Cold Water Articles

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Learn why we use 70F (21C) to define cold water and recommend that people consider using thermal protection like wetsuits and drysuits below that temperature.

Rescue times depend on a lot of different variables, all of which take time – sometimes a lot of time.  This article explains why.  It provides a realistic framework for what you can expect when you call for help.

This article by Moulton Avery was published in Issue #63 of Ocean Paddler magazine.  It contains DIY instructions for making your own kayak tether.

Two incidents, one of which was fatal and another that was narrowly averted by a Coast Guard helicopter rescue, illustrate why fishing waders are a questionable choice for protecting paddlers against cold water.

One Near-Death Incident - Three Articles Examine It In Detail

 

These three articles are meant to be read in sequence, starting with Cold and Alone.

 

Randy Morgart's gripping account of his near-death experience on the freezing Mississippi River appeared in the August 2010 issue of Sea Kayaker.  It's one of the finest first-person accounts of cold water immersion ever written.  It provides a clear picture of how cold shock interfered with his ability to think clearly and pull off the solo rescue that saved his life.

This article takes a closer look at Randy Morgart's experience with both cold shock and incapacitation.  It also discusses his extended (1+ hour) loss of breathing control, his clothing, his successful self-rescue, and his inability to think clearly throughout the entire incident - including after he got back to his car.

Moulton Avery's article in Sea Kayaker magazine analyzes Randy Morgart's near-death experience and explores the age-old tug of war between reason and emotion. It sheds light on the obvious question of how an experienced paddler could decide to leave his thermal protection at home an paddle unprotected on freezing water. It also includes a detailed critique of the Challenging Conditions myth.

Survival in Cold Waters (2003 / 2007) is an excellent publication with references embedded in the text. It was authored by Dr. Chris Brooks and published by Transport Canada.

There isn't a single internet source that covers river, bay, lake, sound, and ocean water temperatures, so you often have to dig a little in order to find the information you want.  This guide will make your task easier.

These are the NODC water temperature averages for all coastal areas in the United States, including the Great Lakes, Alaska, and Hawaii.  For more information see the NCIE Coastal Water Temperature Guide.

Over half of the reported accidents involving paddlers are fatal. They're over 13 times more likely to be fatal than personal watercraft accidents, and almost 5 times more likely than accidents involving open motorboats. This article contains canoe, kayak and paddleboard highlights from the 2019 report.  For access to the full reports from the Coast Guard's Boating Safety Division from 2004 - 2020, go here.

Whitewater has its International Scale of River Difficulty.  Eric Soares, co-founder of the Tsunami Rangers, felt that one was needed for sea kayaking.  His SCRS is the result.  Tested extensively in a wide range of conditions on the Pacific Coast, this system provides a realistic guide to the level of difficulty that small craft like kayaks and surf skis can expect to encounter. It takes a little practice to use it, but it's an excellent resource that injects reality into risk assessment calculations.

Retired physician Ken Mirman was boating in Maine. While stepping from his 21-foot Bayliner into a plastic tender for a trip to shore, he fell into the cold water. This is his personal account of that incident. It's an excellent example of  the way in which cold shock interferes with thinking.

This 47-page Special Report by the National Center for Cold Water Safety divides criticism of the 1-10-1 cold water myth into three categories and demonstrates that the myth is unscientific, unrealistic, and misleading.

For the condensed version on our web site, go here.

The challenging conditions myth was created almost forty years ago by the sea kayaking industry (SKIN). By people with a financial interest in the sport who were afraid that promoting cold water safety would reduce the rapidly growing number of people interested in sea kayaking. This copy of an editorial in ANORAK provides an historical overview of the myth's beginnings.

John Chase, host of Paddling The Blue, an internationally recognized sea kayaking podcast, interviews National Center for Cold Water Safety founder and director Moulton Avery. Length: 1 hour. On the website, scroll down and select episode #48.

In the aftermath of paddling tragedies, unkind, mean-spirited, judgmental comments on the internet can have long-lasting negative effects on the victims as well as their friends and family members.  Such comments do nothing to improve safety. Instead, we should commend people who have the courage to publicly own their mistakes so that others can learn from them. This article by Moulton Avery appeared in the Early Spring Issue 58 of The Paddler Magazine. 

A more-or-less true tale of loss and redemption on the low seas.  This humorous 2011 post by Moulton Avery in the Tsunami Rangers blog recounts his less than illustrious re-entry into the world of sea kayaking after a long absence during which he morphed from a sleek and competent sea kayaker into an unsightly sea slug.