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Cold Weather Boating
Cold Weather Boating

​​​​​​​​Be Prepared for the Challenges of Cold Weather Boating

Take precautions to protect your​self from the heightened dangers of sudden, unexpected cold water immersion while on late season boating outings, especially on small boats.

"As the days grow short this autumn and water temperatures take a dip, hunters, anglers, paddlers and all boaters must be aware of the risks of cold water,” says CPW Boat Safety Coordinator Kris Wahlers. “Hunters, paddlers and any boater on the water can take precautions and prevent being suddenly thrown overboard, swamped or stranded in cold water."

Sudden immersion in cold water can cause gasping and inhalation of water and hypothermia, resulting in unconsciousness or swimming failure as muscles become numb. Wearing a life jacket will keep your head above water and support your body should your swimming ability fail or you become unconscious.

CPW officers have noticed a lot of people overestimate their ability to ‘swim out of a problem.’ Because of this, CPW recommends anyone out on the water wear a life jacket though state law only requires life jackets be worn by anyone under the age of 13.


CPW recommends the following to boaters heading out on the water this fall:

  • Always wear a properly fitted life jacket. A life jacket will help keep your airway clear of water and keep you floating if you start to numb. (It happens a lot faster than you may realize.)

  • Dress for the weather. Consider wetsuits or layer your clothing to reduce loss of body temperature should you end up in the water.

  • Avoid boating alone, but in any case let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.

  • Bring a cell phone or VHF radio in a watertight bag in case you need to call for help.

  • Properly equip and carry essential safety gear, signaling devices and whistles.

  • Don’t use alcohol.

  • Bring something along to help you get back in your boat in case you fall out.

Finally, CPW recommends that all boaters take a boating safety class. In Colorado, everyone 14 and 15 years old must pass a CPW boating safety course before operating any kind of powered vessel, including personal watercraft. Regardless of age, it's important for everyone to take a boating safety course. In 2013, 88% of operators involved in a boat accident had no known boat safety education. 

Seventeen fatalities in Colorado were associated with recreational boating in 2013. The only fatal boating accident on lakes directly involved not wearing a life jacket. The Coast Guard estimates that 80 percent of all boating accident deaths might have been prevented had a life jacket been worn.

Should you ever find yourself in the water, stay with your boat.  Also consider bringing along a way to get back in your boat, such as a ladder, a knotted rope, or at least a plan.  Cold muscles and wet clothes make it very difficult to get over the side and sometimes even the back of a boat.

Never overestimate your swimming ability. All too often people underestimate the distance to shore or the effects of cold water and drown while attempting to make it to safety.

“Knowing the risks of cold water and taking the right precautions will save your life,” adds Wahlers.