Boating safety different on winter waters

The appeal of boating still attracts some people to venture on local lakes despite the inherent dangers of frigid temperatures.

“You lose heat 25 to 30 percent faster in the water than you do in the air,” said ONDR watercraft officer Randy Feesler.

Half of all boating fatalities that are due to drowning occur because of the effects of being immersed in cold water. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources offers several tips for keeping safe on this season’s winter waters.

“One of the big problems is people dress for the weather rather than for the water,” Feesler said.

Boaters are better off wearing manmade fabrics like polypropylene than cotton, which draws heat away from the body. ODNR recommends wearing a neoprene wetsuit when boating in water less than 70 degrees.

Of course Feesler said it is important to wear a life jacket, no matter how many layers one wears – “that’s what is going to save you,” he said.

He said most boating accidents take place within 30 feet of the shore and in water that is six to 10 feet deep. While this might not sound like a daunting scenario, the water temperature heightens the danger substantially.

It takes less than 15 minutes to become exhausted in freezing water and Feesler said the initial shock of hitting cold water causes a response of gasping in air or water, much like being hit in the back of the neck with a snowball.

It can take one to two minutes just to get one’s breathing under control when they fall into cold water. Feesler said it is part of the “1-10-1” concept. If you fall in cold water, after one minute of regulating your breathing, he said it is important to spend 10 minutes in meaningful movement to keep warm and get out of the water.

The final one stands for the hour it takes before hypothermia sets in. Feesler said most people believe hypothermia sets in immediately but that isn’t the case.

Before even heading out, Feesler said boaters should let family members and friends know where they are going and when they can be expected back.