(CBS) – With beautiful weather on tap for the weekend, lots of people will be boating on Lake Michigan.

But after two deadly accidents on the water last weekend, the Chicago Fire Department is reminding people of the hazards of cold water.

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CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports.

“There’s still a lot of cold water in Lake Michigan,” warns Ron Dorneker, deputy district chief for the Chicago Fire Department’s Marine and Dive Operations.

How cold? In the middle, it’s just 38 degrees. Off Navy Pier, a quick check showed 60 degrees.

“Anything below 70 degrees, the medical community terms it as cold water,” Dorneker says.

And that can be dangerous.

“You lose body heat 25 times faster in water than you do in air temperature,” Dorneker says.

Even in warmer parts of the lake, like the popular play pen area, fire department divers found the water to be a chilly 64 degrees on Friday.

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“The first minute is critical, so when somebody goes in the water that is below 70 degrees, you have a gasping reflex, and if you’re submerged underwater when you have that gasping reflex, you’re going to inhale water, and that’s going to cause a drowning,” Dorneker says.

It’s best to stay out of the water, and if you end up in it, don’t panic, he says.

“If you fall in, fall onto your back, don’t let your head submerge under the water, try and get control of your breathing. Try to get out of the water as soon as possible,” he says.

If you do find yourself in trouble on a boat, the Fire Department says it’s important to be able to call for help, but you can’t always count on your cell phone.

A better backup plan is a simple ship-to-shore radio.

The Fire Department says boaters should also have a backup ship-to-shore radio in case the boat loses power and they need to call for help.

They also say it’s important that more than one person knows how to operate the boat in case there’s an emergency.


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