Recreational fishers should be aware of the dangers of cold water

Wearing a personal floatation device can save your life.

There are a variety of personal floatation devices (PFD) available. Find the right PFD for you because it can save your life. Graphic courtesy Pennsylvania Boating Handbook.

There are a variety of personal floatation devices (PFD) available. Find the right PFD for you because it can save your life. Graphic courtesy Pennsylvania Boating Handbook.

After a long and extremely cold winter, many recreational fishers are now ready to get on the water to go after that trophy fish. Because of our cold winter, the water temperatures this spring will be very cold and can pose a danger to recreational fishers if they accidentally fall into it. If someone is not wearing a personal floatation device and falls into cold water, they may hyperventilate and take water into their lungs and disappear into the water. Such accidents can happen to even the best swimmer, and the best swimmer is not immune to the effects of cold water. The best way to prevent this type of accident is to wear a personal floatation device.

Many people complain that they do not like to wear a personal floatation device because they are bulky and, because of the bulkiness, they are hard to fish in. This may have been true in years past, but modern personal floatation devices are not as bulky and some are made to only inflate when in contact with the water.

The danger of falling into cold water is hypothermia or the lowering of the body’s core temperature, which can lead to death. Acute or rapid onset hypothermia is usually associated with immersion in cold water. Water conducts heat away from the body twenty five times faster than air, and quickly robs the body of its internal heat. In water, 72 degrees Fahrenheit and lower, the body cannot generate enough heat to offset the loss to the water and hypothermia may develop in as little as ten to fifteen minutes.

In cold water, it is extremely difficult to swim as a person can lose coordination and manual dexterity, develop muscle spasms and rigidity, and ultimately lose consciousness. If a person is not wearing a personal floatation device, they expend energy to stay afloat, increasing heat loss, and then can slip below the water and drown. The survival rate at 50 degrees F for someone swimming is only about 1.5 hours. If one treads water that survival rate increases to about 2.5 hours, and if one floats in a personal floatation device, it increases to about 3 hours. A person’s chances for survival are dramatically increased when wearing a personal floatation device in addition to making it easier for a water rescue.

Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension have offered workshops for many years related to water safety, and one of the main subjects stressed is to use a personal floatation device when recreating on the water. Even an Olympic swimmer cannot overcome the effects of hypothermia when exposed to cold water.

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