Winter survival guide: Dressing for winter weather when you're boating, fishing and skating

CINCINNATI - Winter in Ohio brings out many cold weather sporting enthusiasts. Whether it's ice fishing (if you travel up north,) skating or cross country skiing, many don't properly prepare for a day of winter fun.

Last year in Ohio, 11 people died because they weren't equipped for cold water activities. Nationally, 90 percent of all winter pond, river and lake tragedies were caused by poor preparation.

Any outdoor activity in cool or colder weather conditions presents a risk of hypothermia. That risk is greater while boating because water robs the body's heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature.

When preparing to go outside, clothing choices go a long way toward keeping the experience safe and pleasant. Each person is subject to hypothermia at a different rate. Recognize your body's thermal capabilities or inadequacies, consider the current air, water, and wind chill temperatures, and dress accordingly. This serves the dual purposes of comfort and safety. Being comfortable adds to any experience.

Fabrics that protect against exposure to cold air and water can be broken into two categories: insulating materials and protective materials.

"Insulating materials" are fabrics that trap the body's heat. Layering several garments is not only more effective at retaining the heat but also more comfortable, as items can be added or removed as needed.

Types of Insulating Fabrics

A variety of man-made and natural fabrics act as good insulators. Avoid 100 percent cotton garments, as they are most effective at drawing heat away from the body. Start with thin layers of polypropylene close to the skin. Add fabrics that retain heat even when wet such as wool or synthetic fleece.

When boating in any water less than 70 degrees, a neoprene wetsuit should be part of the layer system. Cold water and weather may also require a dry suit, which keeps the body dry with the exception of the head, hands and feet.

Types of Protective Layers

A good protection layer prevents the elements from cooling the insulating layers.

There are a variety of products available that provide excellent wind and water protection. Parkas, rain suits, paddling gear, and jackets made of nylon, Gore-tex and some of the new microfibers are ideal.

The final layer for any cold-weather water activity should be a life jacket. The immediate risk of falling into the water is drowning after becoming disoriented from the shock of the cold water. In addition to providing vital buoyancy, a life jacket also serves as a good insulator. In fact, several styles of coats are Coast Guard-approved devices that have built-in flotation.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources contributed information to this article.

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