US Army Corps of Engineers
Omaha District

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Boaters, Anglers, and Hunters: Beware of Cold Water

Published April 15, 2013
Trotlines are reset with anchors and buoys marking each end of the line during pallid sturgeon broodstock collection with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on the Missouri River, April 8.

Trotlines are reset with anchors and buoys marking each end of the line during pallid sturgeon broodstock collection with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on the Missouri River, April 8.

OMAHA, Neb. - With the ice now off most local area rivers and lakes boaters, anglers, and hunters need to take extra precautions when around water during this time of year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the largest federal provider of outdoor recreation opportunities, cautions outdoor recreationists to protect themselves against cold water immersion and hypothermia.

The water does not have to be extremely cold to create problems or possibly death if you are immersed in it. It just has to be cooler than your body temperature so the most effective precaution against drowning is to wear your life jacket. Everyone should make an effort to become familiar with techniques of surviving in cold water. The best way to reduce cold water immersion while boating is to prevent falling overboard or capsizing. Do not overload your boat and avoid heavy wave conditions.  Accidents can happen quickly, so always ensure that everyone, including you, is wearing a Coast Guard approved life jacket. Also remember that it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to put a life jacket on after falling in the water.

People mistakenly think if they can swim they don’t need to wear a life jacket. When the water is cold sudden immersion can cause shock, involuntary gasping, and deep hyperventilation. This is followed by cold incapacitation. In a short amount of time, as the muscles and nerves in the limbs get cold, a person will lose the ability to self rescue or even swim. People have died because of the initial effects of cold water immersion and they were within swimming distance of safety.

It is important for you to know that your body will lose heat 25 times faster in water than in air of the same temperature and that factor can be increased substantially with movement like swimming if you are not wearing thermal protection. The best choice in floatation equipment while around cold water is a float coat and pants or a one-piece survival suit. If you find yourself in cold water, in addition to having proper flotation equipment, there are some things you can do to delay the onset of hypothermia. Using the Heat Escape Lessening Position will help conserve body heat.

If you are alone drawing your legs up close to your chest and wrapping your arms around them in a tuck position will help conserve body heat. If you are in a group huddling together as close as possible will also help conserve body heat.

Here are three things you should be aware of if you find yourself in cold water.

  1. You must keep your airway clear or run the risk of drowning. The gasp reflex caused by cold shock will pass in about one minute. During that time don’t panic and focus on getting your breathing under control. Wearing a life jacket during this phase is critical to keep you afloat so you can concentrate on getting your breathing under control.

  2. Focus on self rescue. If that is not possible then be aware that you will become incapacitated and unable to swim. Wearing a life jacket will allow you to keep your head above water and your airway clear while waiting for rescue.

  3. Delay hypothermia. Even in icy water without proper thermal protection, it could take approximately one hour before you become unconscious due to hypothermia. If you understand the signs of hypothermia, the techniques to delay it including self rescue, and how to effectively call for help increase your chances of survival.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is Building Strong awareness to help save lives. For more information and to see what really happens during cold water immersion visit www.coldwaterbootcamp.com and for more details on the Heat Escape Lessening and Huddle Positions visit website. http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/marinesafety/tp-tp10038-88-emerg-hypothermia-585.htm.


Contact
Eileen Williamson
402-995-2417
eileen.l.williamson@usace.army.mil

Release no. 20130415-001