Life jackets best bet for boaters in cold water

BOSTON – With the water temperature dropping and this year’s high rate of boating fatalities, the Coast Guard is urging New England boaters to use caution, wear a life jacket and be prepared for the dangers of cold-water immersion during the upcoming holiday season.Despite the passing of the summer boating season, boating fatalities continue to rise. Since Labor Day there have been 12 boating fatalities, bringing the total to 57 deaths in the New England area since January. Of those 57 deaths, only nine people were wearing a life jacket.

“Boaters should be prepared for sudden cold-water immersion,” said Al Johnson, the recreational boating safety specialist for the Northeast’s First Coast Guard District. “Your first level of protection is simply wearing a life jacket, and with the cold water temperature, you should consider wearing a wet or dry suit as well.”

Johnson said just having a life jacket onboard isn’t enough – it needs to be worn. Once in the water, it becomes nearly impossible to put a life jacket on.

“You are fighting to just stay above the surface,” Johnson said.

“Hypothermia is not the only concern with cold-water immersion,” said Johnson. “If you aren’t wearing a life jacket, your chances of drowning are greater than those of becoming hypothermic.”

Immersion in cold water causes a powerful, involuntary gasp reflex and if not wearing a life vest, a person in the water may take this breath underwater and drown.

In addition to wearing a life jacket, boaters should also have a signaling kit that includes a signaling mirror, flares, whistle, light, and a VHF radio.

“Always wear a life vest, let someone know where you are, and know what to do if you fall in the water,” Johnson said. “Attitude, training and preparation can save your life.”

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