BRRRR – How Cold Is The Water

It appears that another year of record cold temperatures is on its way. So much for Global Warming.

During times of cold weather many people in various parts of the country continue to boat. That is fine but you should be aware of the added dangers.

Even when the weather is tolerable, do not forget that in many areas the water can be very, very cold. A sudden, unexpected wake or other “unbalancing event” can land you in the frigid water.

Your body cools down 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air.

What happens when you fall into cold water?

The effects of cold water on the body happen in four stages.

Stage 1 – Cold shock

A sudden, unexpected entry into cold water may cause a reflexive “gasp” (cold shock) allowing water to enter the lungs. Drowning can be almost instantaneous. When you realize you’re about to fall into the water, cover your face with your hands. Covering your mouth is an attempt to avoid gulping water into your lungs.

Stage 2 – Swimming failure effects include:

  • Loss of manual dexterity
  • Inability to match breathing rate to swimming stroke
  • Loss of coordination in the muscles in your arms and legs as they get cooler, increasing your swimming angle
  • Increased swimming angle, requiring more energy to keep your head above water
  • Possible drowning

Stage 3 – Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a condition that exists when the body’s temperature drops below ninety-five degrees. This can be caused by exposure to cold water or cold air. The loss of body heat results in loss of dexterity, loss of consciousness, and eventually loss of life.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) can help you stay alive longer in cold water. You can float without using energy and PFDs cover part of your body, providing some protection from the cold water. When boating in cold water, you should consider using a flotation coat or deck-suit style PFD. They cover more of your body and provide even more protection.

Hypothermia does not only occur in extremely cold water. It can, and does, occur even in the warmer waters of Florida and the Bahamas.

Hypothermia is progressive – the body passes through several stages before an individual lapses into an unconscious state. The extent of a person’s hypothermia can be determined from the following:

  1. Mild Hypothermia – the person feels cold, has violent shivering and slurred speech.
  2. Medium Hypothermia – the person has a certain loss of muscle control, drowsiness, incoherence, stupor and exhaustion.
  3. Severe Hypothermia – the person collapses, may be unconscious and shows signs of respiratory distress and/or cardiac arrest probably leading to death.

The foremost objective for a person in the water is getting control over breathing and getting out of the water. To accomplish this and to limit heat loss, limit body movement. Don’t swim unless you can reach a nearby boat or floating object. Swimming increases blood flow which accelerates the lowering of your body temperature. Even good swimmers can drown in cold water.

If you can pull yourself partially out of the water – do so. The more of your body that is out of the water (on top of an over-turned boat or anything that floats), the less heat you will lose. Especially keep your head out of the water if at all possible – this will lessen heat loss and increase survival time.

Do yourself a favor and set aside 10 minutes to watch the Cold Water Boot Camp video that follows. It will further educate you in cold water survival and potentially save your life if you find yourself in frigid water.


1 Comment

Filed under Boating Safety, The Boating Environment

One response to “BRRRR – How Cold Is The Water

  1. Thanks for the great post about cold water paddling! I’ve just posted a link to it on the MTI ADVENTUREWEAR facebook site, and our Twitter page at water_planet.

    The Cold Water Boot Camp video really drives home the point – BE PREPARED! And wear that PFD!

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