Cold weather boating – part 2 of 3

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Last week this column started the three part series on cold weather boating. The discussion continues today with a look at the issue of &uot;Cold Shock&uot; or…how your body reacts to a sudden impact with cold after you slip off your boat in the middle of December.

First, some basic facts about the significant impact that cold water can have. According to Atlantic Kayak Tours on their web site, &uot;Cold shock happens when you are suddenly immersed in cold water.&uot; Continues the site, &uot;Cold shock can occur even in water temperature above 50F. Wearing a dry suit, without proper clothing beneath is not protection from cold shock.&uot;

Experts have estimated that emersion in cold water can remove heat from a human body at a speed of 25 times faster than exposure to cold air…25 times faster!


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There are countless stories about the effects of impact with cold water. Boaters, especially those in canoes, have been found with their vessel upside down, dead. There was no attempt to get out from under the vessel.

What is the biggest concern?

Again looking to the Atlantic Kayak Tour site, &uot;Loss of breathing control begins the moment water makes contact with the skin, triggering a series of huge involuntary gasps for air. If your head is underwater when you gasp, you will immediately drown.

&uot;Example: Oct. 1987, Water temperature: 41F. Fit paddler, calm waters, folding double kayak with 36-inch beam. Found hanging upside down in his boat, having made no attempt to exit. Not dressed for immersion.&uot;

Actually, the reaction I just described above has been experienced by many of us especially if you ever went to summer camp or lived in a large dorm in college.

Here’s what I mean….have you ever been enjoying a warm shower, and suddenly, without any warning at all the water temperature goes from pleasant to a cold slap in the face?

This was a tradition at Boy Scout camp….there was only so much hot water to go around so many times your warm shower was interrupted by a cold blast!

Now…again thinking back…what was your reaction?

If you said a quick uncontrolled gasp you have a good memory. This is what boaters experience who get thrown overboard into cold water. That gasp can also be the difference in a boater’s life. Now, again thinking back to your gasp reaction…do you think it could have been controlled?

I have read some differing thoughts on that. However, every subject matter expert agrees on one thing – you can either prevent or significantly decrease the effect of a quick immersion in cold water by having the correct equipment and clothing on.

Cold weather boating….a lot of fun with a little preparation on the boater’s part. Until next week…Boat Safe and Boat Smart!