Windsor

Warm weather, cold water raise boater safety concerns

With the arrival of unseasonably warm temperatures, boaters in Windsor-Essex began taking their watercrafts out of storage on the weekend. With that, come risks inherent with boating.
Members of the OPP stand on the shore of Lake St. Clair, near where an 18-year-old canoeist fell into the water Sunday. (Pat Jeflyn/CBC News)

With the arrival of unseasonably warm temperatures, boaters in Windsor-Essex began taking their watercrafts out of storage on the weekend.

With that, come risks inherent with boating.

Staff at Holiday Harbour Marina in LaSalle said phones have been ringing off the hook with people asking about getting boats in the water this week. Staff also said warm air doesn't mean warm water.

If a person falls into the water, there is a real risk of hypothermia and cold-water shock.

According to Transport Canada, cold water shock likely causes more deaths than hypothermia. It says a person will, for three to five minutes, gasp for air. A person could then experience muscle spasms or a rise in heart rate and blood pressure. Cold water shock could trigger a heart attack or a stroke.

"The reality of paddling in Canada is cold water. Even in July or August, if you're at Tobermory, you will likely wear a dry suit. The water just doesn't get warm enough sometimes," said Steve Lutsch, of the Windsor Essex County Canoe Club.  

Two canoeists fell into the frigid water of Lake St. Clair on Sunday afternoon. The 20-year-old man made it to shore while the 18-year-old woman drowned.

The water was 2 C and the air temperature was approximately 15 C at the time.

Karl Rainhard is an active kayaker. He said a wet suit or a dry suit is a must.

"This time of year, you have to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Sometimes people forget about that," he said. "It might be a little uncomfortable for them, but once you're trying to get in that water, you've only got minutes to work with once you're trying to get out. People get fooled by the shallowness of the water but the ice just pulled out a week-and-a-half ago."

According to the Minnesota Sea Grant, which helps to enhance Minnesota’s coastal environment and economy, a person would begin suffering from the effects of hypothermia 15–30 minutes after falling into water that cold. The expected survival time is 30–90 minutes.

A person equipped with hypothermia prevention equipment, such as an insulated flotation jacket — also called a float coat — could survive up to three times as long.

CBC Windsor's Steven Bull will have more on this Monday on Windsor at Six (channel 9, cable 10).

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