Offshore Warning

The rescue off Montauk Point of two people from a small boat taking on water Saturday should serve as a reminder of the dangers of cold water. 

A press release from the Montauk Coast Guard Station said the two people had set out from shore in a folding boat of the sort more appropriate for a lake or other enclosed waterway. Tides at the Point run hard, and their small trolling motor was quickly overpowered. A passing charter boat captain who heard a distress alert spotted the boaters and stayed with them until the Coast Guard arrived. Had he not been nearby, the outcome might have been tragic.

Though the air temperature here can be comfortable, the bays and ocean lag far behind. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s buoy data, available online, the water temperature now remains about 48 degrees, low enough to produce hypothermia in a person immersed for under five minutes. For a sense of just how low that is, run 50-degree tap water over your hand for a while. Then try to imagine your entire body in it. Surfers this week were still in full neoprene suits, most with hoods, thick gloves, and booties. Other water sports enthusiasts should take note.

It may be easy to scoff at this story, but examples of people who take the water less seriously than they should are plentiful. For example, as the popularity of stand-up paddleboarding has boomed, too few of those heading out pay attention to the regulation that they carry an approved floatation device. 

The rescued Montauk boaters were lucky; they had with them a portable VHF radio with which they made an initial call for help. Though their choice to test Block Island Sound was a bad one, at least they were prepared to summon assistance. Consider theirs a cautionary tale.