Boating can be one of the most exciting things that you ever do, but as the old saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Safety is something that simply cannot be passed over as a boat owner and rider. You need to make sure that you and your guests are safe, understand the risks involved and are educated on how to react to accidents.

Most drownings or boat-related fatalities are a direct result of somebody going overboard or the boat capsizing, especially in cold water. This cold-water immersion is so dangerous because the body is shocked, both mentally and physically, causing the body to shut down, making drowning much easier.

As the water begins to cool down, and we enter the colder months, it is important to either learn or refresh what you already knew about cold water and what to do in case of an accident and yourself or somebody you are with, goes overboard.

There are 4 stages to cold-water immersion:

  1. Cold water shock response – the initial immersion causes a “gasping” effect, causing the muscles to spasm, and often leads to hyperventilation. Changes in heart rate and blood pressure are also common. These effects usually last a few minutes before more serious effects take place.
  2. Cold incapacitation – your body will begin losing basic motor skills within a few minutes when submerged. You may start to lose strength and feeling in your hands, which will affect your ability to swim and stay afloat. Most fatalities occur due to a swimming failure even before hypothermia has set in.
  3. Immersion hypothermia – it only takes about 30 minutes for your body’s core temperature to drop below a safe level and reach hypothermia stage. This is when the person will lapse into unconsciousness due to the body temperature continuing to drop until it has reached the same temperature as the water.
  4. Post-rescue collapse – the blood pressure drop from reach hypothermia may cause issues even after the rescue. The victim may stop breathing or even lose consciousness hours after being removed from the water. This is why immediate medical attention is necessary.

The number one cause of fatality when it comes to any boating accident is lack of life jacket. In the case of surviving cold-water immersion, a lifejacket could be the single most important determining factor.

Below is a great infographic put together by BoatUS Foundation with tips for preventing and surviving a cold-water immersion situation. The number one tip on the list, as always, is to always wear a lifejacket! Other tips include carrying handheld emergency communication devices on their person, making sure the boat has a re-boarding device, engine cutoffs, and last but not least, to file and stick to a float plan.

Fishing in the winter can be a lot of fun and can yield some great catches (and memories!), but it is absolutely important to make sure to be as safe as possible when out in the water. Even if the air temperature is abnormally warm for the time of the year, do not be fooled — the water temperatures are not nearly as forgiving.