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Warm air, cold water leads to boating safety concerns


People are itching to get out on the water -- but it's not time to waterski just yet
People are itching to get out on the water -- but it's not time to waterski just yet

Hilary Hagerman, staff writer

March 13, 2012 — People across the country have seen record-breaking temperatures over the past few days, and that's making boaters want to head to the lake. But officials warn that there are risks to hauling the boat out of storage this early.

One woman drowned in Lake St. Clair on Sunday after falling into the frigid water
One woman drowned in Lake St. Clair on Sunday after falling into the frigid water

As temperatures across Southern Ontario soar in the high teens this week, phones are ringing off the hook at marinas across the region with people asking if they can get their boats in the water. But warm air doesn't necessarily mean warm water.

Two canoeists fell into Lake St. Clair near Windsor on Sunday afternoon. A 20-year-old man made it to shore while an 18-year-old woman drowned.The air was about 15C, but the water was a frigid 2C.

Paul Csanyi, the Marine Coordinator for the Halton Regional Police. "I would guess it's probably hovering around the 35-40F[2-4C] mark, which is still pretty chilly as far as water is concerned."

If a person falls into chilly water, shock and hypothermia can occur, explains Csanyi. "When your body is accustomed to [10-15C] air temperatures and hits that cold water, you run the risk of shock."

According to Transport Canada, cold water death could cause more deaths than hypothermia. A person will gasp for air for 3-5 minutes and then could experience muscle spasms or a risk in heart rate or blood pressure. Cold water shock could even trigger a stroke or heart attack.

"If you fall in, the first thing you really need to do is adjust your breathing and try to calm yourself down, and then obviously we have issues of hypothermia setting in and loss of muscle control," Csanyi says. "If you don't get immediate help, hypothermia could be fatal."

Make sure you take the necessary precautions before taking your boat out for the first time this season
Make sure you take the necessary precautions before taking your boat out for the first time this season

"This time of year is probably the busiest because people are itching to get out on the water with their boats, and they may not have done the necessary vessel checks to make sure their boat is in tip-top shape before they head out," he says.

He recommends doing a complete check of your boat and making sure that all safety equipment is in proper working order before you take your boat out. He also suggests having extra supplies, like a cell phone in working range and a VHF (very-high-frequency) radio because there will be less boaters than usual to offer assistance if there is a problem.

And above all, Csanyi says to make sure your lifejackets are in proper working order and dress warmly. "You might be deceived by the warm sunny air temperature, but the cold may come and eventually get you."

With files from CBC.

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