NR 14-035: Warm up to these safety tips as frigid water chills and kills

Published Dec. 3, 2014
Cold Water Kills.  Are you next? Wear your Life Jacket! For more water safety information go to (USACE graphic by Toby Isbell)

Cold Water Kills. Are you next? Wear your Life Jacket! For more water safety information go to (USACE graphic by Toby Isbell)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Dec. 3, 2014) Public safety is the number-one priority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, and the Corps of Engineers urges everyone to practice boating and water safety this winter because frigid water chills and kills.

“Right now the water is very cold in the lakes and waterways.  So everyone needs to be very careful when boating or recreating because falling in the frigid water can be very dangerous and even fatal,” said Mark Klimaszewski, acting chief of the Nashville District’s Natural Resources Management Branch. “The Corps wants everyone to wear their life jacket and to make water safety a priority given the drop in temperatures.”

Life jackets save lives and should be worn at all times by anyone who will be in a boat, including those who will be waterfowl hunting or fishing. Statistics show that nearly 90 percent of those who drown were not wearing a life jacket and nearly two-thirds didn’t even plan to be in the water.

If you are planning on being outdoors near or on the water you should dress appropriately for the water temperature not the air temperature because you could find yourself capsized, or thrown from a boat. You could be in cold water and unable to swim because in a short amount of time your muscles will get cold and you will lose the ability to rescue yourself. Many suspected drowning victims actually die from cold water immersion instead of hypothermia. Hypothermia is still something that you should be aware of.  It is a condition in which the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Violent shivering develops which may give way to confusion and a loss of body movement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Operations Center for Water Safety advises that the danger to individuals who are immersed into cold water increases as water temperature decreases below normal body temperature (98.6 degrees F). Cold-water immersion follows four stages: cold shock; swimming failure; hypothermia; and post-rescue collapse. Most cold-water drowning fatalities are attributed to the first two stages.

If you fall into cold water, remember the 1-10-1 rule.  Cold shock will pass in approximately 1 minute.  This is an initial deep and sudden gasp followed by hyperventilation.  During this time you must concentrate on not panicking and getting your breathing under control.  Over approximately the next 10 minutes you will lose the effective use of your fingers, arms and legs.  During this time concentrate on self rescue initially, and if that isn’t possible, prepare to have a way to keep your airway clear to breath and wait for rescue.  Even in ice water it could take approximately 1 hour before becoming unconscious due to hypothermia.

It is critical that you wear a life jacket to keep afloat and your head above water.  Life jacket styles are available for almost any type of activity including hunting and cold weather. There are float coats available in many colors including camouflage for waterfowl hunting and for those who boat when air and water temperatures are cool.  In addition to wearing a life jacket, there are some things you can do to delay hypothermia.  The Heat Escape Lessening (HELP) and Huddle Positions will help conserve body heat.  If alone in cold water pull your knees up to your chest and wrap your arms around your knees.  If you are with other people huddle together as close as possible and wrap your arms around each other.

It is important for all boaters to wear a life jacket, avoid boating alone, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return, check the capacity plate and don’t overload your boat, to dress for the water temperature, and to know how to minimize heat loss if you end up in the water. Visit for more information that could save your life or the life of someone you love.

The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at
Bill Peoples
Lee Roberts

Release no. 14-035