COLUMBUS – The first days of spring are attracting boaters and other recreational enthusiasts to their favorite Ohio waters. Ohioans should remember that even though the air temperature is getting warmer, the water temperature is still cold. Dressing for the water temperature and wearing a life jacket is extremely important.
“Once people enter cold water, hypothermia rapidly sets in, causing them to lose the use of the muscles in their arms and legs,” said Mike Miller, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Watercraft. “That’s why it is imperative that boaters wear a life jacket before heading out on the water; life jackets are a critical part of making sure that you and your family are safe while boating or paddling.”
Water temperatures are slower to respond to the change of seasons. Lake Erie’s water temperature is still approximately 40 degrees, and water temperatures in Ohio’s inland lakes and rivers are also very cold. It is recommended that boaters dress for the water temperature, not the weather, and consider wearing a dry suit or other hypothermia protective clothing when planning to be near cold water. Cold water reduces body heat up to 25 times faster than cold air.
If the water temperature is less than 50 degrees, the window of opportunity for rescue is only a few minutes if the person is not dressed for the water conditions. Information on how to dress for the water temperature is available at bit.ly/DressforCold.
Almost 90 percent of boating fatalities are due to drowning and nearly half of those are attributed to the effects of immersion in cold water. Total immersion in cold water is very painful, with extremities rapidly becoming numb. Disoriented victims can quickly panic as they lose coordination of their limbs. With these combined reactions, a victim may drown quickly.
Falling into cold water triggers the body’s cold water immersion responses, beginning with an uncontrollable gasping reflex. The victim may hyperventilate and find it difficult to get air into his or her lungs. A well-fitted life jacket will keep a person’s airway out of the water, important when the gasping reflex begins. Heart rate and blood pressure increase dramatically, increasing the risk for cardiac arrest. The best prevention for this danger is to wear a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket while boating is as important as wearing a seat belt while in a car.
Ohio law requires life jackets:
While riding a personal watercraft
While water-skiing or being towed on a similar device
For children less than 10 years of age on any vessel less than 18 feet in length
Life jackets advised
When the boater cannot swim or is a weak swimmer
When the water is dangerously cold (the months of October through May in Ohio)
When boating alone
During rough water/waves and severe weather conditions
When boating at night
In emergency situations
In swift and fast current situations
In addition to dressing for the water temperature and wearing a life jacket, boaters and paddlers should always file a float plan to ensure that family members and friends know when they will be expected back. A sample float plan is available at bit.ly/FileFloatPlan.
Submitted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.