Coast Guards Warns: Air Temps May Be Rising, but Water Temps Dangerously Low

CLEVELAND — In light of several recent search and rescue cases, the 9th Coast Guard District is warning Great Lakes citizens and visitors Thursday that, regardless of unseasonably warm air temperatures expected across the region this weekend, water temperatures remain dangerously low.

Additionally, the Coast Guard is providing safety tips and recommendations to promote safe outdoor recreation on Great Lakes waterways, in the hopes that citizens make a strong commitment to their own safety and those around them.

Throughout the Great Lakes, air temperatures are as high as the 60s and 70s, but water temperatures are still in the 30s and 40s.

“Recreation on Great Lakes waterways never really ceases, with popular cold water and ice activities prevalent throughout the region,” said Capt. Steve Torpey, chief of response for the 9th Coast Guard District.  “But, we’re expecting to start seeing a lot more people on the water as temperatures continue to rise.”

“Mariners, who may be surprised to learn that ‘cold water’ is technically defined as any water colder than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, need to continue to be cautious of the risks of drowning and hypothermia.”

In fact, someone in cold water may have only 10 minutes of functional movement before he loses the effective use of fingers, arms and legs.  At this point, a victim who is not wearing a life jacket will likely drown because he can no longer tread water and remain afloat.

Even with a Coast Guard-approved floatation device, hypothermia is a threat to survival once someone is exposed to cold water.  The body may lose heat 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air.  When recreating outdoors, mariners should dress for the water temperature — not the air temperature.

Click here to read a feature story called “Tis the Season to Prepare for Cold Water and Ice,” written by Frank Jennings Jr., recreational boating and water safety program manager for the 9th Coast Guard District.

For more information about cold water safety, recommended safety gear and tips for handling emergencies, visit the National Water Safety Congress’ Cold Water Boot Camp web site at:

“As mariners prepare to put their boats back in the water, now is the time to make a personal commitment to safety,” said Torpey.

The Coast Guard offers the following safety tips and recommendations for those who choose to recreate on Great Lakes waterways:

  • Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.  A life jacket allows you to float with a minimum of energy expended and allows you to assume the heat escape lessening position (H.E.L.P.) — bringing the knees close to the chest and holding them in place by wrapping the arms around the shins.
  • Great Lakes weather is unpredictable and dangerous, especially during seasonal transitions.  Always check and monitor the marine weather forecast before any trip out onto the lakes.
  • Complete a “Float Plan.”  Always notify family and friends where you are going and when you expect to be back — and stick to the plan.  Be sure to notify them when plans change.  Click here for more information and an example of a float plan.
  • Never venture out alone.  Plan outings with other boaters who will be on their own vessels.
  • Carry all required and recommended safety gear, such as visual distress signals, a sound producing device, etc.  Carry visual distress signals and a quality whistle in the pockets of the life jacket being worn so it’s close at hand in an emergency.
  • The Coast Guard recommends carriage of a registered personal locator beacon (PLB) in addition to a VHF-FM marine radio, to alert the Coast Guard and local safety agencies of potential distress.  Consider a waterproof hand-held model that can be kept on your person.
  • Consider taking a free boater education course from the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  In 2010, 84 percent of recreational boating deaths occurred in situations where the operator had no official boating safety instruction.  Click here to search public education classes by zip code.
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