Here is an interesting link, to a Facebook page for the National Center for Cold Water Safety. I looked at the recent post on the page that listed a number of incidents in the last 30 days. All in the US though one in Alaska. Some of the people who capsized made it because they were gotten to very quickly, a few did not. But what is striking in this article is how short a time it took before the ones who did get rescued reported that they were unable to do much to help themselves. Way less time than actual loss of life.
It’s not surprising at all that people who aren’t dressed for the conditions are quickly incapacitated or drown. The average person has basically zero understanding of the dangers of cold water and how quickly it can kill. When I started paddling, I was fortunate that the club I joined took safety training very seriously and we spent a lot of time on and in cold seawater (down as low as 28F), in dry suits, of course. Once you experience it, you gain a healthy respect and a desire to pass that knowledge onto others. I also strongly encourage paddlers to read “Sea Kayaker, Deep Trouble”, which is a very sobering book detailing how relatively minor errors in judgement can have serious consequences, even for paddlers who are reasonably well-prepared.
Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, (Professor Popsicle) from the University of Manitoba has developed an information and training program for cold water survival called “Cold Water Bootcamp” You can view a number of training videos here: http://www.coldwaterbootcamp.com/pages/downloads.html
There has been a good trend for a bit now in cold water training to be clearer about the threats of cold water. Particularly, where years ago the cold water clinics seemed to focus almost exclusively on the threat of hypothermia, the major trend now is to talk about hypothermia being perhaps the third thing that will kill you (after cold shock, and loss of control of extremities leading to drowning) and that it can take some time depending on body mass, etc., etc.,.
This helps folks understand why protection is important, even close to shore, why swimming for shore is generally a bad strategy if not protected from the cold, why deliberate speed is important, etc.
It’s also good to see the selection of very serviceable, breathable dry suits expand, making them more available to folks - shops should ensure they are offering a selection and not just one brand.
I credit this book as being the reason I am still alive. A good friend lent me a copy when I was early in the sport and thought I was all that. I got the message and changed my ways, particularly how I dress for immersion. I have given several copies to friends when they come into the sport.
Purchased “Deep Trouble” and “More Deep Trouble” not long after I got my first boat. First few stories were so scary I almost gave up the sport (who wants to die paddling a kayak?), but I continued reading.
And learned so much that by the time I started reading “More Deep Trouble” I could guess what would go wrong.
I re-read them in the winter to avoid sliding into complacency.
I hope I was part of the solution on Sunday. Went on a hike along a stream with my daughter and her family. (Husband and 6 and 4 year old boys). I heard the 4 year old say the word ‘swim’. I said “That water is COLD COLD COLD.” The 6 year old wanted to put his hand in it and his father found a safe spot for him to do it. I felt very good about that little event.