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Coast Guard urges cold water safety following May fatalities

by U.S. Coast Guard 1st District Northeast 22 May 15:37 PDT
US Coast Guard in action © Sam Greenfield / Volvo Ocean Rac

The Coast Guard warns of cold water hazards following five fatalities across the First Coast Guard District within the month of May.

The Northeast had 30 recreational boating fatalities in 2019, and 50 in 2020. There have been five fatalities within the first two weeks of May alone.

While the weather may be heating up, the water temperatures are dangerously low in the 50s and don't typically get warmer until mid-summer around July and August. Water this cold can physically incapacitate someone in less than 10 minutes, leaving them physically helpless in the water unable to use their arm, legs, feet, and hands.

Water temperatures below 70 degrees will quickly lower body temperature resulting in hypothermia, resulting in a loss of dexterity, motor control, mental confusion, and unconsciousness.

It takes as little as 30 minutes for an adult of average size to lose dexterity in waters of 60 to 70 degrees, and as little as two hours to become unconscious. Without a life jacket, this will likely result in drowning.

Boaters, kayakers, surfers, and stand-up paddlers should follow these simple precautions to increase your survivability prior to getting out on the water:

  • Dress appropriately for the water temperature, not the air temperature by wearing wet suits, dry suits, immersion suits, survival suits, and exposure coveralls.
  • Always wear a life jacket, even if not required by law.
  • Carry an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), personal locator beacon (PLB), VHF Radio, or cell phone.
  • File a float plan with someone you trust. The plan should include details about the trip, boat, passengers, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment, and emergency contacts.
  • Know before you go! Check the weather and water temperature before going out on the water.
  • Download the United States Coast Guard app. This app offers resources to file a float plan, request emergency assistance and more.
Cold water can kill! If you find yourself in a compromising position while out on the water, make sure to follow these guidelines until help arrives.

1. Stay Calm.
2. Minimize time in the water. Get out as soon as possible in safe manner.
3. Evaluate your options. If you can swim to safety, stay calm and do so. If you are unable to swim to safety, conserve energy and await rescue.
4. If you cannot get to safety, assume the Heat Escape Lessening Position (H.E.L.P) position to protect critical body areas, slowing down the loss of heat.
5. If possible, and with others, form a huddle in the water to conserve body heat.

Mariners are encouraged to visit the U.S. Coast Guard Northeast Facebook pages and for additional resources regarding cold water hazards and safety.

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