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It's getting warmer out, but CT's rivers and lakes are still cold. That can make boating dangerous

A photo of a motorboat traveling on Long Island Sound at sunset with a wake behind it
Connecticut Public
The Terry Backer II, a boat captained by Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey of the nonprofit Save the Sound, makes its way across the Sound at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Saybrook. This still was taken as part of Connecticut Public's release of "Cutline: Climate Change Along Connecticut's Coast."

Temperatures are expected to reach the 80s this week, but state officials and the U.S. Coast Guard are reminding boaters that while the air is warm, the water is not.

Statewide, inland bodies of water are still around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Peter Francis with DEEP’s boating division. That means wearing a life jacket is essential.

Francis said boaters who accidentally fall overboard increase their chances of survival if they can stay above water. “Wearing a life jacket is really, really critical,” he said.

Over the past five years, 88% of Connecticut's drowning victims weren’t wearing life vests. Connecticut law requires anyone on paddle craft such as canoes, kayaks or rowboats to wear a life jacket from October through the end of May.

The dangers of cold water in the early spring also extend to Long Island Sound.

Lt. Corey Morello, with the U.S. Coast Guard, said if a person falls into the water at this time of the year, it only takes about 15 minutes to go hypothermic. Within an hour, Morello said, a person can be dead.

“What’s the initial reaction when you fall into cold water? You breathe in. And what happens out on the ocean? You inhale water,” Morello said. “That sets you into this panic mode. That also makes it harder for you to remain calm and increase your chances of survival.”

In the Northeast, which extends from northern New Jersey through Maine, the Coast Guard reported a 30% increase in recreational boating fatalities from 2021 to 2022.

Morello recommended that Connecticut residents take a boating safety course and always wear a life vest.

He said boaters should tell someone where they are going and for how long. The Coast Guard also recommends getting the latest weather report and said boaters should carry a VHF marine radio, flares and fully charged cellphones.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.
As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.

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