So I went out on the lake this windy weekend, and ended upside down in my kayak, again and again. But there was no hyperventilation or panic, no spike in heart rate and blood pressure, and no gasp reflex or inhalation of frigid water. Any rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated. I actually quite enjoyed myself. I was dressed for immersion, so the grim reapers of Cold Shock, Hypothermia, and Drowning couldn't touch me. I had my camera out, playing and doing some self critique, and decided to make a little video, below.
While I had a blast, almost every other paddler and boater I see on Pennsylvania rivers and lakes this time of year are not dressed so, and would be in serious trouble if they capsized or fell overboard, wearing a PFD or not. With water temperatures across PA now in the 40-50 degree range, I thought this was a timely opportunity to drop a reminder, and hopefully an educational bit as I recently learned, on cold water safety.
Everyone is aware of hypothermia. But fewer know of cold shock and its instant killer offspring, gasp reflex. Several weeks ago, I sat in on a small group discussion with Moulton Avery, an expert on heat and cold stress, who's groundbreaking article on Cold Shock in 1991, turned the paddling community on its heels. I thought I had a handle on cold water safety, but learned the true physiological effects in cold water were even worse than I understood. For instance, cold shock, the body's involuntary response of spiked blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing affects almost everyone between 50 to 60 degree water temperature. Surprising, is that the body's cold shock response is no worse in 33 degree water than in 55 degree water, since the body cannot react with any more vigor. (33 degree water is just more painful.) If the body endures a gasp reflex, which is an uncontrolled, full lung inhalation at the moment of immersion with the head underwater, the person will die within seconds...wearing a PFD or not.
So, paddlers and boaters and perhaps even fishermen, particularly if you plan to be on the water from now until summer, please visit the National Center for Cold Water Safety's website at www.coldwatersafety.org.
Educate yourself on how your body <span style="font-weight: bold">will</span> react to cold water, and then make some smart decisions on when you're out there and how you dress. That's all. Have fun and be safe. Thanks.