Warm weather, cold water can be dangerous mix for paddlers

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 temperatures predicted to be in the 70s for the early spring, many paddlers may be coaxed toward the water. Such weather can prove dangerous, or even deadly, if people don’t consider the consequences of cold water shock and hypothermia that can result from tipping into the water.

Even though the air is warm, water temperatures are still in the 40s or lower.

“Falling into cold water can cause immediate cold water shock,” according to Tim Smalley, DNR boat and water safety specialist. “That’s when cold water causes you to involuntarily gasp for air. If your head is underwater when that happens, drowning can occur in a few seconds.”

The DNR recommends these safety tips for canoeists and kayakers:

• Wear an approved life jacket; even good swimmers need to wear one;

• Wear a wetsuit or drysuit when paddling in water colder than 70 degrees;

• Don’t paddle alone; boating safety increases with numbers.;

• Don’t load beyond the labeled capacity of a canoe and keep weight low in the boat;

• Keep an eye on the weather and go to shore if the wind picks up;

• Don’t go out in a canoe or any boat after drinking alcohol; the effects of alcohol are more dramatic while balancing in a boat than while standing on dry land;

• Tell someone about where you are going and what time to call 911 if you don’t return;

• Take a canoeing safety course, offered by the American Canoe Association as well as the American Red Cross and other public service groups; and

• If a canoe tips, stay with it if possible and await rescue, because most canoes 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.

“A little planning and foresight can mean the difference between a fun day on the water and mishaps and tragedy,” Smalley said.

For more information on paddling safety, visit the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us/watertrails/paddling_safety.html.

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