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2018 AOTY/DOTY Entry

Topic: How cold water kills so quickly  (Read 795 times)

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bluekayak

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Written by Melissa Wood in Feb 3 issue of National Fisherman

Quote
How cold water kills so quickly

I always assumed that falling into cold water was more dangerous because you can die from hypothermia. It turns out that it's even more dangerous than that. Falling into cold water can also trigger something called "cold shock response," which can cause you to drown in an instant.

Here's an example of how it works. On the official Coast Guard blog, Paul Newman, a USCG boating safety specialist, points to the case of a man who had taken a stand-up paddleboard (also called a SUP) onto Lake Tahoe. The man had brought a lifejacket with him, but instead of wearing it, he tied it the leash of the board (which should have been around his ankle). About 50 yards from shore, he fell off and drowned instantly.

Cold water makes time critical. Crew members take part in a survival suit drill on the NOAA ship Ka'imimoana. NOAA photo
So what happened? Newman points out he didn't hit his head. Most likely, he died from cold shock response. Ever jump into a cold shower and gasp? It's that same reflex, he says:

"The sudden fall into cold water made him gasp underwater. Aspirating water he began choking, probably panicked and, sinking into even colder deep water, made ineffective, frantic movements with his arms which had been momentarily stunned by the cold water. He wasn't wearing a lifejacket and he died without ever surfacing."

According to findings from the 2008 research project Cold Water Bootcamp, cold water kills quickly and it doesn't even have to be that cold (just under 70 degrees F). That day on Lake Tahoe, it was summer and the air temperature 75 degrees with surface water temperatures around 60 degrees.

If cold shock response doesn't kill you in the first minute, within 10 minutes your limbs start to become incapacitated, making it difficult or impossible for even strong swimmers to get back to a boat. In about an hour, hypothermia sets in. As Newman repeats a half a dozen times, "wearing a lifejacket buys you time."

Though Newman targets his advice at recreational boaters, the same logic works for commercial fishermen who find themselves in cold water. Commercial fisherman Lee d'Entremont credited having his survival suit on with saving his life and those of two other crewmen and an observer from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans when the 64-foot Poseidon Princess sank off Nova Scotia last weekend.

They had about five minutes after waking up in the early morning to don their suits and put out a mayday call before the boat sank beneath them. The three crew members made it into a self-inflating life raft, while the observer, David Murphy, spent over an hour in the water. Nearby fishing boats responded to the distress call and pulled them out of the water. All four were wearing immersion suits and all four survived.

That's no coincidence, says d'Entremont. "All the gear was up to snuff, everything was working good and I can't say enough about the immersion suits.... For the one I had, it was the ultimate thing to have on in that situation. Saved my life, other than that I only had shorts on," he recalled to CBC News.

According to d'Entremont he was lucky: He lost his cell phone on the boat, but he had left his wallet at home. Preparedness, not luck, was the reason he and others survived that sinking. Check your safety equipment and make sure it's in good shape and that you can get your survival suit on quickly.


ravensblack

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This is good information Paul. I appreciate it. I was talking with Tom at Clavey about the latest incident in Tomales bay. This man knew paddling. We were talking about how imperative it to have the PFD cinched down TIGHT. The mouth of Tomales can be very dangerous. Many people have died in boats and kayaks there.
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Buzzcut1

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This is good information Paul. I appreciate it. I was talking with Tom at Clavey about the latest incident in Tomales bay. This man knew paddling. We were talking about how imperative it to have the PFD cinched down TIGHT. The mouth of Tomales can be very dangerous. Many people have died in boats and kayaks there.

x2

when I bought my PFD the staff at Sunrise adjusted the ones I was trying on then attemped to yank them up an off . I purchased the one that did not budge.
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bluekayak

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In rough water a PFD gives you the buoyancy you need to keep your head above water

In the situation at Muir where I helped the guy back to the cove the swell was very steep 3-5 ft/2 seconds and from multiple directions, the basic chaos pretty typical there

Anyway it was alarming watching him gulp water and sometimes his head going under

I've seen a lot of small boats stick it out chasing salmon when they should've pulled the plug so always figured if/when I came across somebody in the water it would be a boater not a kayaker

After that situation I thought about it a lot and one mistake I made was I should've put my PFD on the guy right off the bat. After 25 miles or so of slugging it in weather your brain doesn't function tops, all I was focused on was getting him to calmer water

Watching it up close makes an impression


bluekayak

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That guy had a full wetsuit btw and his face was still blue


johnz

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Not to downplay the dangers of cold water or lack of a PFD, but this is also HIGHLY variable by individual and through acclimatization, physical conditioning, and medical conditions.   I'm a long distance open water swimmer and regularly swim in the bay around Alameda, used to swim a lot at aquatic park in SF.   I swam from Alcatraz back to Aquatic park, no wetsuit at all and that took me 42 minutes and I did not feel the least compromised on exiting the water.   Literally thousands of other people do this same swim every year.   How?  They practice by swimming in cold water regularly and become acclimatized. 

There is a lot of emphasis in the club put on kayak safety, launching, retrieval, self rescue, etc as it should be.   My personal take is if you can't swim strong to begin with, being out on a boat with basically zero freeboard is not such a great idea because eventually you're going to be swimming.   
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piski

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Not to downplay the dangers of cold water or lack of a PFD, but this is also HIGHLY variable by individual and through acclimatization, physical conditioning, and medical conditions.   I'm a long distance open water swimmer and regularly swim in the bay around Alameda, used to swim a lot at aquatic park in SF.   I swam from Alcatraz back to Aquatic park, no wetsuit at all and that took me 42 minutes and I did not feel the least compromised on exiting the water.   Literally thousands of other people do this same swim every year.   How?  They practice by swimming in cold water regularly and become acclimatized. 

There is a lot of emphasis in the club put on kayak safety, launching, retrieval, self rescue, etc as it should be.   My personal take is if you can't swim strong to begin with, being out on a boat with basically zero freeboard is not such a great idea because eventually you're going to be swimming.

Agreed that individual variables can differ greatly but also keep in mind that jumping in intentionally is different from going in accidentally. Most people are not mentally (and often not physically) prepared when they capsize or fall in.

Even well-conditioned swimmers over-cooled during events once in a while. I've witnessed firsthand a swimmer get hypothermia from an Alcatraz swim. He was no newbie and had done several previous crossings. For whatever reason the water got to him that day. Fortunately, it didn't set in until he was almost back in and all turned out OK.
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bluekayak

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johnz, that's a whole other topic and I agree for the most part

but with hordes of people now fishing from kayaks you're in the extreme minority with a few others like yakuza who train like maddogs, I used to be there

When you do those bay swims you time it with tide runs etc and probably there are days you would pass on it. I used to swim rough water and have always fished/dove whatever conditions I found on arrival so I see where you're coming from

the reality is ocean conditions can switch on a dime and most people should be sporting a PFD and a warm suit


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This is good information Paul. I appreciate it. I was talking with Tom at Clavey about the latest incident in Tomales bay. This man knew paddling. We were talking about how imperative it to have the PFD cinched down TIGHT. The mouth of Tomales can be very dangerous. Many people have died in boats and kayaks there.

Our quote when I was teaching the kids kayaking..."Three buckles, white knuckles!" Put them on as tight as possible without being too tight.
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