Danger lurks amidst warm Spring temperatures

BOSTON – With spring-like weather finally forecasted for the weekend, Coast Guard recreational boating specialists advise boaters, paddlers and fishermen to use extreme caution if they plan to boat or paddle on any of the rivers, streams, creeks and coastal waters of the Northeast.

Heavy rains during the last few days, combined with runoff from snow melt from higher elevations, have caused many waterways to flood and pushed tides to near-record levels. This has created stronger-than-usual currents and unexpected water turbulence that could last through the weekend. Gale-force winds have also stirred up branches and debris that create hazards above and below the water that have serious consequences for unsuspecting paddlers and small boaters.

Al Johnson, the First Coast Guard District Recreational Boating Safety Specialist warns boaters and paddlers to be “high-water wary.”

“When a heavy deluge pushes water levels to the flood stage, it drastically alters the characteristics of the flow,” Johnson said, “and moving water at this time of year is fast, frigid and unforgiving.”

High water hides hazards and, along with storm-gererated debris beneath the surface, creates “strainers” or funnel effects that can easily capsize a small boat, canoe or kayak and trap a person if they’re thrown into the water. Such conditions contributed to the loss of a 15-year old girl near Albany, NY Monday . She was not wearing a life jacket when her canoe capsized on a rain-swollen creek.

Johnson advises all early-season boaters and paddlers to be aware of the danger and be prepared for sudden cold-water immersion. He said inland and coastal water temperatures are in the 39, 40-degree range and a sudden spill into frigid waters will incapacitate most people within minutes.

Johnson stresses the need for boaters and paddlers to always wear life jackets and reminds paddlers that wearing life jackets 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.

Boaters, paddlers and fishermen venturing out on the water 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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