While many boaters have winterized their vessels, others still use their boats for hunting, fishing or just enjoying a sunny day. Unfortunately, the risk of a deadly accident is increased with cold weather.

Extra caution and preparation should be taken before heading out on the water in winter. Cold weather creates certain risks. In cold air, wind can rapidly suck away body heat for those who are underdressed. Hypothermia can sneak up on you even if the air temperature is in the 60s or warmer.

Poor judgment increases the risks of being on the water. Wet clothing or skin (especially one's head) rapidly escalates body heat loss. Spray or an unexpected breaking wave can create a sudden dangerous situation.

In cold water, even when the air is warm, body temperature plummets. Even when you might feel safe wearing a life jacket, within minutes you may be unable to grasp a rope thrown to you or to climb out on the boat's ladder. An "easy" rescue becomes life threatening.

Sudden immersion in cold water can cause the heart to stop or an involuntary gasp that can lead to drowning.

Here's an example of a common situation that almost took one boater's life.

In the fall a man motored up to a pier and went to the bow to tie up. As he reached to loop a dock line around a piling, he slipped and fell in the water. He was not wearing a life jacket because it was such a routine operation on a calm day right next to land.

But the water was so cold that even though he reached the bottom rung of a ladder on the pier, he had already lost the ability to pull himself up. He was lucky to have been seen, and rescuers quickly arrived and donned dry suits. Even then, it took two trained men in the water quite some time to finally get a line around him and hoist him out. He was so hypothermic that he had become mere dead weight. He was lucky to live. 

Wearing your life jacket is always important, but this time of year it is critical. Wear layers of clothing of a fabric that retains body warmth and dries rapidly. The outer shell should be water and windproof. Use a wet suit or dry suit in extreme conditions. Wear a waterproof hat or hood. Be sure to have and use all required and optional safety equipment, including a submersible handheld VHF radio clipped to your belt.

Tell others about where you are going and when you'll return and file a float plan. Check the weather forecast before heading out and monitor for changes that could rapidly get worse. Don't use alcohol to try to feel warmer; you actually lose heat faster with alcohol in your blood.

Know how to rescue someone who goes overboard and know how to treat hypothermia in a guest or crew.

Perhaps most important, keep thinking! Considering what could happen at any moment, playing the "What if" game will help you stay aware of the risks in a cold environment and maintain a safety consciousness. Think about what could happen at any time, even in the most routine situations.

Want to learn more about boating safety or help teach boating safety? Consider joining the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Brigantine Flotilla 85 is celebrating its 45th anniversary and always welcomes new members.

Our next meeting will be 6:45 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Brigantine Beach Community Center, 265 42nd St. Come join us and see what the auxiliary is all about. For more information email boatsafely@comcast.net. Visit us on the web at uscgaux-brigantine-nj.org.

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