Lake levels may be down this fall, but we all know that lower lake levels won’t stop a die-hard fisherman or boater from heading out in cooler weather.
But as the weather cools, it’s important to remember that wearing a life jacket at all times while on the water isn’t just for summer months. It’s equally important to wear a life jacket when boating in the fall and winter when the water temperature can get below 60°F.
According to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, it only takes 60 seconds on average for an adult to drown, and on average, it takes 10 minutes for a strong swimmer to put on a life jacket after entering the water.
Think about it. High winds on the water could cause more treacherous conditions resulting in a tip overboard.
Entering the cold water unexpectedly will not only shock the body, but it could also result in the body going numb and unable to maneuver in the cold water. And, in cooler weather, you’re going to be wearing heavier clothes. A winter jacket will make it more difficult to move and tread water, no matter your swimming ability.
Water below 60°F can cause hypothermia, according to the National Weather Service. The sudden dip in temperature can cause dramatic changes in breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, creating a greater risk of drowning even for good swimmers in calm water.
When boaters fall into water less than 60°F and even in some temperatures higher than that can cause people to drown in the first stage of cold-water immersion, called cold shock.
R.J. Garren, a blogger for Please Wear It and former park ranger for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, explains that many people drown due to cold shock in the first minute or two after entering the water.
Two things happen during cold shock; one is your involuntary gasp reflex may cause you to inhale water into your lungs. The other is heavy breathing from trying to catch your breath in cold water causes hyperventilation which can cause you to blackout and drown.
Wearing a life jacket can help you stay calm and relaxed and control your breathing to survive this first stage of cold-water immersion.
BRA employees wearing life jackets
Texas state law states that every child under the age of 13 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when on a vessel under 26 feet in length. Adults are only required to have a properly fitting life jacket that is easily accessible for everyone.
Although adults are not required to wear a life jacket, only to have one available, it makes sense to be cautious and simply wear it, especially in the fall and winter months when water temperatures drop.
Finding the right fit
Knowing how to choose a PFD is the first step in being ready for the unexpected. A life jacket that is too small or too large will not work as intended. According to WearIt.com, there are 4 steps to ensure the life jacket fits.
1. Make sure the life jacket is properly fastened
2. All straps, buckles, or zippers are secure
3. Hold your arm straight up over your head
4. Ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up
If the life jacket can be easily pulled off in the final step, it’s not a properly fitting life jacket.
Life jacket styles have changed over the years, and it’s not uncommon to find a specific jacket for specific water activity. However, the best life jacket for sudden, unexpected immersions has a flotation feature that can turn a person upright.
Regardless of the activity or style of life jacket chosen, the most important thing is to be responsible and always wear your life jacket while boating, not just in the summer but also through the fall and winter months, too.
The bottom line, life jackets save lives and will be a benefit if you enter the cold water unexpectedly.