket can help bring your body to the surface.
  3. If your boat capsizes, stay with it. More than likely, it will not sink. It can be used as a platform to maneuver, so stay on top of it as much as possible, getting yourself out of the water and maintaining stability.
  4. Don’t try to take off clothing in the water. A common misconception is that heavy clothing or waders weigh down your body, when in fact, they can trap air and help keep the body afloat.

“Don’t try and remove clothing. It will only make you tired, and you’ll lose more body heat,” Bergersen says. “Bring your knees to your chest and fold your arms or float on your back and slowly paddle to safety, if necessary.”

Of course, alcohol consumption can result in irrational behavior, only complicating matters for your survival. Bergersen says it is important not to drink alcohol near cold water or while operating motorized vehicles, including boats. For more boating safety facts or to take a boating education class, go online to: www.azgfd.gov/boat-ed.

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