Coast Guard stresses cold water, ice safety as dropping temperatures require increased vigilance

Great Lakes Coast Guard News
CLEVELAND — With colder weather forthcoming, and the accompanying formation of ice to the waterways of the Great Lakes Region, the 9th Coast Guard District reminds people to use extra precautions when planning recreational activities on cold water and frozen ponds, streams, rivers and lakes.

As the Guardians of the Great Lakes and the region’s maritime search and rescue professionals, we understand the dangers of cold water, as well as the dangers of venturing out on the ice.

“For many outdoor enthusiasts, much of the equipment and safety measures are not all that different from the summer season,” said Frank Jennings Jr., 9th Coast Guard District recreational boating and water safety program manager.

“But, during the cold weather months, it is imperative that necessary precautions are taken to ensure a safe and enjoyable recreational experience on the water.”

The Coast Guard wants to remind the public to make a serious investment and commitment to ice safety, 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.
  • Clothing – Have proper clothing to prevent hypothermia; dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.
  • Equipment – Have proper equipment: marine radio, life jackets, screw drivers/ice picks, etc.

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.
  • Owners of vehicles left on the ice after a rescue are subject to civil penalties for any pollution violations.  Such civil penalties can range from $250 to $11,000.
  • 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 carriage of 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.
  • If boating with pets, keep in mind animals also need the added protection of flotation while enduring colder weather.  Not all animals swim or swim well.  Like their human companions, animals are just as susceptible to the harsh elements, including the effects of hypothermia.  Several manufacturers make life jackets specifically for dogs and cats, in a variety of sizes.
  • Set limits.  Know when it’s time to call it a day.  There will always be another day and another outing.

If you have any problems viewing this article, please report it here.