water safety

Survival Experts Share Water Safety Tips

"You don't want to have a water emergency in water that is this cold."

NBC Universal, Inc.

After a dangerous weekend on Connecticut waters, experts are urging people to use caution.

NBC Connecticut visited Survival Systems USA in Groton. Every year hundreds go to the facility for survival training.

"We teach people how to deal in stressful situations," explained Keith Wille, development manager for Survival Systems.

The team of survival instructors shared safety tips. They stressed the importance of life jackets, especially when the water is colder.

"Even the strongest swimmers think- 'oh, I'm good in the water'- but they don't factor in water temperature, panic," said Wille.

According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, water temperatures in Long Island Sound right now are in the low 50-degree range. Summertime temperatures range from the high 60’s through the low 70’s.

"It's quite deceiving, the water temperature right now," said Ben Rayner, executive director of Water Emergency Training (WET), a drowning prevention nonprofit. Rayner also used to be a survival instructor. He explained that when the water is as cold as it is now, people have an involuntary response.

"The cold-water gasp reflex goes in. They are grabbing, they are beginning to aspirate water," said Rayner. "They start breathing heavier to try to get more oxygen, they begin aspirating, and within 30 seconds, people are under the water."

Rayner recommends staying out of the water until the temperature gets higher.

"You don't want to have a water emergency in water that is this cold," said Rayner.

But if a swimmer or a kayaker does get into a stressful situation, a proper lifejacket will help the person stay afloat. The team at Survival Systems also recommends carrying a trash bag with you. If you fall off of a kayak or paddleboard, they say you should wrap the trash bag around your body.

"Your body is going to be exchanging heat with the water inside that trash bag instead of wide-open water, so it's going to keep you warmer for longer," said Wille. "It's simple, and you can put it right in your pocket. Used in combination with the life jacket, you are going to stay afloat, and your body is going to stay warmer for longer."

They also recommend going out on the water with others, not by yourself.

"It's going to be better for rescue scenarios. Obviously, if someone falls in, they can help get you back out," said Wille. "And if you are not able to get ashore, as a group, you can stay warmer for longer."

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