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HomeNL-2015-12 Winter Boating

Winter Boating - Be Afraid
Leonard Hulsebosch

With cold weather coming upon us, now is a good time for a reminder about special considerations for cold-weather paddling.  This article is re-printed from a 1988 HCC newsletter article, written by former Commodore Leonard Hulsebosch 27 years ago, but is still just as valid today.

According to the rule of 50/50 a 50 year old person in 50° F water has a 50/50 chance of staying alive 50 minutes!

So, those of you who go canoeing during the fall and winter - remember you are living somewhat on the edge. You are just a thin 1/4 inch of boat hull from being holed and swamped, or a 1/2 second reflex and a pound of grip away from falling overboard. If your spouse and/or family knew how potentially dangerous cold weather canoeing really is, they would never permit it. Although I suspect, if the spouse knew, they would encourage, nay, insist in some cases, that the partner go canoeing - hoping for the inheritance and better times.

If you "gotta go", dying of hypothermia can be quite pleasant - somewhat akin to going to sleep after a big meal - so say some of those who have survived the most severe cases of hypothermia. In fact, "euphoric" is the term that they use to describe the sensation. Of course, those who have preceeded us by that method are the only ones who really know, and they aren't talking!

These mild, sunny days during Fall and Winter tend to easily lure you out into your canoe, where you might be a bit careless in your actions and suddenly find yourself without a boat. It won't matter a bit that the sun was out, the wind was calm, and the temperature of the air was 72°, because the water temperature will still be down in the 50's, and that can kill you as dead as a kippered herring on a bagel.

Water that is colder than you are immediately begins to draw heat from your body. Quickly your body and brain are affected. Your thinking becomes slow and distorted causing poor judgements: and your body does not respond to your wishes — good or bad. If you have to swim, you're even in deeper trouble. Swinging your arms and kicking your legs pumps warm water out of your clothing and replaces it with cold water, the results are that your survival time could be cut by as much as 50%.

Let's look at four ways to increase your longevity during the Fall/ Winter Canoeing.

1. BE CAUTIOUS: Make sure you check out the weather before your trip. Wear the "right" clothes. Be careful - you can die of hypothermia in your boat if you get caught in a wet blue norther out in exposed water wearing the wrong clothes. So, be careful, ask yourself "What if..."

2. CALL AND TELL: Tell someone (not going on this trip) where you are going and when you expect to be back. If you are overdue, someone will know where to start looking for you!

3. WEAR YOUR P.F.D.: It's excellent insulation where you really need it - around the chest and body core, and it will enable you to draw up into H.E.L.P. (Heat Escape Lessening Postion) to protect your crotch (a major area of heat loss). The H.E.L.P. position would be called a fetal position if you were laying down. At the very least, wearing your P. F. D. would save your rescuers from grappling for your body. So, be cautious and considerate. Wear your P.F.D.

4. GET OUT OF THE WATER A.S.A.P.: The water may be considerably warmer than 50°, and the air (especially with the wind blowing) might feel colder than the water. You might reason as long as you feel safe, wearing your P.F.D. and hanging on to your canoe, that you are better off in the warmer-feeling water than in the colder-feeling air. The truth of the matter is that water robs the body of heat 25 to 30 times faster than air, thereby hastening your demise.

Consider the preceding advice and be smart, be cautious, and be just a tad afraid of fall/ winter canoeing. Remember the four rules and the 50/50 rule. It ain't easy to replace the prompt-dues-paying members that ya'll are!

The author, Leonard Hulsebosch (right),
at Dolan Falls on the Devil's River,
with Louis Aulbach (left).