Winter Paddling


The following information was provided by James Gjesing, of HandCrafted Canoes, as part of his presentation at the WWCKC meeting in January 2013:

What can happen to you in cold water:

  • In 2004, 410 people drowned in Canada, 130 were boating.
  • Cold Water: 60% drowned in water under 10 degrees C, 34% drowned in water between 10 – 20 degrees C.
  • Life-jackets: Only 12% were properly wearing a life-jacket, 2% were improperly wearing a life-jacket.
  • Distance from shore: 43% were less than 2 metres from shore/safety, 66% were less than 15 metres from shore/safety.
  • How they ended up in the water: 26% fell or were thrown overboard, 48% were in a boat that capsized or was swamped.

  • Swimming ability:
    - non-swimmer = 29%
    - weak = 15%
    - average = 12%
    - strong = 10%
    - not identified = 34%

  • Cold Shock (0-2 min):
    - occurs immediately upon entry
    - lasts up to 2 minutes
    - caused by stimulation of skins' nerve endings
    - the colder the water, the stronger the response
Cold Shock Response:
  • Gasp reflex
  • Hyperventilation
  • Difficulty holding your breath
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • Hypertension (elevated blood pressure)

  • How You Can Die From Cold Shock:
    • Cold Shock (0-2 min)
    • Gasp reflex (keep your head above water)
    • Hyperventilation (keep calm)
    • Cardiac arrest (pre-existing heart condition)
    Incapacitation In Cold Water:
    • Difficulty swimming
    • Loss of functional ability
    • Loss of manual dexterity
    • Muscle cramping
    • Swimming speeds onset of hypothermia
    When and how can you die in cold water:
    • 2 minute -15 minutes
    • Local Cooling Decreases Performance or Functional Disability
    • If you can’t get out in 5-15 minutes, you might not get out on your own power!
    • If so, prepare to survive.
    • Thrashing around will
      - increase heat loss
      - cause exhaustion (drowning)
    • Onset of Hypothermia (more than 30 minutes in water)
    • Cooling to UNCONSCIOUSNESS
    • If head goes under, then drowning (30-120 minutes).
    • If head above water, then cooling to Cardiac Arrest
    • Death (90-180 minutes or more, depending on water temp, body size, etc.)
    Winter Paddling Gear
    • Canoes / Kayaks - Composite vs Plastic - Which will break more easily in cold weather?
    • Provided the manufacturer is using industry standards, your canoe / kayak should not be affected by the cold temperatures
    • Some lower quality roto-molded canoes / kayaks are susceptible to cracking in cold weather
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