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Tips for Safe Cold-Weather Fishing

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Many anglers enjoy spending a bright, sunny day on the water in the winter and early spring. It’s peaceful and quiet, and you may just get your best catch of the year. What looks like a perfect day can quickly become hazardous if you end up in frigid waters, so it’s important to understand the extra precautions to take during the off-season.

A person who falls into the water experiences increased danger with water temperature that is below normal body temperature (98.6 degrees F). You have one minute to adjust to the cold shock of being in the water, 10 minutes of meaningful movement to get help and get out of the water, and one hour before he/she becomes unconscious from hypothermia.

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.