COLUMBUS – While the weather in Ohio will gradually warm up, it is important for residents to know that the water temperature in Ohio’s waterways is still extremely cold, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Watercraft.
“Hypothermia sets in rapidly when people enter cold water because people lose the use of the muscles in their arms and legs, which makes it very difficult to get safely back to shore,” said Glen Cobb, chief of the Division of Parks and Watercraft. “People should avoid getting into the water when the water is extremely cold, and if they are boating or paddling, it is critical to wear a life jacket and dress for the water temperature.”
Water temperatures are slower to respond to the change of seasons. Lake Erie’s water temperature is still approximately 45 degrees, and water temperatures in Ohio’s inland lakes and rivers are also very cold. Information on how to dress for the water temperature is available at watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/coldweatherboating.
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. People can quickly panic while losing coordination of their limbs. With these combined reactions, the 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.
Cold water reduces body heat up to 25 times faster than cold air. Factors that may alter these estimates include clothing or protective gear, the individual’s health condition and water conditions.
Water temperatures and survival rates
When water temperature is 32.5 degrees, exhaustion can occur under 15 minutes and death can occur in 15 minutes or less.
– 32.5-40 degrees, exhaustion in 15-30 minutes death in 30-90 minutes
– 40-50 degrees, exhaustion in 30-60 minutes, death in 1-3 hours
– 50-60 degrees, exhaustion in 1-2 hours, death in 1-6 hours
– 60-70 degrees, exhaustion in 2-7 hours, death in 2-40 hours
– 70-80 degrees, exhaustion in 3-12 hours, death in 3 hours-indefinite
Learn more about surviving a cold water accident by visiting watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/coldwater.
Submitted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.