While summer seems to be hanging on, the coming fall means that local water temperatures can drop to create potentially dangerous conditions for those not properly prepared.
According to the National Safety Council, hypothermia can set in if a person is exposed to water colder than 70 degrees for too long. A person’s breathing can be affected by waters colder than 77 degrees, according coldwatersafety.org.
Historical data shows that regional lake temperatures begin to dip into the 70-80s as early as late September, depending on weather conditions. Granted, water in that temperature range is not cold enough to likely become an immediate threat, but the potential is there.
Cold water shock
The first thing that happens when a person is suddenly and unexpectedly exposed to cold water is called cold water shock, an involuntary loss of breath control.
“Breathing problems include gasping, hyperventilation, difficulty holding your breath, and a scary feeling of breathlessness or suffocation,” according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety.
Hyperventilation follows the gasping stage. Possible effects that follow can be dizziness, faintness, numbness, cramping in hands and feet, mental confusion and even loss of consciousness.
The ability to stay afloat without a personal floatation device is greatly impaired during this time.
After the loss of breath control, a potential drowning victim would likely experience physical incapacitation. This, like hyperthermia, can be a gradual condition that could catch a victim unaware.
A person swimming in cold water begins to lose strength, hands become numb, and arms and legs stop working. Swimmers can no longer self-rescue, or help in their rescue.
The good news is that most of these dangers can be abated by wearing a personal floatation device (PFD), or a life jacket.
While a PFD will not provide much thermal protection to an immersed boater, it will keep the person mostly upright and floating.
Additionally, the state boaters handbook suggests that when the weather turns cold, boaters should dress in several layers of clothing under your PFD or wear a wetsuit or drysuit.
Anytime you’re out and the weather is bad, watch for symptoms of hypothermia such as shivering and bluish lips and nails.
To reduce the effects of hypothermia, wear a PFD to float without excessive movement and insulates your body.
Also if immersed, get as much of your body out of the water as possible.
“Don’t take your clothes off unless necessary — clothes can help you float and provide insulation, and don’t thrash or move about. Excess motion consumes energy and increases loss of body heat,” the handbook suggests. And huddle together with others, if possible, to keep warm.