NEW ULM - Boaters, canoeists and kayakers anxious to hit newly-thawed rivers and lakes across the southern part of the state should consider the potential danger of cold waters, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
With daytime temperatures rising into the high 60s this weekend, many boaters and paddlers may be coaxed to the water. "Even though the air is warm, it's important to remember that water temperatures may still be in the 40s or lower," said Kara Owens, DNR boat and water safety specialist.
Cold water can have immediate and catastrophic effects on the human body, Owens said. Falling into icy water causes an involuntary gasp reflex. It takes less than a half cup of water in the lungs to drown. The shock of sudden entry into the water can also cause cardiac arrest, even for people in good health.
Life jackets provide important protection. A life jacket will not only help keep a person's head above the water, but will retain body heat and make the wearer more visible to rescuers.
"A little planning and foresight can mean the difference between a fun day on the water and mishaps and tragedy," Owens said.
The DNR recommends these safety tips for boaters, canoeists and kayakers:
Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket. Even good swimmers need to wear one.
Wear a wet-suit or dry-suit when paddling in water colder than 70 degrees.
Don't boat or paddle alone. Boating safety increases with numbers.
Never load beyond the labeled capacity of water craft.
Keep an eye on the weather and go to shore if the wind picks up.
Don't go out in any water craft after drinking alcohol. The effects of alcohol are more dramatic while balancing in a boat than while standing on dry land.
Tell someone about trip plans and what time to call 911.
Take a boating safety course offered by the DNR or a canoeing safety course offered by the American Canoe Association, American Red Cross or other public service group.
If a boat or canoe tips, try to re-board or stay with it until rescuers arrive. Most watercraft will continue to float, even after capsizing and filling with water. Drowning often occurs when the victim tries to swim to shore rather than face the embarrassment of being rescued.
For more information on paddling safety, visit the DNR website at: www.dnr.state.mn.us/watertrails/paddling_safety.html.