Coast Guard talks boating, fishing safety as water temperatures start to decrease

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Posted at 1:37 PM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-02 16:47:42-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Fall in Hampton Roads is the perfect time for a sunset cruise or a family fishing trip, but the water can be a dangerous place.

The weather in our area changes on a dime - whether it's rain or increasing winds - which is why you need life-saving tools in place.

"Coast Guard Sector Portsmouth - what is the nature of your distress and your position?" a call comes over the VHF radio.

That's not a call you want to get when you are out on the water fishing this fall.

"Accidents happen, and you can't prepare for everything," said Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Butierries with Coast Guard Sector Portsmouth.

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

"This way, they know where you are going, when you are supposed to be back and what survival equipment you have," he said.

You need that survival equipment, especially now as the temperatures are starting to drop.

"Days like today are beautiful, sunny, fairly warm, where you can get in kayaks and head out on the water, but the reality is that the water is cold," said Jeff Orrock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wakefield.

Water temperatures in Hampton Roads right now are about 60 degrees and falling.

"We say, 'Think 60.' When we start to see water temperatures getting 60 degrees or colder, survivability really starts to decrease quickly," Orrock said.

"Your body's natural reaction in cold water is to gasp. It's involuntary, and 20% of people that go in the water die within less than a minute," Butierries said.

While commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen would normally have on waders and foul weather boots to protect them from water, if they were to fall off a boat, the water ingresses inside and they would have little protection to keep them afloat unless they are equipped with a life vest, said the Coast Guard.

"When you enter the water, it acts like an anchor. It's gonna drag you down quickly," Butierries said.

"Also while trying to float, you're losing buoyance. Cold water impacts muscle function and breathing function and it impairs judgment," Orrock said.

The Coast Guard says you need the life jacket as it provides insulation as it gets colder and makes you visible in a rescue. Even the strongest swimmers lose muscle control, and that means it's hard to put the jacket on after the fact.

"It starts to pull blood into your core organs to protect itself so you lose the ability to tread water and stay afloat," Orrock said.

The National Weather Service says hypothermia can set in when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees. It also says the average water temp in our area as we approach winter is 53 degrees, which can cause unconsciousness in about an hour or less.

Related: Local captain offers safety advice during National Safe Boating Week