Rules for cold water safety

This is old news to most of you but this site has some good info

NOTE: Each rule is followed by a number of Case Histories - Real-life examples of close calls and fatalities.

  1. Always Wear Your PFD
  2. Always Dress For The Water Temperature
  3. Field-Test Your Gear
  4. Swim-Test Your Gear Every Time You Go Out
  5. Imagine The Worst That Could Happen and Plan For It

PDF vs lifejacket

– Last Updated: Feb-10-13 7:20 PM EST –

One thing to be remembered, cold water or not, is that kayaking PFD is NOT a lifejacket - and should never be treated as such for planning purposes.

#5 should be #1

– Last Updated: Feb-10-13 8:26 PM EST –

Reverse the order to start with

So, what is a lifejacket? A bulky thing
that, in spite of its pretensions, won’t keep your head up out of the water while you die of hypothermia?

The Brits are all hung up over the life jacket distinction.

I insist on calling ALL PFDs “life jackets” because that is the one justification for our being required to carry them, and in some circumstances, required to use them.

Why do we wear PFDs? because they may save our lives. They’re life jackets. Many canoeing and kayaking how-to and safety books STILL call them life jackets.

Worse than PFDs, in the UK they have “buoyancy aids.”

Still drown with a PFD on
Sad thing is, you can still drown with a PFD on.

I call them PDFs by accident

Best that imagining
is based on IN water experience. A person can imagine all kinds of scenarios with all kinds of plans but if they haven’t been in the water and discovered their reactions to cold water and limits of their equipment for the time of rescues the plans are simply fantasies.

Lifejackets and so on
Lifejackets are designed to keep your head above water, even if you are unconscious (at least they “should” do it) - they are put together in that way and are rated to at least 100N flotation, often more. They are not designed for active swimming either, at least not the kind of contortions kayakers go though in the water :). Kayaking PFD aka Buoyancy Aid is usually 50-60N rated and is specifically designed for someone who is active in the water - it will not keep you head up and you can perfectly well drown wearing one, as been said here.

Yes, even wearing a class 1 with neck
support and ~30 pounds of flotation.

Who says so?? For decades, everyone
has been calling all PFDs “life jackets”. Then, recently, UK government agencies, and parts of the USCG, decided that they wanted to call only class 1 “life jackets.”

Here’s a truth for you. If you are a competent kayaker running class 3-5 whitewater, you are more likely to flip and swim wearing your class 1 “life jacket”, and more likely to fail to reach shore with equipment in hand, than if you are wearing a carefully selected class 3 life jacket, one designed to keep whitewater paddlers alive, NOT CRUISE SHIP PASSENGERS.

And if you want the maximum number of sailboaters, powerboaters, tubers, kayakers, canoeists, etc., wear PFDs, call them life jackets. If you call them “personal flotation devices” or “buoyancy aids”, people will miss the point. They will not understand that these devices are ALL to save lives, not just to “float” you.

Describe two instances where the head and neck support of a class 1 has saved someone’s life. Be specific.

There are some possible problems with
your list. What does it mean to dress for the water temperature? What immersion time do you have in mind? Is the person having to struggle to get to shore, gather equipment, re-enter on the water, etc., or is he just huddling passively, as USCG suggests, waiting for rescue?

I am often out paddling in conditions where if I dress to maximize survival in cold water, I will overheat in the boat. What’s a good compromise? My real-life experience suggests that a dry suit and some insulation will allow me to effect self-rescue without quite reaching class 1 hypothermia. If I wear more insulation, I can’t tolerate heating and am impeded in my paddling and reactions.

Similarly for being prepared for the worst-case scenario. How likely is it? I can imagine lots of possible scenarios where I would need one of those survival suits like the Bering Strait fishing crews use when their boat sinks. How do I decide which worst case to prepare for, and what I should do to prevent a bad result?

One of the values of a forum like this one is to come to some agreement about the range of bad outcomes that are actually occurring, and how to deal with them. Us whitewater paddlers gauge things by what we have seen happen, or have heard reported, over a number of years. We don’t prepare for two vicious rednecks with shotguns who appear in the woods, do we?

only a check list
I suspect the idea is to highlight what you should be actually thinking about. Your final choices can’t be dictated by anyone else because not only do they vary with conditions but with your personal willingness to take a risk. After all staying home is an even better way to avoid hypothermia but that’s just for the very risk adverse. As long as you give serious thought and maybe discussion to each point you are ahead of many that don’t.

so you just repeat
what I said - that what you call “class 1” likefackets are not designed for active swimming - and expect this to make a point? The ONLY kind of personal flotation I’ve seen powerboaters, sailboat people and anyone but kayakers and jetski people - who need mobility in the water - wear would be what you call “class 1” lifejackets with head and neck support. Why? probably because they are not stupid enough to forgo extra flotation in cold water. Not to mention that fair share of powerboat/sailing lifejackets are automatic inflatables. There is more to cold water than swimming in a Class II/III creek. There are also seas and oceans with cold water in them.

I’ve sailed Laser dinghies for a few years, nothing pro or serious, on the Baltic Sea. During one of the armature racers family cruiser’s boom slammed into the guy’s head and toppled him overboard. He was wearing the kind of lifejacket you deride so eagerly. General confusion on board resulted in him being fished out 10-15 minutes later, since other cruisers missed him going over and the crew was not very comfortable or skilled with man overboard situation. Early October, water some 12 C, nice windy day for dinghy racing. Dude was unconscious even before he hit the water with cracked skull. He did live, with some numerological damage - since it took them better part of an hour to get him back on dry land. But I guarantee, not wearing that lifejacket keeping his head above water he’s be dead as a brick by the time they pulled him up. I’ve also heard of another racer drowning after being knocked out by a boom - being a dinghy racer he obviously was not wearing a head/neck support lifejacket.

My point? Horses for courses. You won’t impress anyone in the rapids with Class 1 lifejacket with 150N flotation. Knocked overboard unconscious and picked up 20 minutes later you stand a much better chance of being alive wearing Class 1 150N lifejacket with head and neck support rather than 50N kayaking PFD. If you want to argue against that, go ahead.

My point. They are all life jackets.
All of them. We aren’t going to reserve the term for type 1 jackets that very few wear. Of all the situations where it is in one’s best interest to wear a life jacket, few of them require 30 pounds of flotation and head support.

And I state again, it has not been shown that head support actually saves lives. In rough water, that head support is not going to keep a dopey swimmer’s mouth out of the water, and rough water is precisely where one needs a class 1 to do the job.

#1 Paddling alone
If you must paddle alone, be extra, extra conservative and safe.

and on we go…

– Last Updated: Feb-12-13 7:35 AM EST –

Discussion here is about COLD water. The kind where in 10 minutes a normal bloke has trouble thinking clearly and moving his arms and legs. If the discussion were about some falling overboard their pleasure cruiser in the Caribbean in balmy weather, then of course, horses for courses...

Yes, you are a whitewater kayaker and there is no water but "rough water". Now if only you were to listen and understand a simple thing - a head and neck support lifejacket is not designed for fast-flowing whitewater just as a touring kayak is not designed to run Class III rivers or jetski is not designed for ocean crossings. In open cold water - with the resulting incapacitation from hypothermia, and/or stormy condition - that is swell - a series of long-wavelength waves generated by wind in the surface of the sea - a head and neck support lifejacket will greatly increase your survivability. Yes, you might freeze to death in 60 minutes or so not dressed for impression in cold water wearing Class 1 lifejacket. But you will drown in less than 15 wearing your whitewater PFD and trying to swim - because as soon as you stop making coherent movements you will seize to be able to hold your head above water. Which is why a guy wearing a whitewater PFD will not be allowed on board a sailboat (or any other boat) by a serious skipper. But on the other hand, it is obvious that all those thousands of sailors, trawler fishermen, coast guard personnel and so on are inherently stupid because they stubbornly trust their lives to a piece of equipment that according to you has no merit whatsoever. I know personally 2 people from M/S Estonia - Google it if you don't know what it is - who swear by Class 1 lifejackets saving their lives in ice-cold water after being pulled out nearly unconscious. That evidence enough for me - when taken into account of what happened there and how many drowned.

If you were to live by a body of water that gets REALLY cold in winter, you'd understand the difference between having your head above water and having to "swim" to keep it up.

That should be the number 1 rule.

Jack L

I belong
to a WW kayaking club in the midwest, & have seen this type of thread before on our discussion forum. Seems to be 2 patterns of thought, especially on paddling alone in cold water temps. I have heard some say “never paddle alone” & some that say paddling alone is fine cause your not risking anyone but yourself. Personally, I have paddled alone but not in cold water temps. I think about what will happen if I have to swim, or end up with a foot pinned if I am alone in cold water. Where I paddle, I usually don’t see another soul, so waiting for a rescue is not an option. It’s either self rescue, or situational badness. I agree you can’t “plan for the worst” because you don’t know what the “worst” could be. Deliverance comes to mind. How about a bear attack?

That being said, I just plan on swimming for any run & having to hike it out, & bring whatever gear I think I might need.

Did you go to the website?
If you clicked on each “rule” it links to a page with more detail. The general rule is that you should know how your gear works in the water for your time of immersion or rescue. The website doesn’t specify what that is for you, that is your judgement.

Hiking out

– Last Updated: Feb-12-13 1:10 PM EST –

I've paddled in the winter on rivers
in SouthEast Michigan and got burned.

Nothing sucks more than an unexpected
ice jam/dam in a tight corner of the river
preventing forward progress while snowmelt
current pushes you very very hard towards it.

Combined with high slippery banks making take-out
quite difficult, it was a long walk/portage
thru snow and forest back to car.
Paddle plans on a few miles an hour with current.
Walk with kayak on shoulder, slow and tedious.
Limited daylight, sun drops fast.

Brainstorming, talking to others, recon, scouting etc., etc.
are all important parts of paddling.
Sometimes learned via hard knocks method :-(