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Cold-Water Boating Safety

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

File a Float Plan; Follow It — “There’s nothing worse,” Folkerts says, “than getting a call from a significant other saying, ‘My husband was supposed to be back four hours ago.’” When asked where he was going, the wife doesn’t know because he didn’t tell her. Leave as detailed a plan as possible with your spouse, a relative or a friend and tell them you will check in when you get back to land. If they don’t hear from you, they’ll know to call for help and where to send the rescuers.Cold-Water Safety

Dress For the Water, Not the Weather — One of the biggest mistakes people make is dressing for the air temperature. “Sometimes you get those 60-degree days but the water temperature is still in the 40s,” Folkerts says. Water can sap your body heat 25 times faster than air can, so protect yourself from possible immersion, no matter how warm it feels outside.

Cotton Kills —
“Cotton is one of the worst things you can wear when it’s cold and damp,” says David Borg, Folkerts’ colleague and the boating safety analyst for District 17. Cotton absorbs water and reduces body temperature much more quickly than other materials. Wear water-resistant fabrics and layers that wick away moisture, and a waterproof outer layer.

Cold-Water Safety

Fix It Now — Folkerts says his district gets a lot of calls in the early spring when boaters launch for the first time. “People want to get on the water and don’t do maintenance as they should,” he says. “The boat runs for a while and then quits.” Do all your spring commissioning work, and make the first run a short one close to the dock or launch ramp.

Prepare For the Worst — One could argue that a Ziploc bag saved the Alaskan duck hunters. Bring supplies to prepare for an emergency, such as blankets, food, water, warm clothes and communication and location devices, including a VHF radio, GPS and emergency positionindicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacon (PLB). Don’t rely on a cell phone, but if you bring it, keep it dry, and preprogram rescue numbers. Dialing 911 sends you to a land-based emergency system and could delay your rescue. The hunters knew to dial *CG, which in Alaska puts you in direct contact with the Coast Guard command center in Juneau. Find out what to dial in your area.

Have a Fire Drill — Where’s the ladder, the throwable life preserver, the ditch bag, the VHF radio? Go over the exact location of all key safety gear before you leave the dock. If you’re boating with a friend, discuss who’s going to do what if someone falls overboard, and how to make emergency calls.

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