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Colorado Fishing News Back to Colorado Fishing News

Cold water presents danger, life jackets can help save lives

Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado's lakes and reservoirs are opening to more recreation with the arrival of spring, but cold water temperatures can present a serious risk. Wearing a personal floatation device can save lives.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife rangers have already responded to multiple incidents this spring involving paddlesports recreationists falling into the water.

One kayaker died and another was hospitalized last Saturday after they fell into the water at Chatfield Reservoir. Two kayakers who fell into the water at Ridgway Reservoir the weekend before were rescued after they spent 15 minutes in the water.

In both cases, water temperatures were in the low 40 degrees, and all four kayakers in these two incidents were not wearing life jackets at the time they went into the water.

"Our lakes and reservoirs, while especially inviting in the spring after a long winter, can quickly become perilous without the proper precautions," said Ridgway State Park Manager Johnathon Freeborn. "The recent incidents on our waters serve as a stern reminder of nature's unpredictability and the vital importance of wearing a personal floatation device. A PFD is more than a piece of safety equipment it's what stands between you and tragedy. Wear a life jacket – it could save your life."

The instinctive reaction when a person hits cold water is to gasp, which can lead to inhalation of water. Hypothermia can set in quickly, and use of arms and legs to swim can be quickly impaired as blood flow is directed to a person's core. This can all lead to unconsciousness or swimming failures as muscles become numb.

Wearing a life jacket will keep your head above water and support your body should your swimming ability fail or you become unconscious.

"It can be deceiving when we start getting warm-weather days and it's nice outside, but everyone recreating on the water should be aware the water is still really cold and remains cold until at least mid-summer here in Colorado," said Scott Rist, Park Manager of Crawford, Paonia and Sweitzer Lake State Parks. "Having the proper gear and a life jacket on is imperative for anyone recreating on the water."

Windy conditions can exacerbate danger on the water for paddlers. Getting blown off course can happen quickly, and returning to shore can be difficult going into a headwind or when facing waves. That can lead to paddlers expending a lot of energy to navigate and maintain balance.

When a paddler loses balance and goes into the water, it can also be easy to become separated from a kayak or paddleboard.

"There are several cell phone apps that will tell you hourly wind predictions," Rist said. "Knowing when conditions are going to change can be the difference between life and death. The user has a responsibility to know before you go."

Photo: Dustin Doskocil/CPW
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