Dying of hypothermia knowing you were stupid! Important lessons

I thought this story worth reading. Have you ever wondered what it might be like to realize you just made your last mistake. A firsthand account of a near cold-water tragedy and what went through his head as he realized he was going to die from hypothermia.

No Short Trips - Small Craft Advisor (substack.com)


Couldn’t read it all it said start trial

But any small mistake in life may end it.

I’m a pessimist and I think it helps a bit.


I didn’t realize that. When I clicked on the link it worked for me. I think you can join for free. I had a subscription to the magazine, and they went digital. Sorry.

He knew he was in trouble because of the cold water, and slowly realized he was going to die. He also realized his careless mistakes. All he planned to do was anchor his Hobie 200 yards offshore and have his friend row him back. They misjudged the offshore wind and he capsized and was blown away in the dark. Very compellingly written by the guy experiencing it. He tried to swim back but tide and wind was against him, so he swam back to the boat. He tied himself so when he passed out from hypothermia his head would be above the water. A tug chanced by, he was semi-conscious, and his temp didn’t register on a hospital digital thermometer.


I hit the pay wall too, and don’t particularly want the free trial… Was Fritz retrieved as well???

Anyway, zealous enthusiasm seems what was the root cause of their stupidity.

Once we learn that even one little minor mistake while out on the water(Ever forget say, a water bottle?)can transform into something much worse or even fatal; do we learn to temper our enthusiasm and thereby increase our odds of survival.

I know I’ve learnt a few lessons the hard way.:wink:

Preparation is key.


The pay wall gets you to this:

In disbelief, I took stock of where this simple operation—moving a small boat 200 yards—had left me. My phone was dead from the initial water impact, I could see Fritz way off in the distance but didn’t know if he could see me, there were no other boats out on the water, no other people on shore, and the last bit of twilight was beginning to fade. I had a lifejacket, but was wearing soaked cotton clothing and had no light or radio. Even if there had been anyone around, yelling would have been useless, as the wind would have immediately scattered my cries.

And that tells the key part of the story, even if you do not know how it ends. Thanks for sharing, a good example of how a seemingly easy no problem trip suddenly devolves into a life or death matter.

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Here are some excerpts to fill in on his mental state as Hypothermia set in. Fritz managed to make it back to land.

“Strangely, I could feel myself drawn towards the temptation of giving up, even though I knew failure meant certain death. In hindsight, I think it’s because the act of giving up feels so similar to the sensation of success, at least in a superficially immediate way. I had been imagining making it to the pier, and had pictured the sense of release that I’d experience when collapsing on dry land. Giving up bears a deceptive resemblance, in that it offers a similar sense of release which comes with letting go and ceasing to try. I had to remind myself that they’re not the same.”

“I knew that my life was at stake, and that I had to summon every ounce of my strength in order to make one final sprint towards the boat. I gave it everything I had, moving my arms in the general form that I knew one made while swimming, even though I could no longer feel them or sense that they were actually propelling me through the water. I looked up just as I was drifting past the stern of the boat, reached out at the very last second, and barely caught hold of a small bit of line that was trailing off the submerged rudder.”

His condition when rescued.

"Getting me out of the water was another 15 minute process, since I was nearly dead-weight and wasn’t much use. When they’d finally gotten a rope under my arms and were pulling me up the side of the boat, I got wedged in the row of tires that typically line a tug. All I needed to do was put my leg out and push off from the side of the boat’s hull, but I couldn’t do it.

“I was so far gone that I never really saw the name of the boat or the faces of my rescuers. I only remember the floor of the engine room, where they carried me to be near the heat of the engine.”

I found this ending a relief and a bit concerning that Fritz didn’t realize his friend was in trouble.
“Fritz made it back to shore under his own power, mostly without incident, and had no idea I was in trouble.”


It is a great example of how quickly one can go from a perfectly fine situation to a desperate one. To me it is not a cold water example so much as another example of how it’s almost always a combination of factors.

Coast Guard Top 5

Operator Inexperience
Dangerous Waters
Operator Inattention

“Surprised” at how violent the wind was upon leaving the protected area"? Oopsy

Launching a small craft in 20-25 knots winds? Perhaps surprised again if winds pick up a little to 30 knots and look like this?

So for sure the lack of preparedness for cold water was a factor but this example would get many red flags on any standard safety checklist and it seems like survival in warm water might involve luck.

I have a friend in Michigan’s UP that tells a story about being blown over by increasing winds in a small sailboat on Lake Superior and then having the wind blow him and his swamped boat directly away from shore and by dumb luck the wind blew him into a small island.


You make some great points. I agree it is an example of so many mistakes all compounding the chances of a fatality, and he realized that when it was too late.

It was the slow inevitability of cold water as the Grim Reaper I found compelling from this story and wanted to share. A firsthand account of a lesson to learn from what went through his mind as he realized his potential outcome, and how the confusion and bodies impairment impacted him. It brought to life the desperation and regret from knowing if only, but you can’t change it. The writing for me was visceral. A bit more impactful than the statement that “Hypothermia can kill you. Dress for immersion.”


It’s not bad to “test” whether one can do it, provided a “safe” venue. I’ve done this by paddling agains a 25 knot sustained offshore wind (with higher gusts), in a channel between land and some of the inner Boston Harbor Islands, on a return leg. I was barely exceeding 1 MPH in my 14’ kayak, so it took three times as long to cover the 3 miles back to the launch.

I got caught on the same track back, with similar winds (not forecasted), in my Hobie pedal fishing kayak. Gee Whiz… I almost gave up several times and wanted to tack diagonal to the closest shoreline. But, I made it back to the launch… totally exhausted! Never again, will I venture out in a Hobie for forecasted winds of 15 knots plus.

Heck, from those experiences,I know not to take on significant paddling in winds of 20 knots plus. I don’t have the stamina for it anymore.


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We cancelled several winter trips this year at the coast due to winds of 20 and more. 15 is a good cutoff point and even then, it can be daunting.


Stresses in a sail change with wind speed and loading in a small boat. This changes the whole dynamic preparation-wise, not to mention boat handling as opposed to paddling/rowing with no sail.

As I’m spending more and more time canoe sailing than paddling, I have a whole new set of preparation rules/things to respect. For one thing, capsize recovery ain’t nearly as easy(if it ever is “easy” at all) as I can roll a kayak/pump/bail and wrestle a water tub filled canoe. Having added mast, leeboard, additional thwarts and a drop-in rudder, changes the whole equation. Extra buoyancy is now a must. On really large lakes and rivers, I have front, rear, AND side airbags. (Ain’t taken on the ocean as of yet, but I’ll get there soon.:wink:)

My protocols are thus:

  1. Be prepared. The Ol’ boy scout motto. Besides the regular checklist I have for paddling(whether day trip/multi-night) I set the entire rig up before cartopping, as a dry test to make sure the sheet, lines, and trim are all correct. Any little problem in the backyard could turn into a big problem on the water. Tinkering, tweaking and adjusting, spares any headaches later inside the cockpit.

  2. Check and double check the weather.
    Or as Master Carpenter Norm Abrams puts it, “Measure twice, cut once.” The best wind for almost any small boat is really about 7 knots. A lot of boats will have enough sail to capsize any inattentive/inexperienced skipper when the wind gets over 10 knots. And that’s often when water will start showing signs of getting rough, with small white caps…Doesn’t sound like much but it is! Higher than that, and not respectful of your experience, could become a recipe for small boat disaster. The right day/right conditions are worth waiting for.

Myself, I watch the tops of the trees/manmade edifices–If the bending or sway is too much–Then the larger lakes/rivers/coastal waterways where a swim would be longer…are definitely out.:stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

And when the rivers flow north, and wind is out of the south, I’ll even sail “up” rapid sets…

Small rigs on kayaks “spill” excess wind. Simply releasing the sheet if gusts pick up, has saved my bacon a number of times. And being decked, kayaks already have a windage advantage.


It seems like there are a lot of examples where first the wind kicks someone’s *** and they end up in the water and then the water kicks their *** big time. Seems like most of the Great Lakes tragedies follow this recipe and also summer tragedies on big Canadian lakes and even the Kennedy relative that launched a canoe in the wind to recover a beachball.

It just seems like wind is an even sneakier risk than cold water. With cold water the guidelines are clear and the water temp doesn’t change suddenly while you’re paddling.


Ah yes, the old double ***kicking one-two punch–When a seemingly benign light and breezey blues sky day, can change instantly to drastic conditions. Whether on great lake/ocean/a familiar home puddle…All we can do is adjust.

As to aspiring dead Kennedys, it’s almost a cliche’.:stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Take a look at the Beaufort Scale for judging wind speed from the observable conditions. Notice that what many would consider as windy is called a “moderate breeze of 11-16 knots with small waves 1-4 ft. becoming longer with numerous whitecaps”. This method was devised for ocean sailing and judging from land and sea the wind conditions back in 1805.

Beaufort Wind Scale (noaa.gov)

Yes, reading the wind is an important component when considering risks and making a go or no go decision. Once a sail is on a canoe or kayak then gust management becomes important. Just like you dress for emersion you should reduce sail early. The saying goes reef early and often. the other thing is to keep the mainsheet (line controlling the sail) in hand so you can let the sail out when a gust hits. The wind tells you it is coming if you watch what’s happening on the water’s surface. Tom and spiritboat have it right about wind and cold water being a double whammy. The wind is one aspect of weather that should be accounted for as to (I can’t help myself) whether the weather is good, or whether the weather is not. :laughing:

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Here’s a short vid I made sometime back when I was just getting started canoe sailing, using a homemade tarp sail about 36 sq. ft.(I should mention as a kid, I grew up sailing dingies/sunfish and even a laser on the Jersey shore…The day was bright and sunny, and in about 15 minutes the winds changed and the sky darkened. Glad it was summer and the lake small! Don’t know if the sound is working…Watch that jibe, lest ye become a “spirit” boy!

I’ve since upgraded to a 45 sq. ft sail and am currently sewing up a 60 sq.ft. tanbark balanced lug of Dacron, with two reef lines. Starting small with canoes being as narrow beamed as they are, and working my way up has proven a good way to go. Clouds gathering, time to head in…


Dang it I have enough projects going, and now you have me wanting to rig a canoe.

On your new lug sail you might want to add a downhaul to the boom at the mast to keep the Luff (front) of the sail as tight as you can get it. I suspect you know what luff means, but some here may not. I have a balanced lug on my Scamp. They race a small boat called the Oz Goose in Australia which has a balanced lug sail. Their racing group website has information about using a lugsail. I was a complete novice about lug sails about a year and a half ago.

Have you seen this canoe sailing book written and illustrated by a sailmaker. It has a wealth of info on all kinds of sail rigs and steering etc.

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My closest encounter with death due to hypothermia came while skiing at age 16 or 17. I was aware that I was dying due to bad decisions but hypothermia is a strange final companion.
If you click on the blog link below and scroll ahead to Chapter 9 ~ Mayhem and read through Chapter 24 ~ Stoopid Boyz you will get the jist. Chapters are very short so the whole ordeal is covered in 8 - 10 page downs.


Yep. Have had Bradshaw’s book for a number of years. Excellent and filled with attitude–But there are some errors where I think he was off base and the editors should’ve reigned him in. (I won’t elaborate here cause I don’t want to piss anybody off.)

I’m a big fan of Mik Storer’s designs, and have been thinking about ordering plans for the Oz Goose for sometime as a matter of fact. I like that at 12’, I can easily throw it atop my car/my pick-up and be off, as I detest trailering. (Trailering being the reason why I also talked myself out of a CLC Waterlust; besides the price–But if I was going to trailer anything, first choice would definitely be a Scamp.:wink:) Not sure yet with the Goose, whether I want to be caught that far from home in it when the wind dies, then find I have no alternate means of propulsion to get back up the Hudson River. At least in a canoe/kayak, I’m never say 20 miles up Sheet’s Creek without a paddle.:stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:And haven’t seen anybody take oars to an Oz Goose’s 4’beam…But otherwise, good to go as it’s an easy build (I’ve built three boats previously)and looks much more zippy and fun than any 8’ Puddle Duck Racer.

If you’re on Facebook, two canoe sailing groups I recommend: “Skinny Hull” and “Our First Love:The Sailing Canoe.”

When finished with the sewing, I’ll present my new rig here complete with appropriate downhaul. Luff will be parallel with mast and located approximately at 40% along yard with a parel atop.
(Oh sailors and their long winded language!):sailboat::exploding_head::scream:

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I was talking with a nice young lady at cardio rehab yesterday. She is a therapist and very outdoors oriented. She mentioned that she went paddle boarding yesterday on Lake Tahoe. That lake is cold in the summer and deadly this time of year. I asked her what she wore. “A winter jacket and sweat pants.” “Did you wear a lifejacket?” was my next question." “I stay near shore.” she said.

I was flabbergasted. This seems to be more common all the time. I had the wake up conversation with her. Only because she is a friend and I care about her welfare. Most people that need to hear the speech are offended and want you to Mind your own Business.

Be aware of the cold water reflex. Fall into cold water and often there is an autonomic reflex of the nervous system and a big inhale of water. People drown at Lake Tahoe pretty often. Don’t be one of them.

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