Cold Water Safety

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At the Safe Boating Campaign, we believe wearing a life jacket is the simplest life-saving strategy for safe boating – no matter the water temperature or conditions. Whether you’re boating, hunting, paddling, or angling, taking a few extra minutes to make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket can be the difference maker in the outcome of an emergency. During the cold water months, it’s critical to pay extra attention to the planning and preparation of your trip on the water.

Before heading out on the cold water, use these tips to stay safe.

  • Make sure everyone is wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket. Even experienced swimmers can experience shock within one minute in the frigid water and may lose muscle control within 10 minutes. Be mindful of life jacket buoyancy depending on the weather conditions, gear worn, and anticipated recreational activity.
  • File a float plan with someone you trust that includes details about the trip, boat, passengers, tow vehicle, communication equipment, and emergency contacts.
  • Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. It’s important to dress properly for the weather. Make sure you always dress in layers and bring extra sets of dry clothes for everyone on board the vessel.
  • Catch your breath. A sudden unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than ½ cup of water in your lungs to drown. If you remain calm, you have a greater chance of self-rescue.
  • Don’t panic if you fall into the water. Stay afloat with the help of your life jacket, regain control of your breathing, and keep your head above water in vision of rescuers. Stay with the boat if possible.
  • Never apply heat to extremities like arms and legs of a rescued victim. This sudden change in temperature may cause cardiac arrest. Notify medical personnel immediately if someone is showing signs of hypothermia or cold-water shock.

Recreating on the water during the winter and colder months brings tons of fun opportunities, but always make sure you’re keeping safety as the number one priority.