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The Peril of Cold Water: How Life Jackets Rescue Lives

Colorado’s lakes and reservoirs are becoming more accessible for recreation as spring arrives, but the cold water temperatures pose a significant risk. The simple act of wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) can be a lifesaver.

This spring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife rangers have already dealt with multiple incidents involving paddlesports enthusiasts falling into the water. Tragically, one kayaker lost their life, and another required hospitalization after an incident at Chatfield Reservoir last Saturday. Similarly, two kayakers were rescued after spending 15 minutes in the water at Ridgway Reservoir the previous weekend.

In both cases, the water temperatures were around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and none of the four kayakers were wearing life jackets when they entered the water.

Johnathon Freeborn, the Manager of Ridgway State Park, emphasized the importance of taking precautions, stating, “Our lakes and reservoirs may seem inviting in the spring, but they can quickly turn dangerous without the right safety measures. Recent incidents serve as a stark reminder of nature’s unpredictability and the critical role of PFDs. A life jacket is not just a safety device; it is the barrier between you and a potential tragedy. Remember, wearing a life jacket could save your life.”

When a person hits cold water, the instinctive gasp response can lead to water inhalation. Hypothermia can set in rapidly, affecting the ability to swim as blood flow prioritizes the core. This can result in unconsciousness or muscle numbness, leading to swimming difficulties.

Wearing a life jacket ensures your head remains above water and provides support if your swimming capabilities fail or if you lose consciousness.

Scott Rist, Park Manager of Crawford, Paonia, and Sweitzer Lake State Parks, warned, “Despite warm weather, it’s crucial to remember that the water remains cold in Colorado until at least mid-summer. Proper gear and a life jacket are essential for anyone engaging in water activities.”

Wind conditions can further heighten risks for paddlers on the water. Sudden changes can lead to being blown off course, making it challenging to return to shore against headwinds or waves. This can result in paddlers expending excessive energy to navigate and maintain stability.

Rist advised, “Knowing hourly wind predictions through cell phone apps can be life-saving. Understanding changing conditions can make a significant difference in ensuring safety on the water.”

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