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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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8xJmsWkWms

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.
 

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Good advice.
 

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Nice video.
I stepped up from a good wetsuit to a dry suit this year (Kokatat Meridian), 2 sets of Patagonia Capaline 4 for a base layer, Merino wool socks, and a NRS Mystery hood with neoprene gloves.

Now all I need is some water in the river.
 

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SigPro, Very nice! The drysuit can have you paddling in much colder water than a wetsuit safely allows. Swim test that thing each time you head out. It's much better to find that a zipper isn't fully shut or there's a leak at your launch, rather than downriver or offshore if/when you go over.

Also paddle around in cold water or do some <span style="font-style: italic">extended</span> swimming near your launch. Get your hands wet and see how long they can withstand the cold before you start loosing strength and mobility. You need to know your limits and testing your gear near shore is the only way to safely find them. Your hands can be the limiting factor, with perhaps less than an hour of function in thin neoprene gloves. If you can't re-enter a kayak with numb hands, for example, or attach a spray skirt, or hold your paddle...it's much better to find that out now to adjust your paddle plans or to buy heavier gloves, than when you're in an unexpected situation.

Have fun, but be safe this time of year!
 

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Gave the cold weather gear a test on the Upper Lehigh Gorge yesterday. A balmy 23 degrees at the put in and about 30ish when we got out at Rockport. All my gear worked great!

That's a 10 mile run in about 3 hours and that was about the limit. Getting out of the gear is a bigger challenge than the trip itself because of the ice build-up.
 
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