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MADISON – With low water temperatures statewide and many northern Wisconsin waters still thawing, boating safety officials are encouraging anglers to take special precautions to make sure they stay safe on their early season fishing trips, recreation safety officials say.
Water temperatures in southern Wisconsin lakes were reported in the 40- and 50-degree ranges and anglers were still ice fishing in the Woodruff area the last weekend in April.
Roy Zellmer, conservation warden and boating safety administrator with the Department of Natural Resources, says that such conditions mean that anglers who fall into the water or have their boat flip will have less time to get to safety because hypothermia sets in quickly.
Hypothermia can occur when the body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees. “The loss of body heat results in loss of dexterity, loss of consciousness and eventually loss of life,” Zellmer says. “Water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than air.”
Zellmer encourages anglers to check in with local bait shops to find out what water temperature and ice conditions are and to follow these boating safety tips.
• Equip and inspect your boat before hitting the water.
• Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. You can float without using energy and they cover part of your body thereby providing some protection from the cold water.
• Make sure you travel at the safe speed for your water conditions and surroundings – and that includes other vessels on the water around you.
• Avoid alcohol. Most hospitalized hypothermia cases involve alcohol. Alcohol impairs judgment and inhibits the body’s normal shivering trigger denying the body its most effective heat producing response.
• Stay low in the boat, don’t stand or move around unless necessary. Capsizing and falling overboard is often due to a victim losing balance or tripping over equipment in the boat. Never allow passengers to ride on gunwales or seatbacks or outside of protective railings, including the front of a pontoon boat. A sudden turn, stop or start could cause a fall overboard.
• Do not overload a boat.
• Avoid sudden changes in boat speed which can allow the stern wake to overtake and swamp the boat.
• Tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
• Plan what to do if you should fall in. If you know you are about to fall into cold water, cover your face with your hands to avoid gasping water into your lungs. Get back in the boat if possible; if not, get as much of your body out of the water as possible. See professional medical care as soon as possible.
If someone is not able to get back in a boat, they should limit body movement, and not swim unless they can reach a nearby boat or floating object. Swimming lowers body temperature and even good swimmers can drown in cold water, he says.
Instead, Zellmer says people should “assume the heat-escape-lessening-position” (H.E.L.P.). Begin by crossing your ankles, then cross your arms over your chest, draw your knees to your chest, lean back and try to relax.
“We would like to make 2014 the safest boating season ever. We can do it if everyone follows safe boating practices,” Zellmer says.
For more information search the DNR website for “boat safety.”