Hot air, cold water concerns Coast Guard

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s finally happening: The sun is out from behind the clouds and the air is warming up.

That rise in temperature will lead many people to head to the water to cool off this weekend.

While the air temperature will be high, the U.S. Coast Guard is warning people that water temperatures won’t be as high as they seem.

Temperatures could rise to as high as 90 degrees this weekend, but water temperatures can be anywhere from 30 to 40 degrees cooler. That difference could cause trouble, especially for those out on a boat and decide to cool off by jumping in.

 “The water temperature is still cold. The river is 63 (degrees) and the lake is 58 (degrees), and with those conditions hypothermia can kick in very quickly,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Steve Fleming.

Human bodies aren’t used to those chilly water temperatures.

If an adult beverage or two is added to the mix, blood will be thinner, causing body temperature to drop even quicker. It could lead to a paralyzing experience.

“The body can actually cramp up, and if you’re not wearing a life jacket that can be very serious,” said Fleming.

The risk is so serious that Coast Guard members wear special suits for rescues in water between 50 and 60 degrees.

“What happens is the suit fills with water and your body heat warms up the water inside the suit, so it will keep you warm for a long period of time,” Fleming said.

The Coast Guard is also preparing for other concerns ahead of Memorial Day weekend. Fleming said they will have a lot of resources on the water from Holland to White Lake watching for things that can cause harm.

Officers will be on the lookout to ensure boats have enough life jackets on board and ensuring the captain of the ship knows what they are doing.

Last year, inexperienced boat operators and not paying attention caused 620 accidents, killed 45 people and injured 381 others nationwide.

The Coast Guard will also be on the lookout for intoxicated boaters, as alcohol was a leading factor in at least 19 percent of fatal boating incidents last year.

Even for those planning to stay on a boat, Fleming says to be ready for anything and always have a life jacket on.

 “You never can preach enough. Boat smart, wear a life jacket. Last year, over 84 percent of boating fatalities were people not wearing their life jackets,” Fleming said. “It’s like reaching for your life jacket right before an accident. It’s always best to wear your life jacket before you go out.” 

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