Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - HEALTH & FITNESS - By Bob Frye ev­ery­bodyad­ven­ Bob Frye is the Ev­ery­body Ad­ven­tures ed­i­tor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or [email protected]­di­ See other sto­ries, blogs, videos and more at ev­ery­bodyad­ven­

There are a lot of good rea­sons to spend time on the wa­ter in win­ter.

One is the an­tic­i­pa­tion of late­sea­son ducks bank­ing over de­coys to ap­proach your blind. The lure of catch­ing a few more fish, like the trout stocked by states in­clud­ing New Jer­sey and Penn­syl­va­nia, be­fore things freeze over is an­other. And there’s the sim­ple thrill of eas­ing through crys­talline wa­ter on af­ter­noons when the world feels sparkly clean and the air so pure it al­most hurts to breathe.

But in each case, dan­ger — even death — lurks.

Cold wa­ter ex­acts a heavy toll on the un­wary. Fall in and the race to sur­vive is on.

“Cold wa­ter im­mer­sion can be deadly, so ev­ery sec­ond you’re in the wa­ter is a race against the clock,” said Josh Hoff­man, boat­ing safety ed­u­ca­tion co­or­di­na­tor for the Ari­zona Game and Fish Depart­ment.

It’s how the hu­man body re­acts that’s the is­sue.

“When a per­son is un­ex­pect­edly plunged into cold wa­ter below 70 de­grees, the body’s first re­sponse is usu­ally an in­vol­un­tary gasp,” says the Penn­syl­va­nia Fish and Boat Com­mis­sion. “With­out a life jacket, a vic­tim may in­hale while un­der wa­ter and drown. The abil­ity to swim is re­stricted by short­ness of breath or hy­per­ven­ti­la­tion.”

There are a lot of rea­sons to go cold wa­ter boat­ing, But you’ve got to be smart about it.

About 20 per­cent of those who fall into cold wa­ter die in the very first minute, says the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice.

Make it be­yond that and cold wa­ter still sucks the life of you, lit­er­ally. And quickly.

Ac­cord­ing to the Per­sonal Flota­tion De­vice Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, cold wa­ter cools the body 25 times faster than cold air. Trou­ble fol­lows in three stages.

First, a per­son who falls into cold wa­ter loses their abil­ity to swim within three to 30 min­utes, ac­cord­ing to the “Boat New York” safety cur­ricu­lum. Sec­ond comes “long-term im­mer­sion hy­pother­mia,” which is when the body starts los­ing heat faster than it can pro­duce, comes next.

Third and fi­nally, there’s “pos­tim­mer­sion col­lapse.” That’s when cold-in­duced drop in blood pres­sure prompts car­diac ar­rest.

“Also, in­haled wa­ter can dam­age your lungs, and heart prob­lems can de­velop as cold blood from your arms and legs is re­leased into the core of your body,” the cur­ricu­lum reads.

The sta­tis­tics show just how das­tardly cold wa­ter is.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 4,291 boat­ing ac­ci­dents across Amer­i­can in 2017, the lat­est year for which there are num­bers. Of those, 599 re­sulted in 658 fa­tal­i­ties.

Thirty-six per­cent of those deaths oc­curred when the wa­ter was 69 de­grees or less.

There’s an­other, per­haps more telling, way to look at things, though.

The peak month for to­tal ac­ci­dents and deaths — 1,070 and 121, re­spec­tively — was July, which fig­ures. That’s the busiest month for boat­ing, with the most peo­ple on the wa­ter the most of­ten.

But only 11 per­cent of ac­ci­dents in July proved fa­tal.

By com­par­i­son, peo­ple died in 19 per­cent of all boat­ing ac­ci­dents na­tion­ally in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. That means you’re al­most twice as likely to die if you go over­board then rather than in sum­mer.

It’s of­ten the least ex­pe­ri­enced boaters who are los­ing their lives. Ac­cord­ing to the Boat­ing Safety Coun­cil, roughly seven in 10 deaths in­volved peo­ple with no for­mal boater safety train­ing.

In­creas­ingly, that’s pad­dlers, said Corey Britcher, chief of the Fish and Boat Com­mis­sion’s law en­force­ment bureau.

“For a cou­ple of hun­dred dol­lars these in­di­vid­u­als can buy a kayak and be on the wa­ter in no time. They have lit­tle or no boat­ing ed­u­ca­tion and pay lit­tle at­ten­tion to wa­ter con­di­tions,” he said.

The com­mis­sion ad­dressed that a few years ago with a rules change. Now, by reg­u­la­tion, any­one pad­dling a ca­noe or kayak or pi­lot­ing any other boat shorter than 16 feet, whether it’s in mo­tion or at an­chor, must wear a life jacket — or per­sonal floata­tion de­vice, called a PFD — be­tween Nov. 1 and April 30. That rule went into place in 2012.

It ap­pears to have had a pos­i­tive im­pact.

The to­tal num­ber of boat­ing ac­ci­dents in the state, the num­ber of fa­tal ones and the num­ber of fa­tal ac­ci­dents in cold-weather months have all re­mained fairly stable since. But — with the num­ber of boats on the wa­ter up — the per­cent­age of boaters dy­ing in cold wa­ter ac­ci­dents has de­clined, said Ryan Walt, boat­ing safety ed­u­ca­tion man­ager for the agency.

The PFD rule gets a lot of credit for that within the agency.

“We usu­ally hear from at least one in­di­vid­ual ev­ery year that said they never wore a PFD un­til the rule was in place and since started and have ended up in the wa­ter. Each one cred­its the PFD with sav­ing their life due to the cold wa­ter emer­sion they didn’t think they would have made it with­out the de­vice,” Britcher said.

That’s not sur­pris­ingly, nec­es­sar­ily.

Hoff­man said any­one boat­ing in win­ter needs to be “pre­pared for the worst.”

That starts with wear­ing a life jacket, he added.

“It’s re­ally the sim­plest thing you can do to save your own life and re­turn home safely,” Hoff­man said.

There are some other pre­cau­tions win­ter boaters should take, too.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice rec­om­mends wear­ing a wet suit any time the com­bined air and wa­ter tem­per­a­ture are less than 100 de­grees.

The Na­tional Cen­ter for Cold Wa­ter Safety and the Na­tional Safe Boat­ing Coun­cil rec­om­mend wear­ing a wet­suit or dry­suit, or a float coat — an in­su­lated jacket that also serves as a PFD — and car­ry­ing an emer­gency spare blan­ket. They also sug­gest car­ry­ing a per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­con and fil­ing a float plan, too.

It’s all ad­vice that can save your life.

So if you’re go­ing to ven­ture onto the wa­ter now — and there are plenty of rea­sons to do it — be smart about it.

“No boat­ing trip should even be­gin with­out wear­ing a life jacket, es­pe­cially at this time of year,” Walt said. “Even on sunny days when air tem­per­a­tures are com­fort­able, wa­ter tem­per­a­tures are quickly drop­ping. A life jacket can keep you afloat and alive.”

Once you’re in the wa­ter

The first thing you should do if you fall into cold wa­ter? Get out, ob­vi­ously.

But if you can’t get to shore, at least try to get back into your boat or, if it’s up­side down, climb on top of it.

If none of that is pos­si­ble, and you have to re­main in the wa­ter, as­sume the HELP — of Heat Es­cape Less­en­ing Pos­ture — po­si­tion. Draw your knees to your chin and wrap your arms around them, el­bows pinned close to your side.

When there are two or more peo­ple, wrap your arms around one an­other so that you are chest to chest.

All that slows down heat loss through the armpits, groin, head, neck and chest.

A video demon­strat­ing the po­si­tion can be found at https://­mont/ studyGuide/Video-Cold-WaterIm­mer­sion/101049_101042234/.

If you res­cue some­one from cold wa­ter, fol­low these steps:

• Call 911.

• Move the per­son to a warm place.

• Mon­i­tor their breath­ing and ad­min­is­ter CPR, if nec­es­sary.

• Re­move any wet cloth­ing and dry the per­son.

• Warm the per­son slowly by wrap­ping them in blan­kets or putting them in dry cloth­ing. Do not im­merse them in warm wa­ter or try to warm them too quickly; that can cause heart prob­lems.

• Warm the per­son start­ing with their core, mean­ing their ab­domen and chest. Warm­ing their hands and feet first can send cold blood to the chest and cause chock.

• If ap­ply­ing some­thing like a hot wa­ter bot­tle to a per­son who’s been in cold wa­ter, wrap them in a blan­ket or clothes first, rather than ap­ply­ing it di­rectly to bare skin.

Source: Na­tional Weather Ser­vice and Amer­i­can Red Cross


There are a lot of rea­sons to go cold wa­ter boat­ing, But you’ve got to be smart about it. Safety is even more im­por­tant when you get in the wa­ter dur­ing win­ter months.

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