Did you know that your chances of dying from going overboard are five times greater in winter months than in the summer? The Sea Tow Foundation – a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the education and awareness of safe boating practices – is reminding boaters of the importance of boating safely in cold weather. This safety information is especially important for hunters, paddlers and all other recreational boaters in areas where the water and/or air temperature is colder during the winter months.
One of the most pertinent cold weather requirements is to wear a life jacket. This is in response to the abnormally high number of accidents and deaths that have occurred as a result of cold-water immersion. A human’s body temperature drops 25 times faster when immersed in cold water (water that is 50 degrees or cooler), ultimately affecting internal organs and leading to hypothermia. Children and older persons are most vulnerable to hypothermia. A total of five northern states have laws that require life jackets be worn by boaters during cold weather months, but water and air temperatures can become cold even in southern states.
“Many people don’t realize the dangers that can come from boating during colder months,” said Gail R. Kulp, Sea Tow Foundation’s executive director. “Even the best swimmer would have difficulty if immersed in cold water due to the effects it has on our bodies. The Sea Tow Foundation is committed to boating safety and encourages all boaters and passengers to wear a life jacket, especially during the colder months. Life jackets save lives, but only if they are worn.”
The five states with cold weather life jacket wear requirements are listed below:
- Connecticut: Life jackets must be worn by anyone in a manually-propelled vessel from October 1 through May 31 (must be a Type I, II, III, V or V-hybrid).
- Maine: All boaters canoeing or kayaking on the Saco River between Hiram Dam and the Atlantic Ocean between January 1 and June 1 must be wearing a life jacket.
- Massachusetts: Life jackets must be worn from September 15 to May 15 when operating a canoe or kayak.
- New York: All owners or operators of a boat less than 21 feet, including rowboats, canoes and kayaks, between November 1 and May 1, must ensure that all passengers are wearing a securely-fastened, United States Coast Guard-approved wearable personal flotation device of an appropriate size while out on the water.
- Pennsylvania: From November 1 to April 30, boaters are required to wear a life jacket while on boats less than 16 feet in length or any canoe or kayak.
Even if your state doesn’t have a cold weather life jacket requirement and you think you are a strong swimmer, it is a smart and safe idea to wear a life jacket any time the water or air temperature drops below 60 degrees. It is crucial that, during cold weather months, boaters not only wear a life jacket, but have one that is USCG-approved and fits well.
Here are some additional tips for safely boating during the winter months:
- Carry a radio, signal flares and other means to draw attention to your location in case of emergency.
- Wear clothing that insulates when wet such as a fleece or other synthetics
- Be aware of and prepared for the shock of sudden immersion and the debilitating effects of cold water. Bring a change of clothing in a waterproof container.
- Boat safe, sober and never alone.
And remember, when you’re out on the water, wear a life jacket. While we all love spending time out on the water, enjoying everything the hobby has to offer, wearing a life jacket ensures that you can have many more boating adventures in the future.