The Coast Guard urges recreational boaters in Texas to remain safe on the water as winter progresses.
Seasonal shifts of winds and sea states are intensifying, and water temperatures are dropping to 60-70 degrees throughout the Texas Coastal Bend region, posing significant risks to boaters, paddlers, fishermen and others on the water.
Water temperatures below 70 degrees can quickly lower body temperature, potentially resulting in hypothermia, loss of dexterity, loss of motor control, mental confusion and unconsciousness. It takes as little as 30 minutes for an adult of average size to lose dexterity in water of 60-70 degrees, and as little as two hours to become unconscious. Without a life jacket, this can result in drowning.
Boaters, kayakers, surfers and stand-up paddlers should follow these safety precautions to mitigate risks posed by cold water and winter conditions:
- Dress appropriately for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Wear wet suits, dry suits, immersion suits, survival suits and exposure coveralls.
- Always wear a life jacket, even if not required by law.
- Carry an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) and/or personal locator beacon (PLB) so you can instantly share your location with emergency responders if you need help.
- Ensure your vessel or craft is equipped with a VHF-FM marine radio so you can make distress calls and keep a listening watch on channel 16. Carry a cell phone with adequate battery life as a backup means of communication.
- File a float plan with someone you trust. Provide a reliable friend or family member with pertinent information about your voyage and a description or picture of your vessel.
- Know before you go! Check the weather and water temperature before going out on the water.
- Download the U.S. Coast Guard mobile app, which is available for both Apple and Android users. This app offers resources to find the latest safety regulations, file a float plan, request emergency assistance and more.
- Cold water can kill! If you find yourself in a compromising position while out on the water, make sure to follow these steps until help arrives:
Minimize time in the water. Get out as soon as possible.
Evaluate your options. If you can swim to safety, stay calm and do so. If you are unable to swim to safety, conserve energy and await rescue.
If you cannot get to safety, assume the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP) position to protect critical body areas, slowing down the loss of heat. Draw your knees up to your chest, hold your arms at your sides and fold your lower arms against your chest.
If possible, form a huddle with others in the water to conserve body heat.
“The warm weather we still enjoy on some days can be deceiving,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kristen B. Caldwell, command center chief, Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi. “Even the most experienced mariners can sometimes be caught in a bad situation at sea, so having the proper equipment and precautions in place can easily prevent an accident.”
In Texas there have been 16 accidents involving recreational boaters since September, resulting in two fatalities and 14 serious injuries. In 2021 there were 58 total recreational boating fatalities in Texas; in 2020 there were 59.
Visit NOAA’s Cold Water Hazards and Safety page for additional resources.