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Water is still cold; wear a PFD

We have been surprised to see a whole lot of canoes on the tops of cars driving through Saranac Lake.

It’s not just us. Erin Hanczyk, spokesperson for Region 5 of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said she’s been surprised to see so many, too.

Early to mid April is very early to be out paddling in the Adirondacks. Usually it’s only a handful of hardcores out on the water at this time.

Maybe most of these boats are being bought or sold, and aren’t actually out on the water yet. If so, we salute the buyers. Now is great time to pick up a boat to enjoy over the next six months, and for many years to come.

Nevertheless, a warning is in order: The water is still very cold. It hasn’t warmed up anywhere near as much as the air has. Much of it was snow or ice quite recently — and there still is ice on some ponds, according to DEC.

Mind you, cold water can make it a great time for fishing, since trout and other cold-water fish are more likely to swim up from the bottom.

But it also means that if you fall in, your body is likely to go into shock quickly. As your body uses all its energy to fight the cold, it leaves you with less energy to tread water or swim. If you aren’t wearing a personal flotation device, you can sink quickly. Hypothermia can set in fast. So can drowning.

If you go out in a boat, dress properly, with non-cotton clothing, and wear a PFD. Don’t just have a life jacket in the boat with you — wear it.

In fact, the law requires that. New York state makes every person in a boat shorter than 21 feet (including canoes, kayaks, rowboats and guideboats) not just possess but wear a PFD between Nov. 1 and May 1. The DEC also urges people in bigger boats to wear PFDs at this time of year.

Children under 12 years old are required to wear (not just possess) a PFD year-round while on any boat less than 65 feet long. And the law requires a person must wear a PFD sized for them; one that’s too big or too small won’t do.

Hanczyk pointed out that water levels are also high and fast-flowing right now (despite the lack of recent rain) because of snowmelt coming down from the mountains. Deeper, faster water is yet another reason to wear a PFD.

“Falling in to swift currents can easily result in being pulled and kept under water and collisions with rocks, logs and other objects causing injury,” DEC says.

With the sun shining and the air warm, Hanczyk said, “Everyone is eager to get out and enjoy the nice weather, but winter only just behind us.”

As much as we love canoeing, we’re staying off the water for the rest of this month at least. But that doesn’t mean you have to. There are dangers and risks with all outdoor recreation at any time of year. Know what those risks are, show up prepared for them, and then have a great time.

Just know it’s not summer yet. It’s spring, which has its own challenges and wonders.

(Correction: An earlier version of this editorial accidentally said state law requires wearing a PFD in any boat longer than 21 feet at this time of year. It should have been shorter than 21 feet. The Enterprise regrets the error.)

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