The Coast Guard is urging Texas boaters to stay safe on the water as winter progresses.
Seasonal changes in winds and sea conditions are intensifying and water temperatures are dropping to 60-70 degrees throughout the Texas Coastal Bend region, posing significant risks to boaters, paddlers, fishermen and other people on the water.
Water temperatures below 70 degrees can rapidly lower body temperature, potentially leading to hypothermia, loss of dexterity, loss of motor control, mental confusion and loss of consciousness. It takes as little as 30 minutes for an average sized adult to lose dexterity in 60-70 degree water, and as little as two hours to lose consciousness. Without a life jacket, this can lead to drowning.
Boaters, kayakers, surfers and stand-up paddlers should follow these safety precautions to mitigate the risks posed by cold water and winter conditions:
- Dress for water temperature, not air temperature. Wear wet suits, dry suits, immersion suits, survival suits and exposure suits.
- Always wear a life jacket, even if the law does not require it.
- Carry an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and/or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) so you can instantly share your location with emergency responders if you need help.
- Make sure your vessel or watercraft is equipped with a VHF-FM marine radio so you can make distress calls and stay tuned on channel 16. Carry a cell phone with sufficient battery life as a means of communication rescue.
- File a floating plan with a trusted person. Provide a reliable friend or family member with relevant information about your voyage and a description or photo of your vessel.
- Know before you go! Check the weather and water temperature before you get out on the water.
- Download the US Coast Guard Mobile App, which is available for Apple and Android users. This app offers resources for finding the latest safety regulations, filing a float plan, requesting emergency assistance and more.
- Cold water can kill! If you find yourself in a compromising position while on the water, be sure to follow these steps until help arrives:
Minimize time spent in water. Get out as soon as possible.
Evaluate your options. If you can swim safely, stay calm and do it. If you are unable to swim safely, save your energy and wait for help.
If you can’t get to safety, adopt the HELP position (Heat Escape Lessening Position) to protect critical areas of the body, which slows heat loss. Pull your knees to your chest, hold your arms at your sides and bend your forearms against your chest.
If possible, form a group with other people in the water to conserve body heat.
“The warm weather we still enjoy on some days can be deceptive,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kristen B. Caldwell, Command Center Chief, Coast Guard Corpus Christi Sector. “Even the most experienced sailors can sometimes get caught in a bad situation at sea, so having the proper equipment and precautions in place can easily prevent an accident.”
In Texas, there have been 16 accidents involving boaters since September, killing two and seriously injuring 14. In 2021, there were 58 total boating-related deaths in Texas; in 2020, there were 59.
Visit NOAA Cold Water Hazards and Safety Page for additional resources.