Coast Guard warns weekend mariners of dangerously cold water

BOSTON – With exceptionally warm air temperatures forecasted for the first weekend of spring, the Coast Guard is issuing an urgent safety advisory for all boaters and paddlers planning to venture out on the inland and coastal waters of the Northeast this weekend.

“The high air temperatures this weekend can be very deceptive to boaters and paddlers who think it’s the perfect opportunity to be out on the water because the water temperatures remain dangerously cold,” said Al Johnson, the First Coast Guard District recreational boating safety specialist.

Inland and coastal water temperatures are in the 35 to 40-degree range and a sudden spill into water that frigid incapacitates most people within minutes. Body heat is lost about 26 times faster in water than on dry land, and after about 30 minutes in 35 to 40-degree water, the average person loses the ability to function.

“At this time of year, in addition to wearing a life jacket, a wet or dry suit is essential for survival,” said Johnson. “I don’t mean to dampen anyone’s plans but, if you’re not fully aware of what can go wrong and properly prepared and equipped for any crisis that can occur, I strongly recommend you wait for summer weather.”

Johnson also reminds paddlers that wearing a life jacket is mandatory in Massachusetts until May 15, in Connecticut until the end of May, and on Maine’s Saco River through June 1. Maine also requires anyone operating a watercraft on certain sections of the Penobscot or Kennebec Rivers wear a life jacket at all times. Additionally, New York requires life jackets on all boaters and paddlers on vessels 21-feet or less through May 1.

Additionally, heavy rain earlier this week caused many waterways to flood and pushed tides to near-record levels, creating stronger-than-usual currents and water turbulence that should last through the weekend.

Gale-force winds have also toppled trees and stirred up branches and debris on inland waters that create hazards above and below the water that can have serious consequence for unsuspecting paddlers and small boaters.

Boaters, paddlers and fishermen should check water conditions at the U.S. Geological Survey Real-Time Water Data website at http://water.usgs.gov/realtime.html and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hydrologic Information Center – River Stages website at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/oh/hic/current/river_flooding/Stages.htm.

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