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Cold water is waiting to devour you

Courtesy of
Record Bee

Speeding across Clear Lake in a modern bass boat in the winter can be a trying experience. It can also be a deadly one if you’re not careful. In fact, if you fall out of a bass boat it can be next to impossible to climb back into the boat. Down through the years several fishermen have fallen out of bass boats on Clear Lake and many said the only way they could climb back into the boat was to use the outboard motor as a climbing rail.

The big danger in falling into the lake is that it can happen even when the boat is sitting still. Icy decks can make just walking around a bass boat dangerous. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the Record Bee/Bruno’s annual bass tournament we had several occasions when fishermen would fall off the docks. Luckily none fell out of a boat but it could easily have happened. When the water temperature is in the mid-40s hypothermia can set in within a few minutes. Even if you don’t drown, you could freeze to death. Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can be produced. The result is that the body temperature gets so low that it affects the brain and limbs, making the victim unable to think clearly or move.

 Actually it’s the small boater that is in the most danger. These fishermen often don’t wear their life vests and their boats aren’t equipped to handle the rough water.

No one should ever be in a boat without wearing a life vest. Statistics have shown that more than 70 percent of drowning victims weren’t wearing life vests. This is amazing considering that winter storms are common, especially on Clear Lake.

A few years ago a well-known bass fisherman was fishing in the Delta on a cold day in January. He said he was in 20 feet of water and there was a strong current. He was on the front deck running his trolling motor when the boat struck a submerged tree and the jolt tossed him into the water. He was wearing heavy clothes, which immediately filled with water. He said the last thing he remembered was his feet hitting the bottom. The good news is his life vest automatically inflated and he shot to the surface where his fishing buddy grabbed him. His fishing partner maneuvered the boat close enough to shore for him to climb out on the bank. The life vest saved his life.

 Water conducts heat 25 times more efficiently than air, so heat-loss will be far faster in water. Even so, hypothermia still takes about 30 minutes to kill you. Before this, if death does occur, it probably results from complications because of something called cold shock.

Survivors of cold water accidents report having their breath driven from them on first impact with icy water. Total disorientation often occurs immediately after hitting the cold water. Cold hands cannot fasten the straps of a life vest, grasp a thrown rescue line or hold unto an overturned boat.

 Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Shivering and the sensation of cold can begin when the body temperature lowers to approximately 96.5 degrees. Amnesia can set in at 94 degrees and unconsciousness can occur at 86 degrees. Death can occur when the body temperature drops to 79 degrees.

Experts say that if you get thrown in cold water, don’t panic. Thrashing around in the cold water can shorten survival time by more than 50 percent.

Typically during the winter months at Clear Lake the water temperature will be as low as 40 degrees. The coldest I have measured at Clear Lake was 34 degrees.

 Most of the boaters during the winter months are the bass fishermen and often when they are prefishing for a bass tournament they fish alone. This is the time to be extra careful and always wear a life vest even when fishing using only the trolling motor. Have a plan ahead of time that covers what happens if you fall in. One way you can get back into a bass boat is to work your way back to the outboard motor and use the trim switch to rise the motor which will assist you in getting back into the boat.

 Fishing during the winter months can be fun, but think of the cold water as a monster waiting to devour you if you make a single mistake.

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