Cold Water Kills!
By Scott Shea
Every spring, thousands – yes, thousa
nds of outdoor enthusiasts risk their lives in the northeast states
in order to enjoy a day on the water. Why do so
many experienced and intelligent people repeat the
same risks each season? Spring Fever? Overanxious &
Excited? A false sense of
reality? The answer is
most likely a combination of all of the above. Whet
her you are a fisherman, boater, kayaker and/or a
canoeist, the reality is
cold water kills!
We all know that when the air temperatures warm up,
nothing is going to go wrong, especially when
we have been going on the water for years in the
spring and nothing has ever happened before. Even if
something did happen, we could all rescue ourselves or get to shore. Am I right? Have you heard this
before? Unfortunately, it is all too familiar fo
r the United States Coas
t Guard, who monitors
recreational boating fatalities and responds to many of the cold water rescue calls.
The Northeast has averaged 50 recreational boating fatalities each ye
ar for the past 8 years. The
majority of the boating deaths th
at occur in the Northeast before th
e month of July are due to cold
water immersion- not hypothermi
a like previously thought,
but cold water immersion.
Cold water shock is immediate and uncontrollable
for anyone unprepared fo
r cold water immersion.
Cold water does not differentiate
between whether you are experience
d or not, whether you are near
the shore of a pond or in the middle of the ocean.
Cold water does not know whether you are young or
old or whether you are a male or female. The effect
s are similar. An immediate submersion into cold
water causes an involuntary gasp
reflex to occur (same as when you step into an unexpected cold
shower). When this reflex is combined with th
e paralyzing effects of the muscles tensing,
hyperventilation, rapid increase in blood pressure an
d heart rate, and the inability to hold ones breath
more than 1/10 of its normal capa
city, the result can be fatal. If the boater or paddler has a weak
heart and/or no PFD, the result
more times than not is fatal.
Too many times, outdoorsmen feel their survival time will be measured in hours, when the reality is
that a person has only minutes (w
ith water temperatures below 50 de
grees) to get themselves out. All
of their knowledge, experience and rescue skills become
useless as cold water incapacitates their body
and mind. Hypothermia charts do no
t accurately indicate the immedia
te life-threatening effects cold
water has on the human
body? (compare “Expected survival time” in chart below to “Loss of
Dexterity” and “Unconsciousness”.)
All too often, Hypothermia Charts
increase the false sense that
survival time in waters 50 degree and below is measu
red in hours, rather than
minutes! These popular
charts paint too rosy of a pictu
re for individuals submersed in cold
water. A Cold Water Immersion
Chart , (such as the one below) is a much mo
re accurate and updated educational tool. When
submersed in cold water, the focus ha
s to be to get out as quickly as po
ssible. If the victim is unable to
react immediately, it will ultimately be
up to someone else to save them.
The solution to counter the effects
of cold water immersion is simple.
Wear your PFD- Always!
Set the example for others that you paddle or boat
with by wearing your PFD. Continue to encourage
all boating buddies and paddling fr
iends to wear their PFD’s- Ma
nufacturers have dramatically
improved their designs and comfort over the last several years and with the introduction of the Coast
Guard Approved Inflatable PFD’s,
even commercial fisherman are finding
the value of wearing them.
Of the 56 recreational boating fata
lities in the Northeast in 2006, on
ly 5 were wearing PFD’s! Not only
does it increase the chances that
your face will be above water while
the gasping reflex is occurring,
but it allows the victim to relax, thus slowing the
body’s heat loss and conser
ving energy needed to get
out of the cold wate