Coast Guard urges caution on ice, water as warmer temperatures approach

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SAULT STE MARIE, Mich. — The Coast Guard is warning that warmer temperatures predicted for this weekend could pose safety concerns on area waterways that have become frozen during the recent cold wave.

Rising temperatures may cause recently frozen waters to further melt and become weak. Ice is unpredictable and the thickness can vary, even in small areas. Water currents, particularly around narrow spots, bridges, inlets and outlets are always suspect for thin ice. Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and darker areas since these signify thinner ice.

Coast Guard rescue personnel participate in ice rescue drills during a Ready for Operations conference near Coast Guard Station Portage in Dollar Bay, Mich., Dec. 10, 2014. Twenty-four members representing RFO teams from throughout the service attended the four-day conference and will now help instruct other ice rescue teams throughout the Coast Guard. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Coast Guard rescue personnel participate in ice rescue drills during a Ready for Operations conference near Coast Guard Station Portage in Dollar Bay, Mich., Dec. 10, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

In addition, persons who plan to recreate on waterways should heed safety precautions to ensure a safe outing. The Coast Guard offers these cold water and ice safety tips:

  • Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, and dress for the lake temperature. 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.
  • Dress in bright colors, wear reflective clothing, patches, or tape; and wear an exposure suit that is waterproof and a personal floatation device.  The chances of locating a person in distress are increased when the individual wears bright and reflective clothing.
  • Never go out on the water alone. Use the buddy system..
  • Always check and monitor the marine weather forecast before and during any trip out onto the lakes.
  • Carry a registered personal locator beacon in addition to a marine radio to alert the Coast Guard and local safety agencies of potential distress. Consider a waterproof hand-held model that can be worn.
  • Carry all required and recommended safety gear, such as visual distress signals and a sound-producing device. Carry your visual distress signal and whistle in the pocket of your life jacket so they’re close at hand in an emergency.
  • Always tell family and friends where you are going and when you expect to be back – and stick to the plan or notify them when plans have changed.

Survival time is greatly diminished for someone immersed in water below 70 degrees. Cold water drains a body’s heat up to 25 times faster than cold air. In addition to a life jacket, the Coast Guard  recommends mariners wear a dry suit in a cold water environment in order to increase the chances of surviving a fall into the water.

Hypothermia is the biggest danger after falling into the water, even if one manages to get out immediately. Hypothermia sets in quickly as the human body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees (35 degrees C).

Every minute counts in a cold water environment. Preparation may mean the difference between a life saved or a body recovered.

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