Outdoors Coumn

Cold Water: Part 2

By Bill Howard | Jan 10, 2017
Photo by: File Bill Howard

It was an early spring weekend float trip. The weather was sunny and highs in the 60s. Things were looking really good.
Something happened on that trip. I found out how cold the water was. I fell in. There was no wind and with the sun beaming down, I was able to warm up gradually even though my clothing was dripping. The trip would still be fine to finish.
That night, as the temperatures dropped and a breeze began to pick up, things changed quickly. I was cold. I was shivering. And I was so miserable I began to wonder if I could make it through the night. By that time most of clothing was no more than slightly damp, but that was all it took. I had to find a way to increase my core temperature or things were going to only get worse.
During the winter, things can really get worse.
Imagine wading out to duck hunt in a swamp with thin chest waders on. You throw on several layers of clothing to add a bit of insulation between you and the narrow rubber/vinyl waders and cold water. While trudging along your left foot catches an underwater log that causes you lose balance and tumble forward in the water that is slightly cooler than the inside of your refrigerator.
The water quickly begins to flow through the top part of the waders and fills from your feet to on up.
A scenario like this can cause death in 20 percent of the victims. The cold shock immediately throws the person into a panic. Arms flailing and legs and feet sinking further into the mud only increases the hysteria. Two minutes is all it takes.
If you were to survive through the first two minutes, you still have less than fifteen minutes to get out and begin getting warm.
Precautions can be taken in order to prolong that time period and prevent hypothermia.
First, clothing matters. Cotton layers, even if just the base layers or horrible for cold weather situations when water may be encountered. The cotton breaths allowing the water to evaporate from the skin, which lowers then body’s temperature just as sweating does. Wool clothing does not do this and is ideal for wet cold weather. Because your feet can affect your entire body, it is also recommended to wear wool socks, if not two pair.
In the case with the waders, wear appropriately insulated waders. With the neoprene waders, if water does get in, the body will quickly warm the water inside the waders and help slow down and prevent hypothermia. If you have waders on and are in deep water, make sure you can quickly unlatch the waders in order to keep them from weighing you down with the water, or have a cinch strap to keep water from entering.
If you do get wet and cannot get warmed up, build a fire and remove one layer of clothing. Let one layer dry as you also try to warm up.  Building fires is not always an option however.
It is wise to keep a reflective blanket on hand as part of your equipment. Reflective blankets are inexpensive and very lightweight. The reflective properties keep the heat towards the body while supplying a barrier from any type of wind or breeze.
Whatever you do, do not get too close to heat source such as fires, heaters or even hot water. With the body in a reduced temperature state, you may think you are warming yourself up faster but may actually be causing burns.
The biggest key is to try to remain calm so you can think through the situation and making wise decisions.