Northern Pen - - Puzzles -

Af­ter spend­ing the win­ter months pin­ing for spring, we can hardly wait for the first op­por­tu­nity to pull the cover off the boat and get back onto the wa­ter. Mak­ing it even more tempt­ing are warm temps and gen­tle breezes that prompt us to break out the shorts, t-shirts and san­dals. While the air tem­per­a­tures can soar into the 20’s, the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture may not yet have even reached the teens.

Spring is a shoul­der sea­son and, weather pat­terns can be iffy with fronts caus­ing the wind to pick up, tem­per­a­tures to plum­met and large waves to form. In smaller boats the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing tossed into the frigid wa­ter can­not be ig­nored. It’s im­por­tant that we dress for the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture rather than the air so that we have some ther­mal pro­tec­tion to avoid, or at least de­lay the on­set of hy­pother­mia.

Plenty of op­tions ex­ist from wet­suits, to ex­tended wear pad­dling dry­suits that will pro­vide in­creased ther­mal pro­tec­tion. Lay­er­ing of cloth­ing is strongly sug­gested. Lay­er­ing is the wear­ing of dif­fer­ent cloth­ing over each other so that you can either add or re­move items as your body tem­per­a­ture in­creases or cools. The main ob­jec­tive is to keep dry and to avoid sweat­ing as when the mois­ture from sweat­ing cools, it will cause a chill.

Lay­er­ing tra­di­tion­ally con­sists of a base layer next to your skin, a mid-layer and an outer layer. The base layer should be either wool or a syn­thetic fabric that can wick away mois­ture from your skin. The mid-layer should pro­vide warmth with­out hold­ing in wa­ter. (Avoid cot­ton as it tends to hold in mois­ture and loses its in­su­lat­ing qual­ity if it gets wet.) The syn­thetic ma­te­rial (Thin­su­late) works well. The outer layer keeps wind and wa­ter from reach­ing the mid and base lay­ers. Water­proof shells that con­tain breath­able mem­branes work well. Elas­tic cuffs work well to keep the wa­ter out and vents al­low ex­cess heat to es­cape.

An­other ex­tremely im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber should you find your­self in very cold wa­ter is DON’T PANIC! It’s a pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tion that hy­pother­mia sets in al­most im­me­di­ately and death is al­most a cer­tainty in these cir­cum­stances. Even in ice cold wa­ter, it takes at least 30 min­utes be­fore you be­come even mildly hy­pother­mic. When it comes to cold wa­ter, re­mem­ber three very im­por­tant things:

1. You’re go­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence a Cold Shock which will cause you to hy­per­ven­ti­late. It’s this re­sponse that most of­ten gen­er­ates a panic re­sponse and you drown. Know that your breath­ing will re­turn to nor­mal in about a minute and you’ll be able con­cen­trate on res­cue.

2. Even in ice cold wa­ter, you’ll have ap­prox­i­mately 10 min­utes of move­ment in your arms and legs to self-res­cue be­fore your nerves and mus­cles cool to the point where you will lose your abil­ity to keep your­self afloat and, if you’re not wear­ing some form of flota­tion like a life­jacket or PFD, you’ll drown. (If you can climb onto the over­turned hull of your boat or at least get most of your body out of the wa­ter, you’ll cool much more slowly.)

3. It will take ap­prox­i­mately and hour be­fore you lose con­scious­ness due to hy­pother­mia and up to 3 hours be­fore your heart will stop.

(Based on re­search con­ducted by Dr. Gor­don Giesbrecht - Pro­fes­sor of Ther­mo­phys­i­ol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Man­i­toba A.K.A. Pro­fes­sor Pop­si­cle) ......................... So don’t be afraid to get back out on the wa­ter this spring. Just check the weather fore­cast, dress for the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture rather than the air and know that, should you find your­self in the wa­ter, DON’T PANIC! By wear­ing your life­jacket or PFD, your chances of sur­vival un­til res­cue are much bet­ter than you think!

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