Washington - Cold weather boaters need protection from hypothermia, both on deck and in the event of falling overboard. Cold water shortens in-water survival time, making a quick rescue essential. Fortunately, you have options whether you hunt, fish, or cruise on cold water. Choose the right gear to increase your chances of surviving a cold-weather mishap.
1. Flotation Coat
Flotation coats provide warmth and double as a life jacket should the wearer fall in the water. Float coats are recommended for boaters who boat year-round in locales with moderate air temperatures and cold water. If you boat in extremely cold temperatures, a flotation coat will not protect you from hypothermia if you fall into the water.
2. Immersion or Survival Suit
Winter boating calls for hardy gear. Survival suits protect you from the elements, and provide flotation and hypothermia protection if you enter the water. Wearing a survival suit can increase survival time in cold water.
3. Dry Suit
Dry suits can be instantly drawn tight to prevent water from entering, Appropriate thermal layers worn beneath the dry suit provide insulation and they are not buoyant. Dry suits are suitable for intentional entry into the water, but provide no passive protection if you fall in.
4. Personal Position Locator Beacon
Otherwise known as a PLB, a personal position locator beacon is a scaled down version of the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). When immersed in water or manually activated both EPIRBs and PLBs transmit a signal that allows rescuers to pinpoint your location.
5. Personal Emergency Locator Light
An emergency light worn and activated if a person is in the water can attract the attention of rescuers, providing a much more visible target than your head in the water. The bright, flashing light increases the chances of being spotted by rescuers or a passing boater.
Store hand held and/or parachute flares in immersion suit pockets, secured with a lanyard. Study their instructions before you need them.
Attracting attention will increase your chances of surviving in the water. Whistles are a cheap and simple way to make noise without exhausting yourself. Rescuers are trained to turn off the boat engines and listen for a period of time while they are on search and rescue missions, or a nearby boater may hear the signal. Conventional whistles don’t work if the “pea” inside is wet, so choose a waterproof model.
Common sense can also increase your chances of survival in cold weather. Dress in layers to provide maximum protection and warmth. Technical fibers provide thermal protection and won’t absorb water. Include a hat to protect your head from heat loss. Wear gloves.
Don't be tempted to skip proper cold weather clothing and gear. Be sure to wear a life jacket and hypothermia protection when boating in the cold.
The American Boating Association
PO Box 690
New Market, MD 21774