Despite warming weather, Coast Guard warns boaters of deadly cold water

BOSTON – The U.S. Coast Guard is issuing a cold water advisory for all weekend boaters, paddlers, sailors and fishers on the inland and coastal waters of the Northeast’s Coast Guard’s First District.

With 80-degree temperatures forecast for the year’s first summer-like weekend, the call to the open water is strong and, with water temperatures in the 40-degree range, the combination is deceptively dangerous.

The Coast Guard highly recommends boaters and paddlers start the boating season by getting a Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons vessel safety check, and regularly adhering to the following guidelines:

  • Assess the risk – be realistic about what can go wrong on the water. Be fully equipped and prepared to survive.
  • Leave a float plan with a responsible individual who knows your intentions, location, and who to call if you fail to return as scheduled.
  • Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket and set the example for your passengers or paddling partners.
  • Be aware of and prepared for the shock of sudden immersion and the incapacitating effects of cold water.
  • Maintain situational awareness on the water – be aware of boat traffic and activity around your vessel.
  • Boat safe and sober – using alcohol or drugs on the water can be deadly.

“Boaters and paddlers in the Northeast are fortunate to have an inviting network of inland and coastal waters available for their use and enjoyment,” said Al Johnson, recreational boating specialist for the Coast Guard’s First District. “Unfortunately things can and do go wrong on the water and being aware of the risks and being properly equipped and prepared is essential.”

Last year, there were 55 recreational boating and paddling fatalities in the Northeast and only one person was wearing a life jacket, said Johnson.

“This year we’ve suffered the loss of a kayaker and a canoeist,” said Johnson. “Sadly we average 50 recreational boating and paddling fatalities per year in the Northeast.”

He said wearing life jackets could prevent further fatalities.

Johnson said the usually cold water in the Northeast can have debilitating effects on the average person. He emphasizes that if a boater capsizes or falls overboard, unless properly equipped and mentally prepared for the painful and sudden shock of the cold water, chances of survival are slim.

“I wish I could say it in gentler terms,” said Johnson. “But, plain and simple, cold water kills and shows no mercy to the innocent, unsuspecting or unprepared boater or paddler.”

He said to generate greater safety awareness in canoes, kayaks and non-motorized boats, the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons launched Operation Paddle Smart on April 1, 2009, which will run until Nov. 1, 2009.

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