Cold Water Shock Explained
From The News
An interesting video from
Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht
In the Spring
even though the air is warm the water is still in the 40s or 50s, proper
safety gear is still very necessary
A man who is not afraid of sea will soon
be drowned, he said,
For he will be going out on a day he
But we do be afraid of the sea,
And we do only be drowned now and again.
“The Aran Islands”
"Thanks to Greg Welker for this quote"
We lost a fine man, a padding machine, an
experienced kayaker, and a friend while he was out paddling the Potomac River
Feb 26th 2006. We've set up a special page to report information
about the incident. See Mitch
NRS has it's own section on
Cold Water Protection and
Hypothermia and a good discussion on how to layer.
Some Great Advice from Woody
Woody Woodward (who had
a great site) posted this 1/7/05 to
the Chesapeake Paddlers Association
message board in response to a question asked about appropriate gear to wear on
a January outing.
> What is minimum required gear? I have shortie wet suit and various
> pieces of dry tops.
An excellent question, and one I seem to be asked often so I hope you
don't mind if I respond in a more generic form.
I actually have to ask myself the same question about my own gear from
time to time. So here are a few things to consider:
1) Am I willing to swim in the gear I plan to wear? This isn't a
rhetorical question - the answer has to be backed up by action. So if I
ever, ever, ever question what I'm wearing, I'll swim in it - in the
conditions I plan to paddle in. No amount of speculation can substitute
One thing I hear over and over again in the cold water introductions I
do is how different the experience of being in cold water is than they
ever imagined - even when bagged head to toe in a dry suit! The second
thing I hear often is the drastic difference they notice in something as
small as a 5 degree temperature change (e.g. 45 degree water is MUCH
different than 50 degree water). For example, if you've swam your gear
at 50 degrees, it isn't a safe assumption to think you will be ok in 45
degree water - the difference is just too vast.
2) People are different. I'm a big fat guy so cold water doesn't affect
me as quickly as a skinny person. This all goes back to item #1 - swim
your gear so you know. What works for one can kill another.
3) What risks do I put the group in by going out with them? I'm a big
believer in the adage that we are all adults and should make our own
decisions, and that works for solo paddling. But in a group environment
if I get into trouble because I under dressed, chances are someone in
the group is going to try and help. So by my decision to paddle without
proper protection now puts one or more other people in a higher risk
category than if I chose to stay home.
So how do I know if I'm not increasing the group's risk? Yep, you got it
- swim your gear!
4) In the event the worst happens to me, I've left some major social
baggage with the survivors of the group. While it is easy to say from a
distance that 'he knew what he was getting in to', in practice very few
people would not feel some guilt.
As a courtesy to a trip leader, never put the burden on them to decide
for you. No one likes being a bad guy and say no. This is a tough one
because every trip leader will have different acceptable levels of
perceived risk that they are willing to accept. If you are unsure of
what a trip leader is willing to accept, it is certainly ok to ask, but
you should know yourself that what you are asking is safe (swim your
gear!). Some trip leaders will require dry suits after the water gets
below some arbitrary temperature. Being able to say "How about I come
out a few minutes early, wet exit in my gear and swim 100 feet?" goes a
long way to showing that you not only know your gear's capabilities and
your own body's tolerance for cold, but also that you won't be a
significant risk to the group.
So now specifically back to your question: Is a shortie and dry top
enough for water that is (at this moment) 46 degrees? I'll be out at
Leesylvania about an hour early if you want to swim your gear and find out!
An informative article from Paddling.Net
Please see the from the news
page on this subject, because this is not, unfortunately, a hypothetical