Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spring Snowmelt Prompts Water Safety Warning

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Public Affairs

Date: May 11, 2012
Contact:Tom Nunes
Public Affairs Officer  

Phone Number: (602) 617-1979

News Release

Spring snowmelt prompts water safety warning 

WASHINGTON Outdoor recreationists on the nation’s mountain fed rivers and lakes should take serious precautions against cold temperatures and swift currents when in or near water this spring.  Despite this year’s below-normal snowfall, the spring snowmelt can still result in swift and cold river flows that can create treacherous conditions for all recreationists – waders, swimmers, paddlers, boaters, anglers, and even hikers cooling off at the water’s edge.  

For example, the utility and state departments in California cautioned that even though the water content of California’s mountain snowpack is near 40 percent of normal, there is still a significant amount of water in the snowpack and it is rapidly melting as mid-spring temperatures continue to warm. As warmer weather and longer days accelerate melting snow in mountainous regions, water temperatures will continue to drop and flows will continue to rise in waterways and reservoirs, with some reservoirs spilling and resulting in higher flows downstream.  

Those planning outings near mountain streams, rivers and reservoirs need to be vigilant and take appropriate safety measures. Water flows will fluctuate with the warming and cooling of the day so boaters always need to be prepared for a change in conditions. Even experienced swimmers can get caught in swift river flows, Check local water conditions before taking a boating trip, wear a life jacket, and avoid alcohol.

Know the Water

·       Sudden immersion in cold water can stimulate the “gasp reflex” causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water. It can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis, hypothermia and drowning. When faced with swift water, even the strongest swimmers canbe easily overwhelmed.

·       Cold water entering the ear canal can cause vertigo and disorientation. This may confuse swimmers, causing them to venture deeper into the water.

Know your limits

·       Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool – people tire more quickly and can get into trouble.

·       Cold water causes impairment leading to fatalities. It reduces body heat 25 to 30 times faster than air does at the same temperature.

·       Many unseen obstacles can be lurking below the water’s surface. Swift water can make these obstacles even more treacherous. Guided trips for inexperienced paddlers are recommended.

Wear a life jacket

·       Conditions change quickly in open water and even the best swimmers can misjudge the water and their skills when boating or swimming. Wearing a life jacket can increase survival time.

·       A life jacket can provide some thermal protection against the onset of hypothermia and keep you afloat until someone else can rescue you.

Parental Supervision

  • Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Appoint a designated “water watcher,” taking turns with other adults.
  • Teach children that swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool: they need to be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather.

Know the Law

·       Generally, every child under age 12 and under must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when on a moving vessel. A Coast Guard-approved life jacket must be carried for each person on board a boat. This includes rigid or inflatable paddle craft.

·       Every person on board a personal watercraft (popularly known as “jet skis”) and any person being towed behind a vessel must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

In most states, it is against the law to operate a boat or water ski with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. You can be arrested even when your BAC is less than 0.08 percent if conditions are deemed to be unsafe.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary created by an Act of Congress in 1939 is the uniformed civilian component of the U.S. Coast Guard supporting the Coast Guard in nearly all its missions. Coast Guard men and women live and work in the communities they serve and understand the unique needs of those communities. For more information on the Coast Guard Auxiliary, please visit




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