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Hypothermia is a silent killer

On a warm, late spring day with 88° degree air temperature, a full life vest can feel hot and cumbersome. Out on the water or working on the boat dockside, removing the PFD would be a relief, you think.

Think again. One slip caused by an awkward motion, a slippery deck, a sudden wake or choppy waves can send a person overboard in a split second. What if there are rescue difficulties and you (or a guest, child, or crew member) cannot be quickly extracted from the water?

Right now, Lake Erie’s water temperature is hovering around 60 degrees. Water temperatures are taken at a depth of one atmosphere, or approximately 35 ft. Even though the surface reading may be higher, the difference between it and your body temperature is enough to cause hyperthermia if you remain in the water for too long.

A survival chart on provides some good info. Water temperature, body size, body fat content and movement are all factors in survival time. Children and people smaller in size lose body heat faster.

What is hypothermia?

According to, “hypothermia is a condition that exists when the body’s temperature drops below ninety-five degrees.”

Losing body heat happens quickly in water – 25 times faster than if you are outside in winter without a coat. First you lose dexterity, and then you get spaced out and begin to lose consciousness. Within a very short time, you die. Just a few minutes in cold water can cause difficulty in swimming even if you are a strong swimmer. Gasping from the shock of frigid water or accidentally falling in can lead to gulping water and quick drowning. Even staying in "warm" water of 70-75° for too long can cool your body core and cause trouble.

The National Water Safety Congress is an excellent resource for information and actual training. Each year, the organization puts on its Cold Water Boot Camp. Their website includes helpful demonstration videos and documents and we are fortunate to have the organizion's executive director living in the Cleveland area. Is your club or a local park sponsoring cold water safety training? Find out and be sure to sign up or contact Cecilia Duer (see below) for more information. County parks, such as Lake Metroparks, offer training, as well.

Whether you are dockside or out on the lake, keeping that PFD on and educating yourself, your family and crew members on cold water safety can ensure safe and pleasurable boating, plus save lives.

Current Lake Eriewater temps and other conditions:

Historical Lake Eriewater temps:

Water Safety Congress Cold Water Boot Camp USA:

For cold water safety training in the Cleveland area, contact Cecilia Duer at: or 440-209-9805.

LakeMetroparkshas a number of boating programs, including Spirit of America, which include water safety training:

Types of PFDs

Misc about cold water:

Misc boating safety & gear by USCG & Boating Magazine:

(Take the quiz, enter to win $1000 gift certificate from West Marine!)

Check out Cleveland surfers:

Have a safe and fun Memorial Day Weekend!


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