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October 31, 2012

Cold water is a danger for boaters

ALBANY — The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey is warning boaters of the dangers of sudden unexpected cold-water immersion during fall boating trips, especially on small boats.

Of New York’s 25 fatalities associated with recreational boating in 2011, almost a third involved small, manually propelled watercraft, occurring either early or late in the season when water temperatures were cold.

In almost every one of those fatal accidents, life jackets were not worn and in some cases weren’t even on board at the time of the accident.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that 80 percent of all boating accident deaths might have been prevented had a life jacket been worn.

“As the days grow shorter and the foliage brighter, many kayakers and canoeists take advantage of the season’s waning opportunities to enjoy the state’s water resources,” New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey said in a news release.

“In doing so, it’s essential to recognize that water temperatures are dropping with each passing day. Wearing a life jacket can help boaters avoid a pleasant day quickly turning into a tragic one.”

State law requires life jackets be worn by anyone on a boat less than 21 feet in length between Nov. 1 and May 1.

The physiology of cold-water immersion includes an uncontrollable gasp reflex, leading to hyperventilation, resulting in unconsciousness or swimming failure as limbs become numb.

Having a life jacket on may keep your head above water and support your body should swimming ability fail or you become unconscious, the state advises.

Additionally, it is recommended that all boaters:

▶ Properly equip themselves and carry essential safety gear, signaling devices and whistles.

▶ Consider taking a cell phone or radio along in a watertight bag.

▶ Always let others know where you’re going and when to expect your return.

▶ Take a course in boating safety or paddle sport skills.

▶ Refrain from mixing alcohol with boating.

Should you ever find yourself in the water, it is recommended that you stay with — and preferably on top of — your boat. Never overestimate your swimming ability, especially in cold water.

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