‘Cold water can turn a seemingly fine situation into a disaster’: Officials emphasize cold water safety

Panguitch Lake, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Autumn is here, and along with the changing leaves comes changing water temperatures.

These colder temperatures — combined with the rise in state park visitation this season — has the Utah State Parks Boating Program urging recreational boaters, hunters, anglers and swimmers to remain mindful and to protect themselves from cold water exposure, which can be immediately life-threatening. About 50% of boating accidents that result in water exposure at low water temperatures are fatal.

“Cold water can turn a seemingly fine situation into a disaster,” Utah State Parks Boating Program Coordinator Ty Hunter said in a news release. “Cold water immersion causes panic and decreases a person’s ability to swim or stay afloat. Someone who is typically a strong and confident swimmer can be impacted very quickly. If they aren’t wearing a life jacket, that can mean serious trouble.”

Exposure to cold water can incapacitate a person in just 5-15 minutes, and the severe effects of hypothermia can set in within 30 minutes. Because a person’s muscles and nervous system can be impaired in a cold water emergency, wearing a life jacket not only keeps an individual afloat but also increases their survival time from 10 minutes to possibly an hour.

State park officials recommend all water recreators wear their life jackets when on the water as well as follow these additional precautions:

  • Check the weather and water temperature.
  • Recreate with a buddy. Don’t venture out alone.
  • If you fall in the water, remain calm and try to stay afloat. Adequate breathing should follow as long as you can stay calm.
  • Focus on meaningful movements, such as getting back in the boat or to shore.
  • Carry a cell phone in a waterproof container.

“Life jackets save lives, period,” Hunter said. “Following that simple step, as well as these additional safety tips, can help you make it home safely. There are multiple types of life jackets available for almost any water activity — boating, water skiing, paddle boarding and even auto-inflate jackets that are great for hunters and fishermen.”

In Utah and nationally, 80% of people who drowned in boating accidents would have survived had they been wearing a life jacket. Utah Law requires all boats have at least one wearable U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board; this includes paddle craft like canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. Passengers 12-years-old and younger must also be wearing a properly sized coast guard approved life jacket whenever a boat is in operation.

For additional information on boating safety, life jackets and Utah’s boating laws and rules, click here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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