By Peter Byron
For the Express
The boating season is over but then again, it may not be over. The Great Sacandaga is home to both seasonal residents (who may be packing up and moving to other residencies) and those who live year-long on the lake.
Some of our friends follow a special clock that signals it is time for solitary trips on an absolutely beautiful lake. This commentary is for the ‘special clock’ sailors
There are special boating challenges during the spring and the fall. We enjoyed the change in water temperature and as the season comes to an end, neighbors are swimming and rafting in great water temperatures. However, although we do not want to admit it, the water is going to be cooling down.
The other seasonal change is that the number of boats on the lake is slowly reducing and because of this the boater must be aware that all of the rescue precautions must be observed to the letter. Whereas during the summer season, we were frustrated with the delay in other boaters responding to a drifting boat, in the fall, we may be floating and our boat rescuers may be in dry dock.
Recommendation 1: Check your vessel’s safety equipment. Ensure that the personal flotation devices fit and are approved, useable and available. Verify the number of day and night flares and sound devices. Add a snack and beverage to your kit.
Recommendation 2: Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. This is called a Float Plan, you can call it anything you want but the idea stays the same. No one is going to miss you if you don’t tell them you are gone.
Recommendation 3: Carry a cell phone and stay within cell phone range or carry a VHF marine radio so that you can ask for assistance. Whereas during the summer, the VHF radio may receive a lot of attention, you may want to remember that the VHF radios were on boats and they might be few and far between in the fall.
New York State Law
The State has a law on the books that directly addresses cold weather boating in vessels that are less than 21 feet. They specified that: “Everyone on board any vessel of less than 21 feet, including rowboats, canoes and kayaks, between November first and May first must wear a PFD.” (New York Safe Boating)
This navigation law provides a little bit of an advantage to operators of smaller boats which may run the risk of tipping over while the operators i.e. fishermen or cramped boaters, are moving from one part of the vessel to another. It is just a little bit of an advantage because the water may be extremely cold.
Cold Water Immersion
Hopefully, no one will find themselves in cold water. Hopefully, boaters who boat during the cold water season will take the time to read and learn about the perils of immersion. We can only alert everyone to the basics and trust that boaters will expand their personal education on the matter. This is kind of scary.
“Cold water is deadly. A body immersed in water with a temperature of less than 70 degrees F will become incapacitated quickly. If the water is cold -50 degrees F or less-an average adult has only a 50% chance of surviving a 50 yard swim. The problem is not just hypothermia.” (New York Safe Boating) The State cautions about (1) cold shock; (2) swimming failure; (3) hypothermia; and (4) post-rescue collapse.
The State has a couple of suggestions for boaters who find themselves in cold water. They emphasize a PFD and indicate that maintaining clothes is better than shedding because they retain body heat, unless they are causing the person to sink. If by yourself, curl ‘into a fetal position to retain heat or huddle with others if there are others in the water but try to limit movement as this helps retain warmth. Climb on the overturned vessel or debris if possible while calling for help. Don’t try to swim a distance because the cold will overtake you.
The fall season is great on the lake. Leaves are turning and everything seems brighter, clearer and quieter. Ensure that you and your vessel are in good shape. The time to prepare for an issue on the water is before you leave the dock. Don’t overlook the need for more boater education ... boat safely and enjoy the fall colors.
Catch you on the water.
Peter Byron is a founding partner of NAV-ED Services Group and holds a USCG Master License. Byron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on fall Captain course schedules for Clifton Park and Lake George.