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Coast Guardsmen Offer Tips For Surviving Frigid Water

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BOSTON (CBS) — The survival suits first responders have can make all the difference but most people don’t have them.

What should the average person do if they find themselves in frigid water?

A pair of Coast Guardsmen dove into a 41-degree Gloucester Harbor Wednesday morning to illustrate the perils for which so many winter hunters and fisherman are not prepared.

It has happened twice lately, including Tuesday, when a skiff with three duck hunters aboard capsized in the Westport River.

One hunter was rescued by a Coast Guard chopper after swimming to a tiny island but the other two perished.

Minutes matter when boaters go into the icy water and panic is the first enemy.

“People panic when they hit the cold water,” Coast Guardsmen Rick Bowen said. “The more you move, the more you’re going to sweat and use body heat. Stay still, bring your knees to your chest.”

Boaters should always carry life jackets, a cell phone and mariner’s radio if possible – and only after giving family and friends a specific float plan – exactly where you’ll be and when you’ll be back, so they can summon authorities if you’re overdue.

It’s risky to do what the surviving hunter did Tuesday and swim to land because it’s easy to misjudge distance and swimming cools the body even quicker, cutting survival time in half.

“As you’re swimming, you’re losing a lot more body heat,” Bowen said.

The decision could be life-or-death and few can survive after 30-minutes.

If your boat is still afloat, rescuers recommend using it to get as much of your body out of the water as possible.  Rescuers will go to your last known position when they begin searching.

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