Coast Guard talks boating and fishing safety as water temperatures begin to drop

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PORTSMOUTH, Virginia – Fall at Hampton Roads is a great time for a sunset cruise or a family fishing trip, but the water can be a dangerous place.

The weather in our area changes in no time at all, whether it’s rain or increasingly strong winds, that’s why you need rescue tools in place.

“Portsmouth Coast Guard area, what is the nature of your distress and your position” a call comes in on VHF radio.

It’s not a call you want to get when you’re out on the water fishing this fall.

“Accidents happen and you can’t prepare for everything,” said Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Butierries of the Portsmouth Coast Guard Area.

Something you can do to prepare yourself, whether you’re the dad next door on a fishing trip or a commercial fisherman, is to file a rescue plan with a family member first.

“That way they know where you’re going, when you’re supposed to be back, and what survival gear you have,” he said.

You need this survival gear, especially now that the temperatures are starting to drop

“Days like today are beautiful, sunny, warm enough, where you can get in kayaks and go out on the water, but the reality is the water is cold,” said Jeff Orrock, meteorologist at National Weather. Service in Wakefield.

The water temperature in Hampton Roads is currently around 60 degrees and dropping.

“We say think about 60. When we start to see the water temperature drop 60 degrees or more, survivability really starts to decline quickly,” Orrock said.

“Your body’s natural reaction in cold water is to gasp. It’s unintentional, and 20% of people who go in the water die within a minute,” Butierries said.

While commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen would normally wear waders and bad weather boots to protect themselves from the water, if they fell from a boat, the water would seep in and they would have little protection to keep them afloat unless they were fitted with a life jacket, the Coast Guard said.

“When you get into the water it acts like an anchor. It will pull you down quickly,” Butierries said.

“Also, when you try to float you lose buoyancy. Cold water impacts muscle function and respiratory function and it impairs judgment,” Orrock said.

The Coast Guard says you need the life jacket because it provides insulation when it’s colder and makes you visible during a rescue. Even the strongest swimmers lose muscle control and that means it is difficult to put on the jacket afterwards.

“It starts to draw blood to your central organs for protection, so you lose the ability to walk on water and stay afloat,” Orrock said.

The National Weather Service claims that hypothermia can set in when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees. It also states that the average water temperature in our area as winter approaches is 53 degrees, which can lead to unconsciousness in about an hour or less.

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