Lifesaving Society reminds boaters of cold water safety

With temperatures in early and late October above seasonal normals, many people in Westman have been reluctant to put their boat away for the year, eager to “stretch the season” for one more outing on the water.

And while it’s perfectly fine to enjoy autumn boat trips and time at the cabin, Lifesaving Society Manitoba is reminding people that drowning can happen at any time of the year.

In fact, one-third of drownings in Manitoba happen between the colder months of October through April, the organization said in an Oct. 17 press release.

Nonetheless, many people still believe drowning is only a summer issue, said Christopher Love, Water Smart and Safety Management co-ordinator for the society.

According to Love, among the average of 22 people who drown in the province every year, around seven, or one-third of those drownings, happen during the colder months.

“There have already been incidents [this fall] … in terms of call outs and a couple of fatalities that appear to be drowning situations,” Love said.

The same day the press release from Lifesaving Society Manitoba was sent out, Manitoba RCMP announced on Twitter that two boaters had been reported missing after not returning from fishing on Cockeram Lake, 1,164 kilometres north of Brandon, on Oct. 16. In a tweet, issued the following day, the RCMP said they had found a 30-year-old woman deceased and were continuing to search for the 61-year-old man.

Drownings can sometimes happen more quickly during the colder months due to something called cold shock, Love told the Sun, which is a gasping or hyperventilating reaction to cold water.

“If you’re not wearing appropriate layers of insulation and you’re not wearing something that’s going to make sure you float, you could be doing that hyperventilating below the surface of the water.”

The drowning process can start within five to 15 seconds of hitting the water, Love said, and people can die from drowning in as little as 30 seconds to a minute.

Cold shock is a big concern for anyone who unexpectedly finds themselves in the water, Stacey Grocholski, executive director of the Lifesaving Society said in the release.

“Please wear your life-jacket or personal floatation device. Just having it in the boat often will not help in a sudden emergency.”

But fear of drowning need not keep people from enjoying boating in the fall months, so long as proper layers of protection are in place, Love said. In addition to wearing a personal floatation device, there are four things people should be mindful of: the weather, communication, preparedness and the water.

It’s always important to check the forecast; even though daytime temperatures can be pleasant and mild, they can fall sharply overnight. It’s important to dress in layers and also to make sure boats are prepared to handle cold weather.

“Put the appropriate steps in place to make sure it’s in good working order and that it’s prepared for operation in the cooler temperatures that we are now seeing,” Love said.

While it’s always important to have a communication plan in place so that people know when their friends and family leave and are set to return from a boating trip, this is especially important in fall, Love said.

This is because there are far fewer people out on bodies of water during the colder months. It’s also important to have a reliable communications device, Love added, such as a cell phone or, because cell phones don’t always have service provincewide, a satellite communicator or emergency locator beacon. Boaters should also never go out on their own.

When it comes to being prepared, a good idea for boaters is to get into the habit of carrying small tools and parts to fix any minor problems that could occur with a boat that could lead to being stranded. The use of a fuel additive prevents water in a boat’s fuel line from freezing. If the boat has a portable fuel tank, it’s a good idea to have a spare on board.

After the heat and sunshine of summer, boaters should also be aware of reduced water levels, the release stated. Chunks of ice can also penetrate a boat’s hull when met at high speed.

If proper precautions are taken, boating can still be a safe and enjoyable experience, Love said.

“We want people to be talking about safety and making every trip a round trip. So they can stretch the season, they can do all their fall activities like boating and hunting, but they come back at the end of the day.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun