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Cold-Water Boating Safety

What you should know before boating in cold weather.
Boating Safety

The Clock is Ticking
When immersed in water 50 degrees or cooler, it takes around 15 to 20 minutes for your core temperature — the temperature of your internal organs — to start dropping. Your body tries to protect itself by flowing blood to the core, causing numbness in your hands and feet. Your blood thickens as it cools, putting stress on your heart. You are now experiencing hypothermia. When your core temperature drops below 90 degrees you will lose consciousness. Obviously, the sooner help arrives the better.

Cold-Water Safety

Here’s what happens to your body in 50-degree water:
0 to 5 Seconds: Gasp reflex. You’ll immediately suck in air or, if your head is submerged, two to three quarts of water.

3 to 5 Minutes: You start to hyperventilate, and your heart rate accelerates. Panic attacks set in.

3 to 30 Minutes: You lose feeling and dexterity in your extremities, hampering your ability to swim.

10 to 30 Minutes: Rising blood pressure causes your kidneys to purge fluids; you have to urinate, which promotes dehydration.

15 to 20 Minutes: Your core temperature starts to cool.

30 Minutes: True hypothermia sets in. You become disoriented and start to hallucinate.

Popsicle Gear: Five to Keep You Alive
If you're going to head out into cold water, here are a few items that could save your life. Bring these items aboard, or wear them, and you can enjoy the beauty of a chilly day on the water with a little more peace of mind.

[1] Mustang Classic Bomber Jacket — This proven cold-weather stalwart works as a winter jacket on board, keeping you protected from the elements. Should you fall in, its closed-cell foam insulation protects from hypothermia and will help keep you afloat. $280;

[2] Stearns SAR Flotation Life Vest — Keeps your head out of the cold water and has SOLAS reflective tape and pockets for storing emergency items like flares, a handheld VHF, a whistle and more. $80;

[3] ACR Aqualink PLB 350C — A personal locator beacon that you register and wear on yourself. It will send your exact GPS coordinates for rescue and works via satellite, giving it far greater range than a handheld VHF radio. $430;

[4] Emergency Space Blankets — They’re cheap, lightweight and store out of the way. If you have someone on board suffering from hypothermia symptoms, lay them down and wrap them in a space blanket, foil side in. $5;

[5] Lowrance LHR-80 Waterproof VHF/GPS — It floats, it’s waterproof, and it has a built-in GPS so you can relay your exact coordinates when you radio for help. $200;

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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit

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