The Coast Guard is warning boaters looking to get out on the lake this weekend that water temperatures are still dangerously cold.
The Coast Guard says cold water could be a factor in the boating incident on Lake Erie that claimed the lives of four boaters.
According to the Coast Guard, in the best of scenarios, a male with average height and weight in freezing or near-freezing water would lose function after an hour if not dressed properly.
"The conditions on the water can be very deceptive with warm air temperature," said Lt. Cdr. Thomas Pequignot, chief, Incident Management Division at Coast Guard Sector Buffalo. "Forecasted temperatures in the mid-60s this weekend may give the mariner a false perception that it is safe to venture out on the water. Remember to always dress for the water temperature and not the air temperature."
"The wind change is big. It can turn a 1 to 2-foot wave into a 4-foot wave in a matter of minutes," said Denny Barth, a Port Clinton resident.
That is just one of the dangers boaters can experience on the cold waters of Lake Erie during this time of year. It can quickly turn a fun outing into a life or death situation.
"You could be fishing, next thing you know, the waves start building, you don't realize it until it starts really big. You always have to keep an eye on the weather," explained Capt. Mitch Kortenver with Reel Nauti Charters.
People who have been enjoying Lake Erie for many years, say that the size of the boat can be the difference between weathering a storm or not.
"You have to have the experience. I mean, just because you can go buy a boat and put it in the water...I mean, you're putting too much at risk," said Barth.
Many boaters feel the most important ways to stay safe are knowing the weather forecast ahead of time so you don't take a chance, and always wearing a life preserver.
Here are a few tips from the Coast Guard to help keep you safe now and in the upcoming boating season:
-Never go out on the water or ice alone. Proper precautions should always be taken before heading out on the water or the ice.
-Before making your first trip out onto the water this spring, be sure to ensure seaworthiness of your vessel and inspect it thoroughly.
-Ensure the boat drain plugs are properly installed.
-Inspect the hull for wear and tear that may have occurred over the long winter season.
-Check the readiness of all your survival and safety equipment.
Additionally, the combination of warmer temperatures and shifting winds has caused extremely hazardous ice conditions throughout Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and inland. The Coast Guard cautions against ice fishing and transiting on the ice, due to the threat of weak ice.
More information from the ODNR Division of Watercraft: