Winter temperatures have arrived and that means the water temperature of Missouri's lakes and rivers is becoming colder. In some areas of the state, ice has begun to form on smaller bodies of water. If you have plans to be near or on one of the state’s lakes or rivers, or a private pond, please be careful and stay alert!
When someone is suddenly immersed in cold water, they are at risk for cold shock and hypothermia. Cold shock refers to blood vessels constricting to conserve core body heat when the trunk of the body goes under water. This will quickly limit the use of a person's arms and legs. Likewise, these conditions may cause a sudden increase in heart rate and blood pressure—in some cases resulting in cardiac arrest. Cold shock can cause involuntary gasping reflex when the body hits the water. This gasp results in a person inhaling water and could result in drowning.
The body loses heat 25 times faster in water than in the air. Lifejacket use becomes even more important in cold water because hypothermia can quickly rob the body of the ability to perform the most basic tasks and drowning is always a concern. If you take an unexpected plunge into cold water, it is vital to get out of the water and into dry clothes as soon as possible. If dry clothes are not an option leave the wet ones on. Even wet clothes will offer some insulation and trap body heat. A warm drink can be given to someone suffering from hypothermia if they are conscious. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided. Hypothermia can be deadly even if you are wearing a PFD, so it is important to never go boating alone in the winter. If no one knows you are in trouble, no one can help.
Many cold weather anglers use lakes or ponds for winter recreational activities. Youngsters are often attracted to ice-covered private ponds for skating and playing. Theoretically, the only "safe" ice is at a skating rink. The ice forming on lakes, rivers, and ponds place a person at much greater risk due to natural variables. It's impossible to judge the strength of ice by its appearance or daily temperature. Missouri weather moves from single digit temperatures to the upper 40s within short time periods, which will greatly affect the construction of ice.
Adults should educate children about the dangers of playing on ice and always supervise them when they play on or near ice. Make sure they understand the dangers of being on the ice and insist that they wear a lifejacket/PFD. Never let them play on ponds or lakes unattended.
Many ice victims start out as would-be rescuers. To prevent this from happening, do not go onto the ice to rescue another person or retrieve a pet. To aid someone who has fallen through the ice the first step should be calling for emergency services. A local fire department should have the quickest response time, the proper equipment, and have trained to handle ice emergencies. Rather than going onto the ice to attempt rescuing someone, you should extend a ladder, pole, or rope to a victim along with something that will float.
If you find yourself in the position of needing to be rescued, there are techniques that should be followed for self-rescue. Try not to panic. Face the direction you came from and spread your arms out on the unbroken ice. Kick your feet and try to pull yourself onto the ice. Once out of the water, do not attempt to stand. Lying on the ice keeps your weight distributed. Roll away from the hole then crawl across the ice back to solid land.
Adults should never mix alcohol and winter ice recreational activities. Alcohol impairs your judgment and speeds up the development of hypothermia.
Another winter water safety concern is related to docks. Ice and heavy snow combinations have caused major damage to boat docks in the past. The extra weight of snow and ice can cause such structures to collapse. The Missouri State Highway Patrol would like to caution dock owners about attempting to remove snow and ice from their docks during inclement weather. It is easy to end up in the water accidentally. Due to the extreme cold water, hypothermia can set in quickly and render a person helpless in the water.
If dock owners insist on being on docks during icy conditions, life jackets should always be worn. Use the buddy system to make sure that someone is there to assist you if you end up in the water. Remember that damaged electric wires around docks should be treated as if they are live. Any boats operating in areas where major dock damage has occurred are encouraged to operate at no wake idle speed, to prevent further damage to docks already under the added stress of heavy snow and ice.
Troopers encourage everyone to remain vigilant around water. If you are on or near the water and an emergency occurs, call *55 on your cellular phone to reach the nearest troop headquarters. Marine enforcement troopers and emergency response services will respond.
Watercraft operators must consider the effect their actions have on others: Share the waterway and use common sense, good judgment, and courtesy to ensure the safety of all. A life jacket can save your life. Wear It!!