Coast Guard Issues Christmas Kayak Safety Advisory

The U.S. First Coast Guard District, based in Boston, is advising paddlers and fishermen who found a kayak under their Christmas tree to exercise extreme caution in regard to the danger of sudden cold water immersion if they plan on a launch this weekend.

With Northeast sporting retailers describing pre-holiday sales of kayaks and paddle sport accessories as good to steady and the weather forecasted to be slightly warmer but wetter, the urge to test new equipment can be tempting, USCG noted.

"With water temperatures in the 40-degree range or colder, wearing a dry suit or full wet suit and a Coast Guard approved life jacket is the only proper attire with these water temperatures," said Al Johnson, recreational boating specialist for the First Coast Guard District. "Whether you're a novice paddler or the most experienced mariner, a fall into cold water is painfully shocking and systemically brutal."

Sudden immersion in cold water will cause surprise, panic, gasping, hyperventilation, an inability to hold your breath, and an immediate rise in breath, heart rate, and blood pressure, Johnson added.

"My goal is to intentionally dampen the excitement of launching any new boat," said Johnson, "unless the person is properly attired and prepared for sudden cold water immersion. It might sound excessive, but if it saves a life, it isn't." He also noted that this applies to anyone using district waters during the winter months, including hunters, fishermen, and inland and coastal fowlers.

USCG recommends that boaters and paddlers who have not yet taken an approved boater education course to use the winter months to do so. Courses are available through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, or with state, private, or Internet providers. Additional course information can be found at the following Web sites or by calling the BoatUS course line at 1-800-336-BOAT: U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary -- www.cgaux.org; U.S. Power Squadrons -- www.usps.org; U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety -- www.uscgboating.org; National Association of State Boating Law Administrators -- www.nasbla.org.

Johnson also noted that for kayakers and canoeists life jacket wear is mandatory on Massachusetts and Connecticut waters through mid-May 2010. New York requires mandatory life jacket wear on all vessels under 21-feet through 1 May.

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