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Cold weather on the water

Boating happens in the fall, too

Since water temperatures are cooling down this fall, the United States Coast Guard and its Auxiliary civilian volunteers want you to remember these three words — “Cold Water Boating.” The same life-saving principles apply in fall waters as they do in the winter months.

According to the United States Coast Guard’s 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics, cold-water immersion and hypothermia can be contributing factors in many boating-related fatalities. This danger increases as water temperature decreases below normal body temperature (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Nationally, hypothermia consistently ranks in the top five causes of boater deaths.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Do’s and Don’ts of Cold Water Boating:

  • Do make sure everyone is wearing an Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Even experienced swimmers will experience shock within one minute in frigid water and lose muscle control within 10 minutes.
  • Do file a float plan with someone you trust that includes details about the trip, boat, persons, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment, and emergency contacts. Download a free float plan template at
  • Do dress properly, always wearing layers, and bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet. Remember, dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.
  • Do use your navigation lights to alert other boaters to your presence in dark and/or foggy conditions. Recreational boats operating at night are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise.
  • Do catch your breath. A sudden unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than ½ cup of water in your lungs to drown. If you remain calm, you have a greater chance of self-rescue.
  • Don’t panic if you fall into the water. Stay afloat with the help of your life jacket, regain control of your breathing and keep your head above water in the vision of rescuers.
  • Don’t keep on heavy boots if you’re in the water. Look for additional ways to increase your buoyancy. If you’re with others, huddle together, facing inwards to help everyone stay afloat and keep warm.
  • Don’t apply heat to extremities like arms and legs of a rescued victim. This sudden change in temperature could cause cardiac arrest.

 Stages of cold-water immersion and  possible consequences:

  • Cold shock. You have one minute to adjust to the cold shock response — don’t panic.
  • Swimming failure. You have 10-minutes of meaningful movement to get help and get out of the water.
  • Hypothermia. You have about one hour before you become unconscious.
  • Post-rescue collapse. You “give up” and collapse after or right at the time of rescue.

For more information on boating in cold water, visit

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed, civilian component of the United States Coast Guard and assists the Service in nearly all of its missions, except for military operations and direct law enforcement actions.

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