News Releases

500% Greater Risk of Drowning due to Cold Water at Start of Summer

Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Published May 22, 2023
Infographic showing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public recreation fatalities 1998-2022

Infographic showing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public recreation fatalities 1998-2022

As millions of Americans head out on the water to enjoy the warmer weather, recreation managers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are urging caution.

The Memorial Day holiday weekend kicks off the start of the recreation season, according to Melissa Rinehart, the district’s Natural Resources Management chief.

“Holiday weekends trend high for water-related accidents and fatalities. Chances of drowning in cold water are five times higher. The summer weather may be warm, but Pacific Northwest waters are not, especially so early in the season from melting snowpack. We want the public to have fun on their public lands and go home safe,” said Rinehart.

In addition, the Oregon State Marine Board attributes the primary causes of fatal incidents to operator inexperience and hazardous waters. According to the agency’s statistics, 16 people died from recreational boating incidents in 2022. Five of those occurred in Corps-managed waters.

"It's tragic when a boating or swimming related fatality occurs because most of them could have been prevented," said Pam Doty, the Corps’ national water safety program manager.

Doty recommends these safety tips:

  • Plan and prepare for trips. Take a boating safety or specialized course from the American Canoe Association, other paddling associations, America’s Boating Club, or Coast Guard Auxiliary.
  • Learn to swim but remember that swimming in natural waters differs from swimming in a pool, and that swimming ability decreases with age.
  • Expect the unexpected. Cold water shock causes a gasp reflex and hinders muscle response, which can quickly incapacitate swimmers.
  • Understand “boater’s hypnosis” which can mimic intoxication by slowing a person’s reaction time.
  • Eliminate alcohol consumption. Alcohol causes an inner ear condition that causes disorientation when underwater.
  • Remember that air temperature and water temperature do not match. Water temperatures are slow to warm, and some bodies of water are cold year-round.
  • Above all, wear a life jacket. 89% of people who drown weren’t wearing a life jacket. If you don’t have one, you can borrow one at any of these locations:

For more information about Oregon recreational boating incidents and fatalities, visit Find water safety tips at

Jeffrey Henon

Release no. 23-011

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