Coast Guard crews train for cold water, ice rescues as freezing temps grip Great Lakes region

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CLEVELAND — As the latest wave of freezing temperatures grips the Great Lakes region, the Coast Guard 9th District is reminding people to use extreme caution when planning recreational activities on or around cold water and frozen ponds, streams, rivers and lakes.

“The Coast Guard and our partner agencies stand ready to help those in distress this winter, but it is the general public who take to the cold water or ice that needs to be the most ready,” said Mike Baron, the recreational boating safety specialist for the 9th District. “Your ability to help yourself in the time of an emergency is far more important to saving your life than anything we can do. There are several important steps that anyone can take to protect themselves and loved ones.”

Members of Coast Guard response crews from throughout the Great Lakes region, including Air Stations Detroit and Traverse City, participate in Ice Rescue Training and a Ready For Operations Course held at Coast Guard Station Portage, Mich., which included the use of a MARSARS board, Dec. 11, 2013. Snow and subzero temperatures provided ideal conditions for the three-day training session. (Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Casey McDonald)

Members of Coast Guard response crews from throughout the Great Lakes region, including Air Stations Detroit and Traverse City, participate in Ice Rescue Training and a Ready For Operations Course held at Coast Guard Station Portage, Mich., which included the use of a MARSARS board, Dec. 11, 2013. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Casey McDonald

The 9th District has 39 stations, two air stations, and nine cutters designated, trained and equipped for ice rescue operations. Rescuers from the district and its search-and-rescue partners rescued 53 people last winter from cold water and ice conditions.

Members of the Coast Guard are always equipped with proper clothing, equipment and plans during training and responses, ensuring their own safety. As a result, the Coast Guard reminds the public to join them in making a serious investment and commitment to ice safety, especially since varying levels of ice thickness are common on the Great Lakes.  If people do choose to go on to the ice, they should remember the acronym I.C.E., “Intelligence, Clothing, Equipment.”

*     Intelligence – Know the weather and ice conditions, know where you’re going, and know how to call for help. Also help others find you by remaining upright and standing to give rescuers a bigger target to locate you. Only do this if it is safe to do so.

*     Clothing – Have proper clothing to prevent hypothermia; dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. The public is encouraged to wear retro-reflective clothing in case of a search taking place at night. Avoid wearing cotton and wear layers of clothing that wick away moisture like Polypropylene, which retains more of your body heat than any other fabric. Polypropylene thermals are the best extreme cold weather base layer of clothing made.

*     Equipment – Have proper equipment: marine radio, life jackets, screw drivers/ice picks, etc.

Freezing air and water temperatures significantly decrease survival time for persons immersed in the water or trapped on the ice. Cold water kills quickly! Surprisingly, cold water is defined as any water temperature less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  The fact that air temperatures might be far above freezing is irrelevant when people unexpectedly enter the water.

While the Coast Guard understands winter recreation on cold water and ice around the Great Lakes is a tradition, it is important to take safety measures:

*     Great Lakes weather is unpredictable and dangerous, especially during seasonal transitions.  Always check and monitor the marine weather forecast before any trip out onto the lakes.  Lake-effect snow, high winds and dropping temperatures are good indicators an outing should be postponed.

*    Complete a “float plan.”  Always notify family and friends where you are going and when you expect to be back – and stick to the plan.  Be sure to notify them when plans change. Click here for information on float plans.

*     Never venture out alone; plan outings with other boaters who will be on their own vessels.

*     Carry all required and recommended safety gear, such as visual distress signals, a sound-producing device, etc. Carry visual distress signals and a whistle in the pockets of the life jacket being worn so it’s close at hand in an emergency.

*     The Coast Guard recommends carrying a registered personal locator beacon in addition to a VHF-FM marine radio, to alert the Coast Guard and local safety agencies of potential distress. Consider a waterproof hand-held model that can be kept on one’s person.

*     Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. A life jacket allows a person to float with a minimum of energy expended and allows the person to assume the heat escape lessening position (H.E.L.P.) – bringing the knees close to the chest and holding them in place by wrapping the arms around the shin portions of the legs.

Click here to read the blog about the Coast Guard’s various ice rescue assets.

Click here to read five facts about ice .

Click the photo for more from the ice training.

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