Warm temperatures prompt Coast Guard to warn new boaters of cold-water danger

BOSTON – As unseasonably warm temperatures are forecasted for the weekend, and with several Northeast sporting-goods retailers describing kayaks and paddlesport accessories as high on holiday gift lists, the Coast Guard is advising any paddlers who found kayaks under their Christmas tree to be cautious and fully aware of the danger of sudden cold-water immersion if they opt for a weekend launch.

The weekend weather forecast calls for overcast skies with periods of light rain and sunny breaks, and warm and windy days with a predicted climb to record-breaking mid-60 degree temperatures on Sunday.

Al Johnson, the recreational boating safety specialist for New England’s First Coast Guard District, said that those conditions create a perfect disaster recipe for any paddler who fails to recognize the risk and isn’t properly prepared if things go wrong.

“My goal is to intentionally dampen the excitement of launching any new boat unless the launcher is properly attired and prepared for sudden cold water immersion and, better yet, has friends standing by with throw bags and safety lines,” Johnson said. “It might sound excessive but, if it saves a life, it isn’t.”

With water temperatures in the 40-degree range or colder, Johnson stated that wearing a dry suit or full wet suit and a Coast Guard approved life jacket is the only proper attire. He said that just wearing a life jacket is dangerous.

“Whether you’re a new paddler or the most experienced mariner, a fall into cold water is painfully shocking and systemically brutal,” said Johnson. “On sudden immersion in cold water there will be surprise, panic, gasping, hyperventilation, and an immediate rise in breath and heart rate, blood pressure, and an inability to hold your breath. Being prepared and properly attired, including wearing a life jacket, having a positive attitude, and doing periodic training are essential.”

It is mandatory for paddlers on Massachusetts and Connecticut waters to wear a life jacket through May 2009.

Johnson recommended that boaters and paddlers who have not yet taken an approved boater education course for the winter months do so. Courses are available through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons or with state, private, or Internet providers. Additional course information can be found at the following websites or by calling the BoatUS course line at 1-800-336-BOAT:

* U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary – www.cgaux.org
* U.S. Power Squadrons – www.usps.org
* U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety – www.uscgboating.org
* National Association of State Boating Law Administrators – www.nasbla.org

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