Precautions pay for "off-season" boaters
PRATT -- Although boating season is generally thought of as the time between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, many boaters find that fall and winter are great times to enjoy area lakes. Lakes are less crowded this time of year, and mild temperatures make pleasant days on the water for hunters, fishermen, and recreational boaters. But the U.S. Coast Guard reports that boaters involved in accidents during the October-December timeframe are at the greatest risk of dying.

Although the air may still be warm, the water is colder, and fewer boats on the lake also mean fewer people in the area to help rescue boaters in distress. Hypothermia is the leading cause of cold-water boating fatalities and the primary reason the fatality rate is higher in winter. Hypothermia is caused by a decrease in the core body temperature to a level at which normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired. This can lead to loss of motor ability and, eventually, to unconsciousness.

The most important safety precaution a boater can take to prevent hypothermia is to dress appropriately. Layered clothing combined with a float coat -- a full jacket that protects against the elements and has the buoyant properties of a lifejacket -- increases a boater’s chances of survival if stranded or tossed into cold water. Anti-exposure coveralls or cold water immersion suits are ideal because they combine protection against hypothermia with the buoyancy of a lifejacket. Even the warmest of clothes won’t help if a boater is knocked unconscious and not wearing a lifejacket.

For more information on winter boating safety, contact the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks at 620-672-5911.