COLUMBUS – While the weather in Ohio is warming up, it is important for residents to know that the water temperature in Ohio’s waterways are still extremely cold, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Parks and Watercraft.
“Hypothermia sets in rapidly when people enter cold water because people lose the use of the muscles in their arms and legs, which makes it very difficult to get safely back to shore,” said Glen Cobb, chief of the Division of Parks and Watercraft. “People should avoid getting into the water when the water is extremely cold, and if they are boating or paddling, it is critical to wear a life jacket and dress for the water temperature.”
Water temperatures are slower to respond to the change of seasons. Lake Erie’s water temperature is still between 45-50 degrees, and water temperatures in Ohio’s inland lakes and rivers are also very cold. Information on how to dress for the water temperature is available at watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/coldweatherboating.
Almost 90 percent of boating fatalities are due to drowning, and nearly half of those are attributed to the effects of immersion in cold water. Total immersion in cold water is very painful, with extremities rapidly becoming numb. The disoriented people can quickly panic while losing coordination of their limbs. With these combined reactions, the victim may drown quickly.
Falling into cold water triggers the body’s cold water immersion responses, beginning with an uncontrollable gasping reflex. The victim may hyperventilate and find it difficult to get air into his or her lungs. A well-fitted life jacket will keep a person’s airway out of the water—which is most important when the gasping reflex begins. Heart rate and blood pressure increase dramatically, increasing the risk for cardiac arrest. The best prevention for this danger is to wear a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket while boating is as important as wearing a seat belt while in a car.
Given a person’s ability to keep his or her head above water and stay afloat, the following chart provides a general idea of survival times in water of varying temperatures. Cold water reduces body heat up to 25 times faster than cold air. Factors that may alter these estimates include clothing or protective gear, the individual’s health condition and water conditions.
Learn more about surviving a cold water accident by visiting watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/coldwater.