The risk is compounded due to colder air temperatures and the fact that fewer other boaters or patrols are available to respond at this time. Most people who die in recreational boating accidents drown as a result of unexpected capsizing or a fall overboard.
With hunters, the majority of these accidents occur while attempting to stand up to urinate overboard. In 2002, there were 750 boating related drowning deaths. More than half the victims were in boats under 16 feet in length and 442 of them were not wearing PFD's.
In 2003, there were 481 boating related drowning deaths and over 80 percent of these victims failed to wear a PFD. While most states require children 12 and under to wear a PFD, only one in five boaters routinely wear one, according to US Coast Guard reports.
Can't swim and can't breathe
Andrea Zaferes of Lifeguard Systems trains over 1,500 people annually, including member of the US Coast Guard. She explained the physiology of cold water immersion, "Your heart gets cold in icy waters. You have a five minute window. There's a massive increase in blood pressure and breathing, along with muscle cramping and if you can keep your airway out of the water...you have a chance."
Swimming in such conditions requires extreme physical exertion, which further saps the body's energy as muscles begin to cramp, breathing is difficult and your mind is racing. Panic usually sets in.
With the added flotation provided by a PFD, some of this stress is alleviated. Swimming is easier. The water is still cold, and breathing is still halting but the simple knowledge that you are not going to sink, is usally enough to keep you going.
Cold water robs body heat 25 times faster than cold air. Efforts to overcome the onset of hypothermia include ingesting warm, high energy liquids, getting into dry clothes and a warm environment. If possible, a hot shower is advisable.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org