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Boaters to watch out for cold water temps during fishing opener

With all the anglers heading out across the land of 10,000 lakes for the walleye and northern fishing opener this weekend, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is urging boaters to be careful.

DNR officials warn one of the greatest threats anglers who are boating may encounter are cold water temperatures and cold water shock if their boat capsizes or they fall overboard.

Because of the cold water temperatures officials say life vests are a must.

"The shock of a fall into cold water is certainly one of the biggest hazards to early season anglers," said Tim Smalley, DNR boating safety specialist. "The gasp caused by sudden immersion in icy water can cause victims to inhale water and drown if they aren't wearing a life vest."

It was once thought that good swimmers who drowned after falling overboard into cold water were succumbing to heart attacks.

While that may happen when somebody is suddenly immersed in cold water, researchers are finding most who drown, die due to the torso reflex rather than a cardiac episode.

"The torso reflex is the gasp that happens when your face and chest suddenly enter cold water. The gasp is automatic and nearly impossible to stop. If your face is underwater when it happens, it's often fatal, unless of course you're wearing a life vest," Smalley noted.

Boats are required to carry one U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable personal life jacket of the proper size for each person readily accessible on board the boat. Boats 16 feet and longer also must carry a U.S. Coast Guard approved Type IV throwable seat cushion or ring buoy on board.

The DNR recommends everyone wear life jackets this time of year. "While the emphasis tends to be on children wearing life jackets, it's the adults who die most often in boating accidents," Smalley said.

"There have been a fair number of cases in Minnesota where an adult has drowned in a boat accident, but the child who was wearing a life jacket was just fine."