Sunday, April 21, 2013

Great Lakes & Inland Lakes Cold Water Safety for Spring 2013

Great Lakes & Inland Lakes Cold Water Safety for Spring 2013

Coast Guard Recommendations for Keeping Safe on the Water in Spring, Especially for Canoeists, Kayakers & Boaters:

Coast Guard Cmdr. Buzzella reminds boaters that spring water temperatures are deadly cold, despite warming air temperatures and is working with local media to help Michigan learn how to enjoy the lakes safely in warm weather. During the week of April 15th, the USCG Air Station Traverse City is working with the media to demonstrate cold water recommendations, gear and safety procedures. Additionally, during spring local media will be reporting area water temperatures.
"Warm air inspires us all to get outside. When being outside means getting on the water, boaters put themselves in danger when they don't prepare for cold water," says Cmdr. Buzzella. "Even experienced boaters mistake a warm day for safe water temperatures and can fall prey to hypothermia if they end up in the water." Cold water carries heat away from the body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature and as a result, the body core immediately begins to lose heat. Strong currents, like rivers or waves can increase the speed of the heat loss.

The U. S. Coast Guard helped to produce this video on and recommends the following advice for enjoying the Great Lakes and inland lakes this spring.

Know the Water Temperature

 Weather reports on 9&10 News and 7&4 News will report spring water temperatures as part of their daily broadcast.

 NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) also provides daily reports at

Dress for the Water Weather

 Wear a life jacket

 Wear cold water clothing appropriate for the water temperature: wet suits, dry suits, etc.

 Charles River Canoe & Kayak uses the following chart with the recommendation that some people need more protection from cold.


60°F and up                                    low                                              Clothing for the weather

55-59°F                                         moderate                                      Wetsuit or drysuit

45-54°F                                         high                                              Drysuit recommended

below 45°F                                    extreme                                        Drysuit

On average, water in Lake Michigan doesn't pass the 60 degree F mark until mid to late June. So paddlers should be looking at wetsuits or better all spring.

The well dressed cold water paddler.

Two Boats Are Better

 Many people don't put their boats in the water until June or July. In spring there are very few neighbors who are going to be able to use their boat to get to you, so it's better to have that second boat already with you. As fast as the Coast Guard is, it may take them 30 minutes to scramble a rescue team and get to you--if they know right where you are. And in cold water you might not have that much time.

 In 2011 32 Great Lakes water fatalities were paddle craft fatalities. When paddling, in cold water, one boater can help the other out of the cold water and to shore where medical personnel can assist.

Take the Search Out of Search & Rescue--Use an EPIRB or PLB (personal locator beacon)

 EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacons)  and PLB's signal maritime distress. An activated EPIRB or PLB broadcasts a repeating SOS signal with integrated GPS location from virtually any point on earth. The signal is received by COSPAS/SARSAT satellites which identifies the beacon's position within a few hundred yards in mere minutes. Make sure your EPIRB/PLB has been registered with NOAA and that the information is up to date.
 Flares, glow sticks, flashlights help rescue personal find your craft at night.

 Protect your cell phone with a waterproof dry sack and attach that to your life vest.

Always file a float plan with a responsible person ashore.  Tell them where your are going, what type of craft you are using, and when to expect you back.  Call this person upon your return so they do not worry and call for a search.

Rachel North of Suttons Bay, lost her brother, an experienced sailor, kayaker and canoeist, David Dickerson, on April 21st last year to hypothermia. He went canoeing on Omena Bay on a bright spring day where the temperature topped 50 degrees and the wind was 5 mph. "He was always the capable guy, with the exact right gear and experience to handle any situation. One might see him practice emptying a waterlogged canoe in Omena Bay by pushing down the bow, lifting the stern up until the water emptied out and he would flip in," says North.

North explains, "Whatever turned him out of his canoe that day put him in 41 degree water wearing his life jacket, shorts and a fleece. The coroner's report indicated that he had about 6 minutes before hypothermia set in. And all the equipment he needed to survive that accident was in his closet. And even though I've boated on these lakes all my life, I wouldn't have stopped him and said, 'Hey, go get your wetsuit.' Well with the Coast Guard's help, we're changing that."

Rachel North hopes that by telling her brother's story and sharing all that she's learned, more people will own and use the proper clothing and equipment for spring and fall boating. And more people will pay attention to the water temperature when they go boating.

"Be safe, enjoy the Great Lakes in spring and take lots of pictures," says North.

For more information, visit

Thanks to Rachel North for bringing this to the public's attention. 

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