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DBW Warns Boaters of Cold Water Immersion

Contact:  Gloria Sandoval (916) 651-5692
cell (916) 715-1657

November 16, 2009

SACRAMENTO - Winter boating season is upon us and the California Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW) is reminding boaters about the risk of cold water immersion.  The ocean and lake temperatures are their coldest this time of year and even a strong swimmer can experience difficulty if they accidentally find themselves in cold water.

“When boaters fall into cold water, it can take just a few minutes before their ability to swim and rescue themselves becomes compromised.  The real risks can take effect in the first few seconds,” said DBW Director Raynor Tsuneyoshi.  “The use of a life jacket increases their survival.”

DBW’s boating statistics for 2008 demonstrate that the likelihood of fatalities as the result of a boating accident is three times greater in the winter than in summer months.

The effects of cold water immersion are predictable and well documented by Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a thermophysiologist with the University of Manitoba and a world expert on freezing to death through his 1-10-1 principle.

1 minute:  Upon accidental immersion the body reacts with an involuntary GASP followed by hyperventilation of up to 10 times regular breathing.  If your head is underwater during that initial deep gasp you can inhale enough water to drown.  Do not panic.  Breathing will return to close to normal.

10 minutes:  In cold water a person will become INCAPACITATED to the point that the muscles in their limbs stop working and they will no longer be able to swim or rescue themselves.  Try to rescue yourself before incapacitation becomes a factor and if you cannot, at least try to get as much of your body out of the water as possible to delay the onset of hypothermia.

1 hour: After an hour, depending on the water temperature, the body continues to cool and the resulting HYPOTHERMIA can create a range of symptoms from confusion to unconsciousness and eventually leading to death. 

The best way to survive an accidental cold water immersion is to wear your life jacket.  It will help keep your head above water in the event of an accidental immersion until you can get your breathing under control.  It will also keep you afloat while you concentrate on rescuing yourself.  If you are unable to rescue yourself, your life jacket can provide some thermal protection against the onset of hypothermia and keep you afloat until someone else can rescue you.
Boaters are also advised to file a float plan before heading out on the water.  The chances of successfully locating an overdue boat are much greater if the US Coast Guard or other rescue agencies have certain facts about the boat trip that may be included on a float plan.  For your own safety and before boating, file a float plan with a reliable person who will notify authorities if necessary.

For more information on safe boating or to fill out a float plan, please visit www.BoatSmarter.com or call (888) 326-2822.


DBW enhances public access to California’s waterways and promotes boating and aquatic safety through programs funded by vessel registration fees, boating fuel tax dollars and boating facility construction loan payments.