Use caution when boating Cold water can kill, and according to Game, Fish and Parks Boating Safety Specialist Bill Shattuck, half of all drowning deaths are caused by hypothermia � abnormally low body temperature � not by lungs being full of water.
Shattuck said water does not have to be icy to cause hypothermia, just colder than you.
"Cold water steals heat from the body at a rate 30 times faster than air," he said. "Whenever someone falls overboard, the body temperature begins to drop within 10 to 15 minutes. If someone panics and expends a lot of energy, their body temperature drops faster, reducing their survival time."
Wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), or lifejacket, adds to a person's survival time in the water.
"A PFD not only minimizes motion needed to stay afloat, but also helps by insulating the body," he said.
If a person suddenly finds themself in the water, the key is to not panic.
"Flapping around causes rapid loss of body heat," Shattuck said. "The head, neck, groin and sides of the chest are the body's 'hot spots' that lose heat most rapidly and need to be protected the most."
Shattuck suggests people follow these tips to minimize the loss of body heat:
* Do not remove clothing. Instead, button, buckle, zip and tighten collars, cuffs, shoes and hoods.
* Cover the head if possible � approximately half of body heat loss comes from the head.
* Devote all efforts to getting out of the water. Act quickly before full use of hands is lost.
* Board anything floating.
* Turn a capsized boat over and climb in � most boats will support a person even when the boat is full of water. If you can't right the boat, climb on top.
* Do not try to swim, unless it is to reach a nearby boat, another person or a floating object. By releasing warm water between your clothing and your body and sending "warm" blood to your extremities, swimming can cut your survival time by as much as 50 percent. Even if it is painful, remain as still as possible. Intense shivering and severe pain are natural body reflexes to cold water. These will not kill you, but heat loss will.
* Huddle with other people for warmth, if others are available. Otherwise, hold your knees to your chest to protect your trunk from heat loss, and clasp your arms around your calves.
South Dakota's waters are cold during the fall.
"Even on afternoons when the air temperature is up in the 70s or 80s, cold nights mean declining water temperatures," Shattuck said.
He added that hunters or fishermen often let the warm air lull them into complacency, and they fail to wear personal flotation devices (PFD).
"The risk of hypothermia is high," he said. "I am surprised at how many fall boaters ignore the risks involved with things like setting and picking up decoys."
According to Shattuck, the answer is a combination of smart boat operation and regular use of PFDs.
"Although a life jacket or flotation coat can't make the water any warmer, a good PFD can mean the difference between an uncomfortable dunking and a drowning."
A worse problem for fall boaters is rough water. It is fairly common for high winds to suddenly appear in South Dakota. In the fall, they can be especially dangerous for the typically overloaded duck boat. The best advice Shattuck has for duck hunters is to keep the equipment at a minimum, especially as the season starts to turn to winter.