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Cold Water Paddling

Photo: from video “The First Sixty Seconds” Canadian Cold Water Boot Camp


5 Golden Rules for Cold Water Safety (US National Center for Cold Water Safety )

Understand The Risk

  • Cold Water Risk Not Just Hypothermia - Hypothermia Myths And The Truth About Cold Water
  • Serious exposure typically begins with the initial plunge into cold water (but also read the stories below about cold incapacitation from long term non-extended immersion cold that can kill). Intial Cold shock is probably a greater risk for boaters who have been relatively inactive particularly if they are not wearing a PFD, in contrast to surfskiers who typically will be generating quite a bit of heat (and always have a PFD on when paddling in cold water we hope!) when they first hit the water. Cold incapacitation may well be less anticipated or appreciated by under-experienced paddlers - in terms of how fast body motor skills can deteriorate. Even with significant immersion protection, your hands can rapidly lose coordination and facility (if you have enough glove to protect the hands in seriously cold weather they won't have a lot of dexterity anyway because of the glove interference). After cold incapacitation is already interfering with your ability to remount or paddle or use a radio putting you in serious trouble, hypothermia will quickly follow and start to interfere with your decision making. The decisions you make before cold incapacitation is in full force may be the ones that save you - while you still have the body control and sense to execute them - like calling for help on your radio.
    • Cold Shock
    • Cold Incapacitation - often described in reference to drownings where people without life jackets lose the capacity to swim, but can be equally as deadly in terms of losing coordination for remounts, paddling, making a fire (To Build a Fire)…
      • The following 2 stories emphasize the underestimated risk of cold incapacitation for very experienced paddlers (who have not adequately guarded against cold risk) even while they are staying completely or mostly upright but exposed to long term cold, another way cold can also be deadly - in part because it can sneak up on you if given the opportunity. The risk is of course greatly accelerated for paddlers during an extended swim in cold water.
    • Hypothermia
    • Post Rescue Collapse (also termed “Circum Rescue Collapse” because it has been observed shortly before, during and after rescue
    • "Not Me" Syndrome Silent Sports Magazine article about North Face founder, Doug Tompkin's death in cold water. The web site will allow several full views then with subsequent clicks on this link the site will hide part of the article behind a subscription banner.
      • Survivor's account (National Geographic - access may also be limited now behind a paywall or may insist that you at least provide an email address) of incident leading to Doug Tompkin's death due to hypothermia

Wardrobe for the Cold

Ready to Paddle?

Back on Dry Land


Snowy Marine Park - A Little Cold?

Bellingham Winter Paddlers: Roger Lamb and Larry Bussinger - Click to enlarge