Snyder added that hunters using certain boats, canoes or kayaks, such as waterfowl hunters, now are required by Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission regulations to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD or life jacket) from Nov. 1 through April 30. The requirement states that anyone underway or at anchor on boats less than 16 feet in length or any canoe or kayak must wear the PFD or life jacket, as cold water shock is a major factor in boating fatalities when water temperatures are less than 70 degrees F.

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Especially when they’ve been drinking.

Laws for wearing PFD’s in cold weather
are implemented for recovery operations not life saving operations. If you are not dressed for immersion it is assumed you’ll be subject to hypothermia and die. It is just quicker and cheaper to recover a body that is floating on top of the water than setting up dive teams to try and locate one below the surface. Now if they would only require the bridge jumpers to wear a PFD…

Hunters fishermen and paddlers
are often in cold water. You do lose finger dexterity quickly. Even in warm water a PFD on the deck is useless. Screening students, I find virtually none know how to put one on in the water, never mind cold water.

Connecticut has had such a PFD law for a long time.For once I agree. When I lived in CT we met a kayaker that in December was not wearing it. I had the gall to challenge him in shallow water to dump and put it on. The PFD was on the back deck. He couldn’t get it on. We were at the car so I did not feel too mean.

Most inexperienced people underestimate the power of cold and the difficulty of donning a PFD in water.

If you are a customer of mine you will wear your PFD.

Go on a trip with experienced paddlers. Except in a sanctioned race or FreeStyle competition, the PFD is on and no one makes a big deal about wearing it.

Not convinced about “cold water
shock” but hypothermia will set in pretty fast. Some of us seem not to be susceptible to “gasp reflex” or “cold water shock.”

hypothermia does not set in that fast
if you look at the mechanism of shunting blood to the core, the fingers and toes are sacrificed first. The first thing to go is dexterity. You need some dexterity to get that PFD on.

Hypothermia of course will follow. Hypothermia is defined as a core temp below 95 degrees. Note that extremities are not mentioned. They are cooler earlier as blood is diverted to essential internal organs.

So hypothermia really does not have any relevance here.

About the gasp reflex
My roommate was discharged from the Navy. His first paddle we planned in a local lake, and it stormed. The water was rough and I told him what would likely happen, but he wanted to go anyways. He did not make it 2 paddle strokes before hitting the drink. After we got back on land and warmed and I could breathe again for laughing, I asked him if he suffered the gasp reflex, and he replied that he did. This was in August and the water was still pretty warm, I am confident that it was still over 60.

I was only in the sub 50 degree pool
pulling plugs out of the bottom, for maybe 5 minutes max, and when I came out, I was shaking. That was hypothermia. It took the better part of an hour in a warm bed to recover.

But as I said before, I had absolutely no gasp reflex. I had full control of my breath.

Hypothermia creeps up in stages

Shivering is early but dexterity can be lost earlier due to vasoconstriction.

50 F water is actually pretty warm around here. Winter conditions call for more rapid extrication so the regulation is not unreasonable. I doubt there is a water body in PA that has temps as high as you experienced.

I used to do a cold water workshop in a safe place (beach at Knubble Bay camp with several safety boats) to illustrate how quickly the loss of dexterity happens. Also in my Registered Sea Kayak training in March we learned firsthand how fast you go to basic “scoop rescues” as hand dexterity is out the window. Scrambles onto the back deck simply dont work and the stirrup rescue does not either. This was pre heel hook days. That might have worked. The water temps in Casco Bay then were in the low thirties.

We are NOT talking about bronchospasm or the gasp reflex which can be reproduced in dunking a head in ice water in a heated room.

When I dumped swam in Feb 2010

– Last Updated: Nov-16-11 10:09 PM EST –

I did not gasp when I hit the water. But once my head was above water the gasping was almost uncontrollable making it hard to call on the radio.

I do feel the PFD helped buy the time I needed by keeping my body higher and allowing me to concentrate on the rescue, the insulation had to have helped too.

One thing I felt I didn't emphasize enough was that I got a too complacent about flatwater where I paddle often and nearly paid for it.


I would wear mine
I like to be wearing my PFD when the water is that chilly. That said, this whole “instant death by cold water” thing seems a bit overblown. I have put on a pfd in the water many times. I have also swam in water that was just above freezing (about 3 degrees Celcius) on several occasions. Cold water is dangerous, no doubt, but legislating common sense does not seem to be the solution, in my opinion.

Something I learned as a psychologist

– Last Updated: Nov-16-11 11:34 PM EST –

is, study individual cases before you rake up generalizations in places like wikipedia.

I was skinny as a rail at the time, and so lost heat very quickly once I was in the water. It was hypothermia.

Incidentally, I don't think anyone requires a core body temp of 95 degrees for first degree hypothermia.

Wikipedia is a handy source for all to read from what I dealt with in 27 years of dealing with cold water emergencies. It was not my training source.

I am not shooting from the hip. I know the difference between various types of cold water exposure. Not only as a paddler but as a professional medic on the shoreline of Connecticut.

As a psychologist you must be familiar with PTSD. I had counseling but am still having trouble dealing with a seven person van submersion. The three adults died. Three of the four kids did not.

Go shoot elsewhere

Many ways to one result

– Last Updated: Nov-17-11 6:43 AM EST –

There are a lot of ways for someone to get into a state where they can't take care of themselves to get out of the water. I've hit early stages of hypothermia, with the uncontrollable shivers and diminishing overall body control, after two minutes of standing on the shore in a wet suit with dry top when a summer squall came thru and the temp dropped to the mid-60's. I ran to the car to undress ASAP and had enough hand to win the arguments with the gaskets, but that was fading as I tugged away. That's hardly the only case of hypothermia in early summer temps that can be found.

I've lost finger dexterity when my body was still just fine, though much less of that because if anything I always overglove. I've been surprised by moderate temps of water in one way or another and come up spitting some out.

As to the gasp thing - anyone who has gone through learning to roll and brace well has learned breath control under some adversity. How much adversity in terms of temps probably depends on whether they have been sticking their head in cold water as temps cooled. Someone who is in training has a few minutes to prepare themselves.

But someone who truly does not expect to capsize and has never practiced it could have a very bad response even in warmer water. Does it matter whether they had a clinical gasp response to cold or just lost it under water from panic? If a responder is quite close by, maybe. But the paddler is in trouble regardless of how the water came in.

Of course if someone takes in water and it is a half an hour effort to get to anywhere for help, whether that's a paddle from the middle of the lake or a long walk, it then matters whether it is 20 degrees or 80 outside.

So in response to the original post - most new paddlers underestimate the ways they can get into trouble. That's because they haven't gone thru the work yet to realize what is involved in handling a capsize - things like flotation, workable hands, easily grabbed rigging and head and sinuses that are protected from a painful ice cream headache. By this time of year in the northeast, it is more prudent to find pool time and use the winter to get this stuff down than find out in a bad way outside.

OP, Requirement starting Nov 1 PFD MUST
be worn. I don’t know what the penalty is. Maybe they can take your boat?!?! All good stuff on hypothermia, can never hear it enough because it’s always tempting to unzip when the sun is beating down.

That we all 'oughta wear one all the time; the precise facts of cold water immersion are counting angles on pin heads.

I wonder if they use the 16 ft length
to exempt competition oarsmen and skullers. None of us wore pfds on the Schuylkill. The rowing lobby has had to protect itself from pfd laws in other states.

I wonder if you knew a fellow oreswoman
named Nancy Monahan?

I often object to pfd requirements but
I usually react badly to PFD requirements because I’m an athlete for which a PFD is counter productive in some conditions and training modalities and I don’t want a “one size fits all rule to screw up my training…”. I wear voluntarily in the cold and in open water but I will not wear under any circumstance when doing intervals on my lake in our summer heat. My only concern then is surviving the workout. If I have a heart attack and die or drown, the body will float quickly enough when the water is 34C…

But, sportsmen are increasingly using kayaks to hunt waterfowl and even for cold water fishing (Striped Bass in fall and winter in places where conditions can get pretty hairy…). I can’t see that wearing some floatation would negatively affect their experience considering all the crap they wear and use anyway and the fact that they aren’t pursuing athletics… Plus, a PFD in winter is very useful for recovering dead bodies. Bloat and Float takes a loooonnnngggg time and might not even happen when the water temp is below 10C. When it’s really cold some bodies go to the bottom and don’t come back up.

That was planned, right?
There’s a big difference between unexpectedly going head-first into cold water vs. knowing that you are going to put your head in it.

The hypothermia will still happen, but you can, to some extent, control gasping/sucking if you KNOW what you’re about to do.