Atlantic Boat and Marine News and Information
Warm Days, Cold Water
CHARLESTON, SC (12/18/08) --

USCG Fireman John Hie during Ice Rescue Training
at Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor

Temperatures here in the Charleston area have been unseasonably warm the past few days. This has brought many small boaters and day sailors out to enjoy the weather. The warm air temperatures have also produced a false sense of security among many who are unaware or have ignored the fact that the coastal water temperatures are still in the lower 50's.

Just last week the Coast Guard rescued three from a capsized vessel off the South Carolina coast. Although their vessel remained afloat, all three quickly succumbed to the cold water and the beginning stages of hypothermia. Fortunately, all three were treated and released from an area hospital, however, had their plight gone unnoticed for any length of time, the story would have been more tragic.

Even in 50 to 60 degree water, unconsciousness can occur in as little as one hour. Of course if you suddenly find yourself overboard and alone without a PFD, you will not have to worry about dying from the cold. You will likely drown soon after you lose consciousness.

Another danger are the effects of cold water immersion. Unlike hypothermia, cold water immersion can lead to death in just a few minutes and in some cases, instantly. Sudden entry into the water has caused cardiac arrest in some. The shock of the cold water can also cause an involuntary gasp reflex that can cause victims to inhale water.

So what is a body to do? Look at the cold water as you would a storm. Prepare your boat and equipment accordingly, even in fair weather. First and foremost, give yourself a fighting chance and wear your PFD. If you are sailing off-shore, wear your harness and use the jack lines. No one plans to suddenly find themselves in the water no more than you would plan to lose your keel. Simply recognize the danger cold water poses and be prepared for the unexpected.

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