Boaters increase odds of survival during cold-weather incidents when armed with the right knowledge and tools
PRATT – A quick slip of the foot, a clothing snag on a limb, or even high winds can pose a big
As a rule of thumb, if the sum of the air and water temperatures added together equals less than 100 degrees and you fall into the water, you could be at risk for hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Cold water can rob the body of heat 25 times faster than cold air, so time is of the upmost importance should a boater fall in the water. If a boater’s core body temperature drops below normal (98.6 degrees F), the risk of becoming hypothermic increases dramatically.
If you fall overboard, remember the “1-10-1” rule. After the initial shock of falling in wears off, you will experience about one minute of deep and uncontrolled breathing before your blood circulation is altered. Staying calm will be easier if you're wearing a life jacket because it will keep your head above the water line and help you avoid breathing in mouthfuls of water.
The ten minutes after falling into cold water are crucial to survival. During this time, blood flow will start moving away from hands and feet in order to keep the body’s core warm. The body instinctively attempts to keep vital organs warm and functioning in an effort to avoid organ failure and death. This change in blood circulation affects nerves and muscles farther away from the body’s core, limiting their ability to function. A self-rescue attempt must be made at this time. If possible, immediately get out of the water. Even if your boat is capsized and upside down, crawling onto the part of the boat that is still above water will increase your odds of survival. If you are not wearing a life jacket and can’t get out of the water, you will eventually lose the ability to tread water or swim due to the lack of response from your arms and legs. Using the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP) will keep your core warmer longer, and wearing a life jacket makes the HELP position just that much easier. In the HELP position, you just pull your legs up to your chest and hug your knees, keeping your body compact and surrounding your chest with protection. If other boaters are in the water with you, huddle together for warmth.
The last part of the “1-10-1” rule refers to a person’s level of consciousness after being in cold water for one hour. Most people will lose consciousness within one hour, but if you are wearing a life jacket, your face will remain above water, allowing you to breathe even if you become unconscious.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism recommends as it does with any outdoor outing to always let someone know where you will be and what time they should expect you to be back. Always dress appropriately by wearing layers that can be removed if the weather warms, and avoid cotton clothing. Cotton will keep water trapped close to your body instead of wicking it away, ultimately taking it longer to dry. If you should find yourself soaking wet, never remove your clothing and shoes unless you have a dry set to change into. Although cold and wet, this clothing will provide your body with more insulation, keeping you warmer than you would normally be without clothing.
There are no guarantees when out in the water, but by wearing a life jacket, remembering the “1-10-1” rule, and always letting someone know where you are prior to leaving, you could potentially save not only your own life, but the life of another.