At the Safe Boating Campaign we believe wearing a life jacket is the simplest life-saving strategy for safe boating. Whether you’re boating, hunting, paddling or angling, taking a few extra minutes to make sure everyone on board is wearing a life jacket can make a difference in keeping you and your loved ones safe in the event of an emergency. Accidents are unexpected and you can quickly end up in frigid water.
Here are some tips to keep in mind before you head out on the cold water.
• Do make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket. Even experienced swimmers can experience shock within one minute in the frigid water and may lose muscle control within 10 minutes.
• Do file a float plan with someone you trust that includes details about the trip, boat, passengers, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment, and emergency contacts. Download a free float plan template at FloatPlanCentral.org.
• Do dress properly for the weather, always wearing layers, and bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet. Remember, dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.
• Do 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.
• Do look for ways to increase your buoyancy. If you’re alone, utilize the H.E.L.P. (Heat Escape Lessening Position) and if you’re in the water with others, huddle together with everyone facing inwards to help everyone stay afloat and keep warm.
• 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.
• Don’t apply heat to extremities like arms and legs of a rescued victim. This sudden change in temperature may cause cardiac arrest.
Recreational water activities during the winter and early spring are a lot of fun, but always remember safety first.