Coast Guard: Be prepared for cold water, know your equipment

Coast Guard

HAMPTON ROADS, Va (WAVY) — We’re in the middle of winter, and the air temperatures are dropping — and so is the temperature of the water. It can be deadly if someone falls in.

The United States Coast Guard is training constantly in cold water temperatures and environments, so they know the proper procedures and equipment they need to do searches and make life-saving rescues.

“Cold, cold water, it’s very dangerous. If you’re not prepared to be immersed in the cold water, you can really have — it’s a really bad situation,” said Chief David Downham, the aviation survival specialist with the Coast Guard.

“In our area, we have our bays [which] are very shallow. So the air temp really affects them pretty hard. The water around here, it gets very cold, real quick. And it’s just imperative to be prepared for that,” he said.

A video provided to us by the Coast Guard shows what their training looks like.

In order to be prepared, they spend hours and days out on the water practicing different situations in their specific equipment and uniforms. 

They train in 70-degree water and less than 40-degree water. Downham said there’s no water temperature they won’t work in.

“The base layer is just a pair of pants and on top a shirt. And then on top of that, there’s kind of like a suit that goes over it. And then we have overalls that go over that, and then a jacket that goes over that,” he said.

David says they train this way so they can know what to do in dire situations. They also want the public to realize how dangerous boating in cold water can be without proper equipment.

“Be prepared for that cold water. Know your equipment. Know how to use it, know where it is. Train on it. Don’t let the first time you put on a survival suit to be when your boat’s sinking,” he explained.

He says this advice is for the commercial boaters who should know the proper precautions, but also for private citizens who may take advantage of a warm winter day.

“It’s so simple to have the right stuff, to practice how to use it. That’ll make the difference in life or death. And that’s it’s very sad when that doesn’t happen. And it’s a whole different rescue when that did happen. [When] I find four crew members in a life raft [with] their survival suits on, happy to see me, I’m happy to see them. We all get to fly back together and everyone gets to go see their family. And the other side of it, when they’re not in survival suits and they’re not prepared, it’s not as fun for anybody involved,” he said.

He says if you have any questions about where to get the proper equipment, any boat traffic store should have the answer.

If you ever want to check the temperature of the water before heading out you can check the Coast Guard’s app.

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