Photo Credit Buck Forester
The Dangers of Kayaking in Cold Water
"On a sunny afternoon in December, Karapet Aslanyan of Glendale found a kayak at the cabin he was renting on Big Bear Lake and decided to go for a paddle.
Aslanyan, 19, was less than 50 feet from the shore of Boulder Bay, where his friends watched from picnic tables, when he capsized into the 39-degree water. Rescue crews arrived within minutes, but Aslanyan, after struggling in vain to reach some rocks, had slipped beneath the surface.
Rescuers were helpless to save him because they weren't trained in underwater rescue and had no wetsuits. " February 13, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer
"Cold water can kill you in less than a minute. It's actually so dangerous that it kills a lot of people within seconds. Thousands of people have drowned after falling into cold water, and a lot of them died before they even had a chance to reach the surface.
That's a scientific and medical fact that most people have trouble understanding, because they have no personal experience actually being in cold water. When they hear or think about 50F (10C) water, it doesn't sound particularly cold or dangerous, because they're mentally comparing it to 50F (10C) air. It's a big mistake that gets a lot of people killed each year.” National Center for Cold Water Safety
Cold water doesn't necessarily mean paddling in Alaska. What many kayakers don't realize is that even if the air is warm, the water temperature could still be at 40 degrees. It is advisable to treat any water temperature below 70F with caution.
“Hypothermia isn't really the issue. It takes roughly 30 minutes for an average person to become hypothermic (Core Temp<95F) - even in near-freezing water. The initial threat to life is cold shock and it's followed immediately by physical incapacitation.” shares Moulton Avery, with the National Center for Cold Water Safety.
Before hypothermia sets in, there are the more immediate effects to contend with such as cold shock. Many kayakers have drowned directly after capsizing, before they even had the opportunity to upright their kayak.
Cold shock is an increased respiratory response to cold water immersion. A drop in deep body temperature leads to a slowing of respiration, which is more profound than the reduced metabolic demand seen with hypothermia.
The severities of the effects of cold shock are proportional to reduction in water temperature. The colder the water, the more your ability to move your limbs, swim and grip with your fingers decreases. This effect can happen very quickly after immersion in cold water, and may seriously hinder your ability to grasp onto or upright your kayak. Swimming stroke length is decreased and stroke rate is increased – so the stroke becomes less and less efficient, and more exhausting. This effect takes hold long before there is substantial cooling of the body core and hypothermia sets in.