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Colorado guide to staying safe on the water this summer

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Colorado guide to staying safe on the water this summer

Summer is still five days away, but the weather is warming up in Colorado, with near-record temperatures in the Denver area.

With warm weather comes an increase in the number of boaters, paddleboarders and kayakers heading to Colorado’s lakes and reservoirs. Here’s how to stay safe and follow the rules to make the most of your time on the water.

Afternoons and heavy weather

Weather is one of the biggest unknowns people need to be wary of, said Grant Brown, spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. People can decide for themselves whether they wear life jackets and whether they have the right equipment. They have no control over the weather.

“When we see weather events or wind events, that’s usually when we see more water-related incidents and rescues,” Brown said.

During Friday afternoon’s thunderstorms, Parks and Wildlife officers rescued a person trapped in water at Chatfield State Park as hail moved through the area.

The severe weather also halted the search Friday for a teenager who went missing Wednesday morning in the Arkansas River in Otero County.

“Storms usually roll in during the afternoon and people should be aware of clouds and storms moving in their direction,” Brown said. “Wind is a big problem.”

Strong winds can easily separate a paddleboarder or kayaker from their watercraft, Brown said. If they don’t wear a life jacket, they could be in danger.

“Sometimes people are just not aware of these storms, and … they may underestimate the weather,” Brown said. “People don’t realize how quickly our weather in Colorado can change, and they overestimate their ability to cope.”

Brian Willie, spokesman for South Metro Fire Rescue, said other factors could increase the afternoon danger on the water.

“The weather is always a factor no matter what, but that’s also because you’ve been in the water all day and you get more complacent about what’s going on,” Willie said. “You just say, ‘Oh, I’m fine.’ I can go in.” Later in the afternoon we see many more incidents, but whether it is due to the weather or just the course of the day, we cannot say with certainty.”

It is important that people monitor the weather, consult their local weather source and check the weather forecast before heading out on the water. But people also need to make sure they pay attention to the time, Willie said.

“You have to be ready to get out of the water at the right and appropriate time and also give yourself enough time to get back to shore wherever you are,” Willie said. “The weather here can really change in an instant. Especially in the Chatfield State Park area, the way the weather there is changing comes off the foothills with some good downswings that can really impact paddleboarders and kayakers and any kind of water toys on the reservoir.

Risks of cold water

Colorado’s lakes and reservoirs are notoriously cold, rarely reaching temperatures of 70 degrees at any point in the summer — especially at higher elevations, Brown said. Bodies of water that exceed 70 degrees are confined to lower elevations in late July and August.

“The biggest problem in Colorado in particular is the danger of cold water immersion,” Brown said. “Anything below 70 degrees is considered cold water.”

Hitting cold water unexpectedly, such as knocking someone off their boat or paddleboard, can cause people to involuntarily gasp, take on water and panic, Brown said.

“If you try to get to your life jacket, you have to do it out of panic,” he said. “Cold water can also cause cramps. You hit the water and try to swim vigorously, and people get cramps in their arms and legs, making it difficult to swim.”

Brown said people’s first assumption when they hear about a drowning is that the person can’t swim, but that’s often incorrect.

“You’re a good swimmer if you expect to swim,” he said. “Natural water bodies are unique. And even when people are good swimmers, you never know what happens to them in those few seconds they hit the water. Did they hit their heads? Did they ingest water? Did they get cramps?”

Even with the risk of hypothermia, boaters greatly increase their chances of survival if they have a life jacket on when they hit the water, he said.

Using the buddy system

According to Willie, setting up a water keeper is part of staying safe.

“A water ranger is assigned to pay attention to those who are in the water – not to be distracted by their phone, reading a book or having conversations with people who are not there, but to watch those who are in the water. water and to be prepared to call for help if something goes wrong,” Willie said.

Another option is sailing with a friend.

“That way, if you get into trouble, you know you have a friend who can help you or at least call and let people know,” Brown said. “And if you are paddling alone, it is important that you submit a float plan.”

That’s a plan to let someone know where you’re going, what time you’re leaving, and what time you expect to be back, so they can alert the authorities if you don’t check in.

Laws and regulations for life jackets

Not having a life jacket in Colorado is not only dangerous, it is illegal.

“It’s not only important to have one with you, it’s important to be prepared and have it with you,” Willie said.

Each boat must contain one life jacket per person, Brown said. Children 12 and under must physically wear the life jackets, and breaking the rules could mean a $100 fine per person.

In Colorado, a boat not only means a sailboat or powerboat, but also kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and so on, Brown said. That means all laws that apply to powerboats apply to everyone on personal watercraft, including alcohol limits.

“One of the factors that often contribute to fatalities is alcohol or drugs,” Brown said. “Inhibitions go out the window… and it contributes to your inability to swim and make the right decisions when you’re in an emergency situation.”

In Colorado, it is perfectly legal to drink and operate a boat (or paddleboard) up to the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08.

“That makes it difficult,” Brown said. “It’s not inherent – ​​it’s not illegal to have a drink and drive a boat. You have to take into account how much you are taking in so that you don’t reach that limit.”