Lack of Lifejacket leads to Survival?

Interesting follow-up story on a recent tragic accident on Chamberlain Lake in Maine: The news article mentions that one man out of three who survived the accident was not wearing a lifejacket. The story partially attributes his survival to the fact that he was forced to move more than the men who were wearing life jackets and thus was able to fight off death by hypothermia:

“In the days that followed, Valente’s doctors told him that his extra weight and height, and his not having a life preserver might have saved him while his friends died, as his bulk insulated him better against the cold and his need to kick his legs to stay afloat forced his heart to work harder.”

–See for full article.

Two things come out of this for me:

(1) I will continue to always wear a pfd on the water.

(2)I am questioning the conventional wisdom that in cold water survival situations movement or swimming causes the body to lose heat faster and should be avoided.

extra bulk
I think the mention of extra bulk was the key point - there is a reason seals, walruses, etc. are all so fat. This was probably why he survived.

Everything I have read says that moving in cold water will increase your heat loss more than the extra heat created in your body due to motion.

Why believe the doctors?
They are not experts and are only engaging in amateur speculation.

Do the doc’s paddle?
They don’t know everything. The only doctor who could give me a good answer about riding horses after the illeostomy was one who rode herself. The others were well-meaning but had no idea what they were talking about (the smart ones admitted it).

Common sense says the doctor is…

– Last Updated: Jun-08-07 2:52 PM EST –

...wrong. A well-fitting PFD actually protects much of your torso from free-flowing water. Constant exposure to "new" water, which has not already been heated by one's own body robs your heat much quicker than a stagnant layer which is warmed by the body but doesn't immediately flow away taking the heat with it. A protected, warmer layer of water under your PFD reduces the temperature gradiant in that area and thus reduces the rate of heat loss. My guess is that doctor never took a class in physics, or he had no aptitude for it and the principles never "stuck".

here’s another reason it seems wrong,

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

... in addition to what has been said so far.

Everone pretty much knows that when your body chills, circulation gets greatly reduced to the extremeties in order to preserve the core and vital organs. By placing blood and oxygen demands on the extremeties, the body would be less able to reduce blood flow to them.

And taking this one step further,…
…cold-water survival tips normally say to keep activity to a minimum because movement flushes water over the limbs, speeding heat loss.

Dangerous !
What a dangerous idea. If one examines the drownings that occur in this nation each year, the easy conclusion is that many more would be saved if PFD’s are worn, whether the water is cold, hot, or medium. Read the River Safety Reports published by AWA. The odds of drowning are much greater thatn succuming to hypothermia, so you’re always better off wearing it. Also, I kinda doubt any doctors said these things, unless they just simply do not know how hypothermia works.

There has been only one situation I’ve seen where wearing a PFD was more dangerous than not. It was on the lower Sabine River between Tex. and La. not too far from the Gulf of Mexico. The river there is very wide, so without shade. The temp was 103 degrees with no clouds in sight. There was over one hundred paddlers and not one put on their PFD. I guess you’d have to be there to experience how undebatable the situation was but believe me most folks would have passed out pretty quickly after donning a PFD, that day.


If he had that much blubber,
I guess it made him bouyant enough without a PFD.


– Last Updated: Jun-08-07 4:40 PM EST –

"(2)I am questioning the conventional wisdom that in cold water survival situations movement or swimming causes the body to lose heat faster and should be avoided."

Good grasp of statistics! It doesn't make much sense to draw a conclusion from -one- example.

It looks like he was close to death and he -was- using floatation (the dry bag).

It's not like one would be guaranteed to live with a PFD and die without one. It's also possible that the other two could have been resusitated.

There is probably a fair amount of variation in survivability. The problem is that it would be a bit difficult to investigate this.

Beyond the clear indication that these unfortunate people were not dressed for mmersion, it is impossible to draw any clear meaning from this tragedy.

I'm not sure if it is mere "conventional wisdom" anyway. I think some of this was the result of modelling or testing of it in the Navy.

I don’t buy it…
for a wonderful book on the subject get your hands on a copy of the essentials of sea survival. Great book.


Proof, some doctors are stupid too
The Doctor would have been smarter, had he not offer such a stupid comment.

me neither

– Last Updated: Jun-08-07 5:05 PM EST –

don't buy it. There was a guy years ago that floated around the San Juans for some crazy length of time. He curled up in the survival position and tried not to use any energy. I think he may have actually been in a dry suit.

My theory on the above story: the big guy was big because he eats a lot. He probably ate more recently than the others. He had fuel burning the fire inside, the others ran out of fuel too fast. :^}

Yeah, just call Quincey.

Simple experiement
Here is a simple experiement you can do right now in your kitchen to demonstrate that moving water transfers heat more rapidly than still water.

Take two idnetical drinking glasses and fill them with hot tap water. Put an ice cube in each. Stir one.

The ice cube in the stirred glass will melt much sooner than in the non-stirred glass.

Doctors and opinions
Disclaimer: I am not disparaging doctors. I like doctors. I am alive today because of doctors. Some of my best friends are doctors.

That said, it has been my experience that doctors - much like P-Netters - are wont to express their personal opinions. Unfortunately when they do, that opinion immediately is ascribed a higher level of credibility than the opinions of mere mortals. Even if the opinion expressed is not within the said doc’s realm of training or experience. And if teh TV folks ask for an explaination from teh doc, well, you might as well assume that it will be cast in concrete.

As to the reason why he survived, the surface area - to - mass ration is lower for us big folks and very high for newborns. We don’t lose heat as quickly as the babies do. Factolife.


thanks for the article!
I’m ditching my PFD today

Bulk makes a big difference.
The only thing that makes sense is that having to move might have forced him to stay awake. Physics and physiology both argue that moving in cold water will make you lose heat faster.

And add one more
Variable How long can you tread water without a pfd in cold water(or warm) as opposed to with one??? I think the Dr. was reckless with his comment. Even if it did have a factor in this one mans survival. It was only one factor! And saying to the public that not wearing a pfd saved him. May only get the next person killed because they heard it was safer without one by a Dr.!!

My $.02



Me too
and I’m gonna gain 100lbs so I will live longer.

Ah ha …
So now all I have to do his eat like a pig, and gain a few hundred pounds and I’m good to go.