Hypothermia, the silent killer

-- Last Updated: Apr-08-07 4:48 PM EST --

I posted this on my paddling blog, but wanted to share here as I feel it is an important message, especially for noobies...

Hypothermia, the silent killer
Lets face it, sooner or later, you are going to fall out of your boat. And I am talking about when you did not expect it. Hopefully you will be prepared and able to get back in, and stay warm and dry in the process. At least warm. Then you can continue your paddle. A near death experience turns into no more than a short interuption of your paddling fun if you are prepared for immersion. I rarely go out without a 10 litre sized dry bag that contains a complete change of warm dry clothes. This could save your life, and if not yours, someone elses.

There was a recent tragic death of a young paddler who died of exposure that prompted me to remind us all how quickly cold water saps the life out of us. There are many things paddlers can do to minimize risk and exposure, and the more of these the better. To list a few:

- Dress for exposure, this includes a dry suit or neoprene wetsuit & pfd.
-Paddle in shallow water near shore.
-Paddle with a buddy who can assist you reenter.
-Learn to roll back up or self rescue skills with a paddle float.
-Carry a dry change of clothes and a space bag... (a better form of a space blanket).
-Keep your hands, feet and head warm... hood, gloves, booties/socks.
-Bring warm fluids like coffee or tea, pack hand warmers and fire starter if you paddle alone.
-Carry a VHF radio, cell phone and flares to call for help with.

Once in the water, the extremities shut down quickly so you must act fast to get back in the boat or on shore and start the rewarming process. You will quickly lose the ability to do simple things with your fingers like buckles, buttons, even attach a spray skirt. The mind numbing happens next and you do not think properly. It all goes downhill from there quickly if you are not prepared and you are dead within minutes... Do not let this happen to you or your friends.

Amen NM

The chilling facts
This link to a Canadian study was recently posted on the Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK) message board.


As the initial BASK poster put it: “a very good read on -Initial immersion or cold shock - Ch. 1 and 2 are important. Mostly ch.1”

Dynamite article!
That’s a terrific article. It should be required reading for all who boat in cold water. Too bad this thread probably isn’t getting much attention because the subject is so often discussed here.

Sample, relevant to various discussions on trying to “swim for it”…

It has now become apparent that much more emphasis must be put on

swimming failure as a cause of death. It must also be understood that

ability to swim in warm water is no indication of how well a human can

swim in cold water. The classic testimony heard in the coroner’s court

is: “We saw him go over the side, he started to swim and by the time

we had the boat turned around and tried to identify where he was lost,

he had disappeared. How could that be? He was an excellent swimmer.”

These are not rare events either and are commonly reported in the


My Conclusion These Days…

– Last Updated: Apr-08-07 10:09 AM EST –

is that folks who would pay attention has and likely done their reading and homework on the subject. The ones who don't, for whatever reasons, won't pay attention even when posted here.

The killing season is here. Every year, since I've started paddling, there has and will continue to be several deaths related to cold water. It's part of the rite of spring for paddling sports.


Folks here know better?
> Folks who would pay attention has and likely done

their reading and homework on the subject. The

ones who don’t, for whatever reasons, won’t pay

attention even when posted here.

I’d agree with you – except for the very heated (pun not intended) discussion here a few months back about whether you could swim 50-100 yards in cold water. Lotsa folks said “hey, I’m a strong swimmer… I could do that no problem”. Worse, they were selecting paddling strategies based on that belief.

Yep, indeed the rite of spring – but folks reading here knowing better – not necessarily.


Like I Said…

– Last Updated: Apr-08-07 11:51 AM EST –

"for whatever reasons..." Those threads are perfect examples. They believe what they choose to believe. The folks taking the position that they can "swim" to safety has the same info that you and I have. One google on "paddling" and "hypothermia" can bring up a bunch of resources to folks who know how to click and get to PNet.

I just feel don't feel compelled to play safety police and argue with folks about it.


living on borrowed time. Just ordered drysuits for Aaron and myself. Tired of worrying, tired of turning down the better whitewater over the winter, or running it worrying about my son(he worries about me). Swam a couple weeks ago in my wetsuit, water was cold, day was warm, I was lucky. Aaron and I have had a few close calls this winter, figure God owes me nothing

well said
One life, priceless.

Seriously, one less person I am likely to read about in the news, or here as a tradegy. But a drysuit is no sure thing…

However, think hard… when is the last time you read about a paddler who died … in a drysuit… something to think about…

Drysuit Helps…

– Last Updated: Apr-08-07 3:07 PM EST –

but it's not a panacea. It's a total package of skills, judgement and gear (including immersion wear).

I've been out all year... with a wetsuit. It provides as much protection, maybe more than my drysuits, given the rocky area which I surf. Actually, for my situation, I decided a wetsuit is safer though I wouldn't want to test that out. All I know is that I am out more than most folks in cold weather and rough conditions to know what works for me.

Just because someone sports a drysuit doesn't mean that a person is necessarily safe but it does show that person has thought about the possibilities.


I love my timing
buying dry suits today, and the snow is just about off the banks… after running some nutty ww in January in a shorty wetsuit and 8 other river trips so far this year, some just playing in the waves, but all the trips wet, and dodging the ice chunks as well. Well it’s not warming up in a hurry, the sailboat will be offshore in another month, and there’s next years winter paddling, so once again I think I’ll get a decent return on investment.

My timing
I bought my drysuit last August:-) Saved a bundle. I used it all winter and am having withdrawl thinking of not being able to use it as it warms up.

I have a wetsuit,but hate wearing it! If I’m canoeing close(50’) from shore when the waters cold,I wear wool underware pants,socks and top and hat.I also always bring a drybag with a dry change of clothes.I have been wet a few times and although its not as good as the wetsuit,It’s a LOT better than fleece or cotton clothes.I’m looking for some wool pants that are not so baggy.


Putting You On The "Spot…"
if you don’t mind.

You’ve been here on PNet for a bit. You paddled all winter with just a “shortie” wetsuit (probably not even a surfing wetsuit) which among the die hard winter paddlers would be considered inadequate.

Why didn’t you pick up a drysuit earlier? For the lack of knowledge about hypothermia, and/or because of any number of other reasons?

Since you offered, I think it would be interesting to read your prior reasoning.

For me, I didn’t even consider winter paddling until I had a roll (not first year). And, when I did have a reliable roll (second summer), I got a drysuit before cold weather arrived. I’ve been paddling winters since.


assume you mean me Sing

– Last Updated: Apr-09-07 8:14 PM EST –

Good question, several reasons. One, my canoes are heavily airbagged, my sons 15' dagger and my 16' Swift both have a pair of 5' bags wedged under the seats fore and aft, I also have a bow bag. The Encore has about 10' of bags in a 13' hull. These canoes sit high even when swamped, high enough to get back in, stay partially dry, and start bailing.
Second, we've only flipped once in the past 2 years tandeming, and that was in warmer weather. I flipped a couple weeks ago, as I said the water was cold ,air was warm, I was lucky. Actually stayed in the water to finish bailing the canoe out, and swam underwater for old times sake, and to freak my son out. we have both swamped a few times but basically it's just the lower legs getting wet.I always have 2 towels, a blanket, and a change of clothes in the drybag.
Third (for me anyways); I grew up swimming year round, certified WSI throughout my youth, have the closed up ear and nasal passages to prove the years of cold water swimming, as my specialist Dr. noticed.Worked construction and rode motorcycles year round which acclimates one to cold weather quite well.
Fourth....$$, outfitting 2 people with drysuits is pretty expensive.Just spent 4.5 times the price of my latest canoe on drysuits and better gloves. Kind of figured on a typical new england winter, and as you know, it ended up being a paddling dream season, february notwithstanding.
Main concern for me is my son, as any parent shares. We've been upping the ante the last couple months,Aarons loving the cl. 3 and wants to go 4(over my dead body), been lucky and skillful, and realize one makes their own luck.

Thanks For Sharing.

Good morning Sing
I have a photo album from oct. 22 last year titled “last paddle of the season”. Kind of summed up my expectations for the winter. Never expected to keep paddling this year.

“think hard… when is the last time you read about a paddler who died … in a drysuit”

Faulty logic.

By the time a paddler buys a ($200+) drysuit, chances are the paddler is pretty serious about paddling.

Skill and judgement is way more important than gear. A serious paddler who choose to buy a dry suit have good judgement (and probably equally good skill).

It’s not the drysuit. It’s whoever wears it.

a few years back
a local paddler went out and did not return.

He was found in the water with his drysuit unzipped.

checked the water temp today…
Hi everyone,

Up here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Red River (of the North) has been mostly ice free for the last two weeks. Every day I would drive to work over the bridge and wish I could start paddling after the long winter.

Finally I’m off work for an extended period. I went down to the local city park/boat launch to check on the conditions.

No surprise, the entire driveway from the dock was flooded up about 200 feet (horizontal) and was jammed with ice. I used my digital thermometer and found the water temp. was 5.1 C/41 F.

I tested my cold tolerance and stuck my hand in for about 10-15 seconds before I had to pull out in pain.

I guess I need to do some dryland training until things warm up.

So close, yet so far…