Coast Guards warns: air temps may be rising, but water temps still dangerously low

9th Coast Guard District NewsCLEVELAND — In light of several recent search and rescue cases, the 9th Coast Guard District is warning Great Lakes citizens and visitors Thursday that, regardless of unseasonably warm air temperatures expected across the region this weekend, water temperatures remain dangerously low.

Additionally, the Coast Guard is providing safety tips and recommendations to promote safe outdoor recreation on Great Lakes waterways, in the hopes that citizens make a strong commitment to their own safety and those around them.

Throughout the Great Lakes, air temperatures are as high as the 60s and 70s, but water temperatures are still in the 30s and 40s.

“Recreation on Great Lakes waterways never really ceases, with popular cold water and ice activities prevalent throughout the region,” said Capt. Steve Torpey, chief of response for the 9th Coast Guard District.  “But, we’re expecting to start seeing a lot more people on the water as temperatures continue to rise.”

“Mariners, who may be surprised to learn that ‘cold water’ is technically defined as any water colder than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, need to continue to be cautious of the risks of drowning and hypothermia.”

In fact, someone in cold water may have only 10 minutes of functional movement before he loses the effective use of fingers, arms and legs.  At this point, a victim who is not wearing a life jacket will likely drown because he can no longer tread water and remain afloat.

Even with a Coast Guard-approved floatation device, hypothermia is a threat to survival once someone is exposed to cold water.  The body may lose heat 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air.  When recreating outdoors, mariners should dress for the water temperature — not the air temperature.

For more information about cold water safety, recommended safety gear and tips for handling emergencies, visit the National Water Safety Congress’ Cold Water Boot Camp web site.

“As mariners prepare to put their boats back in the water, now is the time to make a personal commitment to safety,” said Torpey.

The Coast Guard offers the following safety tips and recommendations for those who choose to recreate on Great Lakes waterways:


– Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.  A life jacket allows you to float with a minimum of energy expended and allows you 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 shins.

– 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.

– 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 more information and an example of a float plan.

– 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 quality 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 (PLB) 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 your person.

– Consider taking a free boater education course from the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  In 2010, 84 percent of recreational boating deaths occurred in situations where the operator had no official boating safety instruction.  Click here to search public education classes by zip code.


– While underway, you may be boarded by the Coast Guard or other local, state or federal authorities.  These boardings are not meant to inconvenience, but to ensure compliance with applicable state and federal laws designed to keep people safe and secure.

– Have a valid photo ID, that indicates your current address, aboard the vessel.  Also have your boat registration aboard.

– To verify applicable state laws and requirements, contact your state boating law administrator.  Click here for a directory.  If you have questions about federal regulations, feel free to contact your nearest Coast Guard unit.

– Always boat sober.  A boat operator or passenger with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit runs a significantly increased risk of being involved in a boating accident. Boating under the influence is a primary contributing factor in nearly one in five boating fatalities.  However, boat operators are not the only ones at grave risk.  On the Great Lakes each year, boating passengers who are under the influence tragically drown while swimming from anchored or adrift vessels.  The consequences of BUI may include voyage termination, arrest, monetary civil penalties and jail time.  In some local jurisdictions, boating privileges may be revoked.

– Even before you’re boarded by law enforcement authorities, consider a free vessel safety check by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  This free service provides you with an assessment of the safety gear onboard your vessel, with recommendations on how to correct any discrepancies.  No citations or fines are issued.  Click here to learn more and to find a VSC examiner in your area.


– As always, the Coast Guard asks that mariners maintain vigilance on America’s waterways and report any suspicious activities to local law enforcement, the nearest Coast Guard unit or the National Response Center at 1-877-24-WATCH or 1-800-424-8802.

– Mariners should monitor their VHF-FM marine radios while underway, to be cognizant of any safety and security zones in place.  Federal, state and local authorities will broadcast when such zones are being enforced, to protect certain maritime infrastructure or marine events.

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