Utah State Parks Blog

Plan Ahead for Cold Water


Volunteers jump into 45 degree water at Jordanelle State Park to show the dangers of cold water.

With mild spring temperatures, boaters, anglers and paddlers are visiting Utah reservoirs early this year. The rise in attendance has Utah State Parks boating rangers reminding everyone to be mindful of cold water temperatures and to protect themselves from over exposure, which can be immediately life-threatening.

Currently all northern Utah reservoirs have water temperatures below 50 degrees. About 50 percent of boating accidents that result in water exposure at low water temperatures are fatal. As high altitude reservoirs, boaters should anticipate cold temperatures to exist well into June.

“Cold water and the fact most adult boaters do not wear life jackets can quickly turn a day on the water into an extremely dangerous, life threatening situation. You never know when you may end up in the water,” stated Utah State Parks Boating Program Manager Ty Hunter.

Emergency exposure to cold water can incapacitate an individual in just 5 to 15 minutes; hypothermia can start in 30 minutes. This abnormally low body temperature occurs when a person’s body loses more heat than it can generate. This condition becomes deadly when the heartbeat slows and becomes irregular. If left untreated, the heart will stop beating.

“Hypothermia causes confusion and drowsiness while decreasing physical abilities,” explained David Eller, M.D., emergency medicine specialist at St. Mark’s Hospital. “That is why even strong, capable swimmers become impaired after spending only a short amount of time in very cold water. If more people take precautions and know what to do if they are unexpectedly plunged into icy waters, fewer lives would be lost.”

Because a person’s muscles and nervous system can be impaired in a cold water emergency, wearing a life jacket not only keeps an individual afloat, but it can also increase their survival time from ten minutes to possibly an hour. Utah State Parks recommends boaters, anglers and paddlers follow that critical safety tip and these others when they’re out recreating this spring:

– Always wear a life jacket
– Recreate with a buddy
– Stay calm, get control of your breathing
– Focus on meaningful movement, getting back in the boat or to shore
– Have a ladder or a method to re-board your boat
– Carry a cell phone in a waterproof container

For more information, visit stateparks.utah.gov or call (801) 538-BOAT. Wear it Utah!

If you found this blog entry interesting, please consider sharing it through your social network.