Life Jackets and Proper Cold Water Gear Save Lives As Water Temperatures Drop

As temperatures in Northern Michigan are cooling down, Paddle Antrim warns paddlers to take precautions to protect themselves from heightened dangers of sudden, unexpected cold water immersion while on late season paddling outings.

“Whenever paddlers are out on the water, they should dress with the assumption they may end up in the water,” says Deana Jerdee, Paddle Antrim Executive Director. “With the cooler weather, water temperatures have dropped and therefore a wetsuit or a full immersion drysuit with insulating layers is necessary.”

Sudden immersion in cold water can cause gasping and inhalation of water resulting in drowning and time spent in cold water will cause your body to lose, resulting in unconsciousness, and/or swimming failure as muscles become numb. Wearing a life jacket may keep your head above water and support your body should your swimming ability fail or you become unconscious.

In 2020 the US Coast Guard reported 271 canoe/kayak injuries or deaths (2020 Recreational Boating Statistics, US Coast Guard) accidents and of all the casualties that resulted in deaths, 79% of those who died were not wearing a life jacket. Of the casualties that didn’t result in death, hypothermia was the leading cause of injury. “Death and injury in kayaks or canoes are almost completely avoidable if a properly fitting PFD and cold water gear is worn,” says Deana Jerdee, Executive Director of Paddle Antrim. “Paddling is like any other sport – you need to wear the proper gear and have the proper skills to safely participate, especially during the colder months when the lower water temperatures can be extremely dangerous.” 

Should you ever find yourself in the water it is recommended that you stay with – and preferably on top of – your boat. Never overestimate your swimming ability. All too often people underestimate the distance to shore or the effects of cold water and unfortunately drown while attempting to make it to safety.

Paddle Antrim makes the following recommendations to paddlers heading out on the water:

  • Always wear a properly fitted life jacket. Simply stated, life jackets save lives;
  • Dress for the water temperature;
  • Avoid boating alone and always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Have a cell phone or VHF radio accessible, in a watertight bag, should you need to call for help;
  • Carry essential safety gear, signaling devices and whistles; and
  • Refrain from using alcohol.