Coast Guard urges caution on, near ice as warmer temperatures arrive

Ice rescue team members from various agencies in the Michigan City, Ind., area conducted a joint nighttime ice rescue training at the Washington Park Marina near Coast Guard Station Michigan City, Feb. 26, 2015. The two-day training consisted of classroom and on-ice exercises and had participants from Coast Guard Station Michigan City, Michigan City Police Department, Porter Fire Department, La Porte County Sheriff's Department, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Chesterton Fire Department. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Geer)CHICAGO — The Coast Guard is urging people to use extreme caution on and near waterways with the forecast for sustained, warmer temperatures beginning this weekend.

The above freezing-temperatures could pose safety concerns on Lake Michigan and inland rivers, streams and ponds that have become frozen during the past few weeks. Rising temperatures will 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.

Obstruction such as rocks, logs, vegetation and pilings affect the strength of ice. Heat from these obstructions slows ice formation. Ice shifting and expanding can create pressure cracks and ridges around the obstructions.

In addition, ice near the shore of a frozen lake may be unsafe and weaker because of shifting, expansion, and sunlight reflecting off the bottom.
The Coast Guard is also urging people to remain clear of shorelines, piers, jetties, rocks, walkways and jogging paths that may have become covered in layers of ice. Mother nature may have created winter wonderlands of interesting formations this winter, but people should not let their curiosities take a priority over safety.

People walking their dogs should always keep them on a leash to prevent the pet from falling or jumping into the water.

The 1-10-1 Principle:  1 minute – 10 minutes – 1 hour

Everyone who enters cold water doesn’t drown, but research shows that many drowning incidents may be the result of cold shock response and cold incapacitation.  In cold water drowning situations, if you survive the first minute, the cold will soon rob your muscles of their strength and dexterity. Even strong swimmers can experience swim failure after a few minutes.

When a cold water drowning situation begins, a person has about one minute to gain control of their breathing and 10 minutes or less of meaningful movement and muscle control to get themselves out of the water.  Severe hypothermia will set in within one hour, but without a life jacket, the victim is likely to drown before that occurs.

Cold Water Kills

The Coast Guard and water safety experts say public education and preparedness may help prevent cold water drowning deaths.  In addition to understanding the physiological effects of cold water, people need to be aware that the initial shock of entering the cold water can cause panic and gasping resulting in a person inhaling large mounts of water.

“Cold water is a very unforgiving environment,” said Chief Warrant Officer Phil Robinson, officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor. “People need to know the dangers, know their limits, and be ready to take quick action in the case of an emergency.

The Coast Guard’s 9th District, which includes Chicago and the surrounding Lake Michigan regions, has 39 stations, two air stations, and ten cutters designated, trained and equipped for ice rescue operations.

“The Coast Guard and our partner agencies stand prepared and 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 prepared,” said Mike Baron, the recreational boating safety specialist for the 9th District.”

The public is advised to call 911 to report a person who has fallen through the ice or who is in distress in icy waters.

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