cold water anyone?

an excellent clip about cold water immersion.


wish we had local classes like that
Dam, I had to turn up the heat after watching that. Good video. Looks like good training too - maybe a shortened (more affordable) version of that should be offerred and recommended for all paddlers who venture out in cold water conditions. I wonder if the CG or somebody offers something like that near Memphis? I’d sure like to try it.

I’ve done a little bit of cold water practice with friends, and I’ve also fallen in accidentally in winter. But there weren’t trained medical people around, and we didn’t push it to the edge. I think I would benefit from some experimentation, especially about the so-called gasp reflex. I’ve gone from dry to total submersion a total of 4 times in winter, 2 intentional and 2 accidental, and I’ve never experienced the gasp reflex. I have felt an extreme urgency to breathe, but in all cases I was able to suppress it long enough to surface. I don’t know the exact water temperatures, but I’m pretty sure all were in the mid to low 40s, possibly as low as upper 30s (based on time of year and current river temperature charts, which weren’t available back then). Presumably, at lower temps I might still gasp and take in water. If so, I’d like to know where the breakpoint is.

A couple points about the video here. First, I wonder about their 1-10-1 rule, if that’s proper to teach given the high sensitivity to water temp and individual variation. That may be right for 45* water, but it’s clearly way off for 35* and 55* water, and it seems like people are just as likely to encounter those conditions as 45*. In fact, 45* seems to be kind of the edge of the cliff, where survival becomes doubtful, and more so for every degree below that point. Thus it seems they should emphasize monitoring water temp below there and acting faster as 32* is approached.

I also note that the tests had them all going in feet first, and some appear to not even get submerged - one of the girls in PFDs appears to have dry hair. It’s far worse to have your head submerged and your body flung out and vulnerable, IMO, as is likely in a capsize. Of course, this video wasn’t about paddling, and in the case of a sinking boat, then a feet first entry makes sense. But for any canoe/kayak-oriented cold water course, I think you’d want to start with a feet first entry (in case of the gasp reflex) but then move on to a more realistic horizontal or head-first entry.

They were trying to do two things:

  1. Convey time scales and reduce panic - basically:

    A. You will be friggin sacred and gasping for a minute or so. If you survive that ( cold shock can induce heart palpitations ):

    B. You have 10 minutes or so to do something useful.

    C. If you are still floating, you might expect to last an hour or so

  2. The KISS principal - 1-10-1 is very easy to remember.

just read about gordon
Giesbrecht last week as I was looking up info. on hypothermia! Very good educational videos if you click on the thread of his name and near the bottom, click on the 3 videos on hypothermia - I used to snowmobile and i am very lucky i never went through the ice although I had some very close calls!

These are “must see” short videos for anyone around water whether just cold or frozen water!! It could save your life!

Excellent video thanks for the link NM

Different Numbers
I was once told by a NPS ranger on Isle Royale in Lake Superior about the 50-50-50 rule: if you go into 50-degree water, for 50 minutes, you stand a 50% chance of survival.

As memphis points out, there is certainly individual variation, but you don’t know what yours is until it’s nearly too late.

A PFD, besides offering crucial buoyancy, also adds a measurable degree of thermal protection–two good reasons to wear it, esp. in cold water.


dr popsicle
Yeah, the giesbrecht stuff is good - I like his nickname, Dr. Popsicle. Here’s a link for others to his university page, it has 3 videos which I guess are the same you were talking about.

On the 1-10-1 thing, suiram, I guess you’re right, I was too hasty in rejecting it. Who’s gonna be timing it anyway in those circumstances. Giesbrecht uses the same formual in his video. What it really means is a short while, a little bit, longer than you think. For A SHORT WHILE you’ll be panicked and distressed - during that time, just focus on not drowning and calming yourself. Then, for A LITTLE BIT you’ll get over the panic and be able to act. This is when you try to save yourself or, failing that, set up to let others save you. Lastly, for LONGER THAN YOU THINK you’ll be helpless but still alive, able to recover if someone else is able to save you.

Thus, Dr. Popsicle recommends that if you fall through the ice and fail in your efforts to get out, then your last effort should be to hold still, partly out of the water, so that your clothes freeze to the ice and keep you from sliding back in the water after you become unconscious.

Gasp reflex
This gasp reflex business is pretty scary. If it’s totally physiological, then by definition you can’t do anything about it, except maybe try to prevent it from happening. I’ve heard that wearing a neoprene diver’s hood or something similar can help. What do those of you who frequently paddle/surf in cold water wear or do to deal with this potential problem?


Very good info…
Thanks for posting that!

I purposefully splash my face while paddling. When I do need to roll my exposed skin is usually very cold anyway so there is no “shock”. I cannot say this will work for everyone but it has worked for me.

my only question is
why was it sponsored by the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA)?

Great Vid, timely, thanks

You can even have your own NASBLA
T shirt. Wear that baby into a bar full of loggers.


Task preparation may suppress it in
some cases. Every spring I had to dive into 45-50 degree water in a swimming pool to remove the plugs in the bottom. Somehow it never occurred to any of us to get a wet suit— it would have made the task easier and safer. But I would just take a big breath, dive in, and I was probably down there for 20-30 seconds or so removing the plugs. Then I would surface, climb out, and go shiver under covers for a while.

I never experienced any gasping or loss of the normal breathing control I used when diving into water. Perhaps if I were pushed into cold water without warning, by one of any number of helpful pnetters, I would show the gasp reflex.

I spread that link around.

I’m a lumberjack, and I’m OK !

Neoprene swimmers cap
Paddling my lake/bay canoe in southern California I have not fallen out of my canoe in cold water. However, another favorite activity of mine is bodysurfing, which involves swimming and diving into the surf, (and catching a very good wave). In the winter, the water temp is 55-60 F. I wear a Promotion full triathlon wetsuit, neoprene socks and a neoprene swim cap (extends over my ears). Underneath my cap I also wear swimmers ear plugs. Wearing the cap, my head is very comfortable for extended periods of time in 55-60 F water. When bodysurfing my body is immersed 100% of the time and my head is immersed much of the time.

I have read that neoprene suits are not that effective in temperatures colder that 50 F. Most recommend dry suits for water colder than 50 F. I do not know whether a neoprene cap would help in very cold water for a short time. Also, I have no experience with a diver’s hood.

I’m still having some trouble understanding the gasp thing. I have to believe that it must be controllable to some extent, because of stories like yours and others like it I’ve heard and my own experiences. The closest I remember coming is I remember one time thinking while underwater that I really needed air bad and that I must have just exhaled before falling in and that I must have gone deep because it was taking too long for me to surface - but they were all just panicy thoughts, and my actions were fully controllable.

I don’t know if it’s related, but I remember early one summer on Moosehead Lake in Maine, I was launching at a remote spot when some people came to the shore near me and jumped in the lake one after another. They all went in over their heads and let out a blood-cuddling yell as they broke the water surface on coming up. I got to talking to one of the guys later and he said they were locals and that they jumped in the lake every morning, year-round, as long as there wasn’t ice on the surface. And he said the yell kept them warm - if they did it, they hardly felt the cold, but if they didn’t yell they would come out shivering.

At the time, I wrote it off to locals lying to tourists, but maybe it’s related to the gasp thing somehow.

Gasp reflex
A dive-type hood, dry suit, gloves, and familiarization with the water will prevent this. My favorite hood is not quite dive-quality, but it does have an underchin strap. It’s quite comfortable, though it’s a little hard to hear when I’m wearing it. Roll every time out. If it’s too cold for you to be willing to roll, don’t go out.

Surfing and Gasp Reflex
If you swim often in cold water your body changes it’s response. Wearing a wet suit of appropriate thickness and hood or helmet is enough; sticking your head and chest in the cold water before you paddle out gets you set. In winter I always wade out into the water and go under a a wave to check that everything is zipped up and give my self a nice little cold jolt on the face.

When you paddle the the first big powerful wave that blows over you … really gets you primed … after that first big powerful cold wave… you are set…

Visiting someplace with really cold water like Northern UK I do the same thing even in summer.