Conservation Police Officers (CPOs) with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) point out that the time of the year has arrived where cold temperatures lure people to the outdoors to spend hours on end fishing for big catfish, big smallmouth bass and hunting for waterfowl, deer, and other game animals. Being prepared to spend time in cold weather is very important and if you plan to be on the water, it is especially important. When it comes to preparing against cold temperatures, your safety is your responsibility.
Recreating on the water during this time of the year can be especially dangerous because falls into cold ponds, lakes, or rivers incapacitate even the strongest of swimmers with hypothermia setting in very quickly. If you are going to be on the water, DGIF encourages you to take a friend with you who will be there to assist you if needed. Succumbing to the effects of cold water can happen rapidly and being alone minimizes your chances for survival if you are to fall into the water. Boating related accidents have a greater probability of being fatal during the winter months due to the frigid water temperatures.
Virginia’s conservation police stress the importance of wearing a life jacket, and especially so during cold-water months. This is the one thing a person can do to increase their chance of survival if they fall overboard in cold water.
The DGIF also noted that life jackets with foam buoyancy work better in cold temperatures and water than do inflatable life jackets. “One of the most undesirable parts of our job is notifying loved ones of a death, especially when it could have been prevented by wearing a life jacket, or following prescribed safety rules,” says Major Scott Naff, Assistant Chief of Virginia’s conservation police.
Being smart about weight distribution and abiding by manufacturer’s weight limits in a boat can reduce the chances of falling overboard or the boat overturning. Another tip is to have a means of communication on your boat and telling family or friends what body of water you will be on, where you will be launching from and when you expect to be back to shore. Monitoring the weather forecast and changing weather conditions is also very important. Shifting winds and storms can lead to very dangerous water conditions in a very short amount of time.
“Whether you’re on water or land, hunters should always dress appropriately for the weather and utilizing layers allows for optimum responses to changing temperatures,” Naff said. “Hypothermia can set in quickly and can be very dangerous, especially in water where the cold water removes heat from your body 25 times faster than the air.”
For more information, visit https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/.