The weather this winter has often been nice enough for driving with the windows down or for rides on a motorcycle. It’s not warm enough, however, to fall into the cold water when you’re boating.
That’s why the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Bureau released these winter boating safety precautions.
Many Georgians like to cruise the lakes and rivers and go fishing or waterfowl hunting during the colder months of the year. These activities can be fun anytime, but there are some additional safety precautions that should be taken when the weather turns cold.
“The fun can turn to tragedy very quickly if someone ends up in the water during the winter,” says Col. Eddie Henderson, director of DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “It doesn’t take long for the effects of the cold water to render someone helpless and in extreme danger.”
Typically, body heat is lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air so the onset of hypothermia is also much quicker once the body is submerged. Hypothermia is determined by a number of factors including the temperature of the water, physical conditioning, clothing and the body mass of the individual. But, science aside, there are a few practical facts and tips to prevent a winter weather water emergency and some to help someone survive if they find themselves in very cold water.
Winter Boating Safety Precautions
- Make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket. Even experienced swimmers can experience shock within one minute in the frigid water and may lose muscle control within 10 minutes.
- Do file a float plan with someone you trust that includes details about the trip, boat, passengers, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment, and emergency contacts. Download a free float plan template at FloatPlanCentral.org.
- Do dress properly for the weather, always wearing layers, and bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet. Remember, dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.
- Do catch your breath. A sudden unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than ½ cup of water in your lungs to drown. If you remain calm, you have a greater chance of self-rescue.
- Do look for ways to increase your buoyancy. If you’re in the water with others, huddle together with everyone facing inwards to help everyone stay afloat and keep warm.
- Don’t panic if you fall into the water. Stay afloat with the help of your life jacket, regain control of your breathing, and keep your head above water in vision of rescuers. Stay with the boat if possible.
- Don’t apply heat to extremities like arms and legs of a rescued victim. This sudden change in temperature may cause cardiac arrest.
Of course, when participating in recreational activities in and around water any time of the year, DNR Law Enforcement encourages all boaters to take personal responsibility for safety by doing the following:
- Designate an operator. Do not drink and operate a boat. A blood alcohol content over .08 is legally drunk.
- Take a boating safety course. Visit www.goboatgeorgia.com/boating/
education for course listings. The boater education law states that anyone born on or after January 1, 1998 must successfully complete a DNR-approved boater education course in order to operate a vessel on state waters. EVERYONE is encouraged to take one.
- Wear a life jacket. Children under 13 years of age are required by law to wear a life jacket while onboard a moving vessel, but it’s recommended for EVERYONE to wear a life jacket.
- Don’t overload your boat with people or equipment. Check on the capacity plate for the maximum weight or the maximum number of people the boat can safely carry.
- Use navigation lights at ALL times when on the water at night. Check lights before it gets dark.
- Watch your speed. The 100-foot law applies to ALL size vessels and prohibits operation at speeds greater than idle speed within 100 feet of any vessel, unless overtaking or meeting another vessel in compliance with the rules of the road.
For more information, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com/boating/