Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

October 21, 2014

Randy Simons
Dan Keefe
(518) 486-1868

State Parks Urges Boaters to Be Prepared for Cold Water

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey today reminded boaters to take precautions to protect themselves from heightened dangers of sudden, unexpected cold water immersion while on late season boating outings, especially on small boats.

"As our autumn days grow shorter and the water temperatures colder, hunters, anglers, paddlers and all boaters need to take extra steps to protect themselves from the dangers of being suddenly thrown overboard, swamped or stranded in cold water," Commissioner Harvey said. "Knowing the risks of cold water and taking the right precautions may save your life."

Sudden immersion in cold water can cause gasping and inhalation of water and hypothermia, resulting in unconsciousness or swimming failure as muscles become numb. Wearing a life jacket may keep your head above water and support your body should your swimming ability fail or you become unconscious. Additionally, state law requires life jackets be worn by anyone on all boats less than 21 feet in length between November 1 and May 1.

State Parks makes the following recommendations to boaters heading out on the water this fall:

  • Always wear a properly fitted life jacket. Simply stated, life jackets could have saved 8 out of 10 people who died while boating last year;
  • Dress for the weather. Consider wetsuits or layer your clothing to reduce loss of body temperature should you end up in the water;

  • Avoid boating alone, but in any case let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Bring a cell phone or VHF radio, in a watertight bag, should you need to call for help;

  • Properly equip and carry essential safety gear, signaling devices and whistles; and

  • Refrain from using alcohol.

Finally, State Parks recommends that all boaters take a boating safety class. A new law signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo requires anyone born on or after May 1, 1996 to complete an approved eight-hour course and receive a Boating Safety Certificate before operating a motorboat. Regardless of age, all personal watercraft operators need a Boating Safety Certificate.

Of New York's 18 fatalities associated with recreational boating in 2013, more than a third of those deaths involved small manually propelled watercraft, occurring either early or late in the season when water temperatures were cold. In almost every one of those fatal accidents, life jackets were not worn and in some cases were not on board at the time of the accident. The Coast Guard estimates that 80 percent of all boating accident deaths might have been prevented had a life jacket been worn.

Should you ever find yourself in the water it is recommended that you stay with - and preferably on top of - your boat. Never overestimate your swimming ability. All too often people underestimate the distance to shore or the effects of cold water and unfortunately drown while attempting to make it to safety.

The State Parks Marine Service Unit is responsible for the general coordination of boating safety programs and supports marine law enforcement efforts across the state, including patrols, training and funding for local marine enforcement activities. For more information about boating safety - including listings of boating safety courses - and marine recreation in New York State, visit