Cold Water Basics At Devil’s Lake
Well, the ice is off the lake here at Devil’s Lake State Park and that means people will be in a rush to get out on and IN the water. Well, hold up there cowboy, it’s cold! Waay Cold. So cold that if you fall out of your canoe or kayak without the proper gear you could die within minutes. No, seriously!
The first risk you take when hitting the water this time of year is called “Cold Shock”. Cold shock happens when you first hit the water and can kill you within 3-5 minutes. Cold shock has been seen even in water temperatures as high as 77°F! (The water at Devil’s Lake right now is between 45f & 50F) Sudden immersion in cold water can cause a gasp reflex and drowned you almost instantly. If you survive the initial hit, your body can spasm and breathing rates will increase rapidly. You may experience extreme muscular pain. You will be gasping for air. The combination of muscle spasms and rapid breathing will make swimming nearly impossible at first. You will likely put your face into or below the surface of the water whether you want to or not. It only takes an inhalation of about five ounces of water to cause drowning. You don’t want to be in this situation.
If you manage to survive the first few seconds of cold water immersion, the clock is running. You can expect to have anywhere from 5-30 minutes to get to safety. This is where most people make their big mistake. They think they have plenty of time to get back into their boat or swim to shore. The problem is that your ability to swim is quickly failing with each minute. Your muscle control is slipping away and even your ability to think will begin to fail. Boaters usually first try to get back into their boats if they can. It’s not easy without proper training in warm water, let alone when the clock is ticking! Often boaters simply decide to swim for shore. As they fight to swim in the cold water, they will struggle for air. Their muscles will become weaker and weaker. They may, and sometimes drown before they reach solid ground.
There is a great article that goes into the details of cold water shock and hypothermia in a 2008 issue of SeaKayaker Magazine that you can read here.
Park Naturalist, Sue Johansen dressed for cold water paddling.
In the picture above, Devil’s Lake State Park’s naturalist, Sue Johansen is dressed for cold water paddling on Devil’s Lake. She is wearing a drysuit which doesn’t allow water to touch your skin through the suit. Under the drysuit she’s wearing multiple layers of wicking, insulating materials to stay warm. She is wearing a life jacket specially designed for kayaking /canoeing in that it fits comfortably and will stay on when you fall in the water. (While there are emergency inflatable life jackets out there, in cold water you may not have time to inflate them.) Keeping your hands warm and functioning is imperative to safety. To keep her hands warm, Sue is wearing thick neoprene dive gloves. She also slides into neoprene pogies that wrap around her paddle. Sue’s feet are also protected by the drysuit with warm wicking socks underneath. She also wears a pair of thick neoprene boots to add more insulation (And traction on the rocks!). Even wearing a simple hat will help you hold heat in your body.
So how long do you have to dress like this to really be safe on the water? Well, how much of a risk taker are you? You definitely are facing some risk of cold water shock all year in Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers. You do need to get to know your self as well. Hypothermia can sneak up on you even in warm conditions. Heck, when I circumnavigated Puerto Rico by sea kayak in 2007, the water temperature was around the 80 degree mark and the air was nearly 100f and still with a wind, I’d start feeling cold after hours on the water. There would be nights where I’d be on the beach in my tent, shaking while wrapped in my sleeping bag! The risk of hypothermia is always there.
The point is, cold water is more dangerous than most people realize. After a long winter here in Wisconsin, many of us want to get on the water desperately and often take more risk than we should. Right now, it’s just too cold to be in without proper gear. And this year, the cold water will remain later into the season due to the cold spring we’ve had. So, be careful out there. Stay safe!
If you’d like to give kayaking a try, keep your eye out for nature center kayak tours at Devil’s Lake this summer.
from Devil’s Lake State Park Visitors Guide http://ift.tt/1i7UOp5