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  • April 16, 2018 1:16 PM
    Message # 6101644

    By Moulton Avery

    How much do you really know about cold water safety? Whether you're a novice, an intermediate, or a veteran paddler with years of experience, the most honest answer is probably: “a whole lot less than you think”. Below is a short test. Take it and see for yourself.

    Cold Water Safety Test.

    Q: Without the benefit of thermal protection, at what temperature range will most people experience maximum-intensity cold shock?
    A: Between 50F – 60F (10C – 15.5C)

    Q: What is maximum-intensity cold shock?
    A: It's all the symptoms of cold shock, elevated to their maximum level. For more detailed information on this visit our web site.

    Q: What are the four stages of cold water immersion and in what order do they occur?
    A: The four stages are 1) Cold Shock, 2) Physical Incapacitation, 3) Hypothermia, and 4) Circumrescue Collapse.

    Q: What is the main symptom of cold shock and why is it so dangerous?
    A: The main symptom of cold shock is loss of breathing control, which dramatically increases your risk of sudden drowning.

    Q: In an unprotected cold water immersion, what is the first body part that becomes numb and useless? How fast can it happen?
    A: Your hands. In very cold water, without the protection of neoprene gloves or mittens you can lose the use of your hands in minutes. 
    To make matters worse, if the water is cold enough, you can lose the use of your hands even though you're wearing a good wetsuit or drysuit. The colder the water, the faster it can happen. To fully appreciate this problem, imagine trying to grasp a paddle or complete a rescue with a pair of boxing gloves on your hands.

    Q: What are the Golden Rules of Cold Water Safety and how many are there?
    A: The Five Golden Rules of Cold Water Safety are best practices developed by the National Center for Cold Water Safety from an analysis of hundreds of close calls and fatalities. While each rule is important, it's the combination of all five that allows you to build a strong, practical cold water safety net.

    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.

    Q What's the difference between field=testing and swim-testing your gear.
    A: Field-testing familiarizes you with new gear, and helps to identify problems with design and use. You should always field-test new gear, paying special attention to anything that you'll be relying on for safety. Swim-testing is more like a pilot's preflight test - a last minute check to make sure your boat and all of your personal gear is in order. “Relief zipper closed? Check!”

    Q What's an example of the Fifth Golden Rule?
    A Imagine capsizing and having your kayak blow away with your VHF radio, cell phone, flashlight, flares, or other safety gear stowed in one of the hatches. Critical safety items should be carried on your person and readily available in an emergency – preferably by securely attaching them to your PFD.

    Going further, if you experienced a cold water capsize tomorrow, would it be no big deal or an epic struggle for survival? What steps can you take to construct a decent cold-water safety net for yourself.

    Visit the National Center for Cold Water Safety web site and immerse yourself. It's free, and you'll have access to a wealth of detailed information on why cold water is dangerous, the stages of immersion, the golden rules of cold water safety, a section on common cold water myths and misconceptions, 20 detailed case histories with lessons learned – and some useful bonus material like the articles How Long Will It Take For Me To Be Rescued? and What PFD's Can and Can't Do.

    Note: This test originally appeared in an article I wrote for Ocean Paddler magazine – Issue #61.

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