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Warmer spring air is here, water temperatures remain dangerously cold

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SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — The Coast Guard is warning boaters who may be beginning their preparations to launch their boats that water temperatures in lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron, and the connecting waterways remain dangerously cold.

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The National Weather Service reports that water temperatures in those lakes are just above freezing, with maximum temperatures of 35-39 degrees.

“With these temperatures, if not dressed for the environment, an average sized person will be hypothermic within one hour," said Lt. Cmdr. Richard Sansone, search-and-rescue mission coordinator at Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie. "If an accident occurs, boaters are reminded to stay with the vessel and try to remain above or out of the water at all costs. Do not attempt to swim for shore, even if land is in sight."

In only about 10 to 15 minutes, boaters exposed to cold water may have deteriorated strength and may not be able to pull themselves back into their vessel. It is vitally important when boating in waters at these temperatures to avoid boating alone and remember to dress for the water temperature, not for the air temperature. Also, be mindful that children and smaller adults will succumb more rapidly to exposure to cold water.

Here are a few reminders and recommendations to assist boaters in planning spring outings:

  • Avoid boating alone. Bring a buddy.
  • Dress warmly and in accordance with the water temperatures – not the warmer air temperatures.
  • While on the water, wear life jackets that are designed to keep your head out of water.
  • Michigan state life jacket law requires children under 6 to wear a life jacket at all times on the water. The Coast Guard encourages all boaters to wear a life jacket while boating. Find more information about life jackets at www.uscgboating.org.
  • Provide a float plan to someone remaining ashore to include your route, destination, number of people aboard and the estimated time of return. Ask them to contact the Coast Guard if a trip has gone beyond the return time indicated.
  • Purchase and use a marine band VHF-FM radio. Many areas of the Great Lakes experience poor signal areas that may impede mobile phone use. VHF-FM radios provide a more reliable means of communication while underway. Most mobile phones are not waterproof while there are many weather and waterproof styles of VHF devices available.
  • Purchase and register a personal locator beacon and attach it to your life jacket. These beacons will automatically send an alert to rescue units if submerged in water.

Additionally, ice remains in some shore areas along the banks. Do not risk safety by attempting to walk on the ice as warmer air and rain have diminished thickness and strength. Earlier this spring, an afternoon walk in Sault Ste. Marie went horribly wrong when weak ice conditions in the St. Marys River jeopardized the life of someone walking on the ice and claimed the life of the person's pet.

"It is simply not worth the risk to venture onto any ice during this time of year," said Sansone. "When walking pets along the lakes and rivers, please remember to keep them safe by utilizing a leash. Migratory birds that have returned to the area are tempting targets for dogs that are inclined to charge after them in spite of the failing ice. Ultimately, if not kept secure, beloved pets may be running straight into a life-threatening situation."

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