COLUMBUS – Despite the spring-like temperatures April may bring to the Buckeye State, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Parks and Watercraft wants Ohioans to know that water temperatures in lakes and streams are still very cold, and even the best swimmers could experience complete exhaustion in just 15 minutes.
“Wearing a life jacket can save your life,” said Glen Cobb, chief of the ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft. “Cold water can quickly rob you of muscle control, so it’s critical to wear your life jacket before an accident occurs.”
Nearly 90% of boating fatalities are due to drowning and nearly half of those are attributed to the effects of immersion in cold water. Water cooler than the normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees causes heat loss. Cold water will cool a body 25 times faster than cold air of the same temperature. Total immersion in cold water is very painful, and the disorientation it creates can quickly lead to panic.
Water temperatures are slower to respond to the change of seasons. Right now, Lake Erie’s water temperature is about 40 degrees, and water temperature in Ohio’s inland lakes and rivers can also remain frigid well into spring. If water temperature is less than 50 degrees, the window of opportunity for a rescue could be only a few minutes if the person is not dressed for cold water conditions. Information on how to dress for water temperature is available at watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/coldweatherboating.
A properly fitted life jacket will keep a person’s airway out of the water, which is most important as falling into cold water often triggers an uncontrollable gasping reflex. Heart rate and blood pressure increase dramatically, increasing the risk for cardiac arrest. The victim may hyperventilate and find it difficult to get air into the lungs. Wearing a life jacket while boating is as important as wearing a seat belt while driving.
Filing a float plan and making sure family and friends know where you are boating and when you are expected to return is also very important. A sample float plan boaters can use is available at watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/floatplan.
The ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft is mandated by state law to provide boating safety education programs. The division accomplishes this mission by providing annual funding assistance to local communities and nonprofit organizations through a competitive grant program.