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Cold Water Shock a Threat in Any Air Temperature
Dear Bay Weekly:
Thank you for bringing attention to the dangers of cold water boating, especially mentioning the lesser known risk of cold water shock. But the 120-Degree Rule may lend a false sense of safety to those who use it.
The editorial in the March 22 issue [Vol. xv, No. 12] stated “Unless air and water temperatures add up to 120 degrees, the rule cautions, it’s too cold to go into the water without a wet- or drysuit.”
Based upon this “rule,” if the air temperature is 75 degrees and the water is 45 degrees, it would be ok to not wear a wetsuit or drysuit. Forty-degree water is quite cold, cold enough to bring on cold water shock.
Hypothermia, cold water shock, can kill instantly. When a person is immersed in cold water, there is often an involuntary gasp reflex. If not wearing a Personal Flotation Device, a victim may inhale water and drown; there’s no time to get hypothermic. The gasp reflex is followed by “a four-fold increase in pulmonary ventilation, i.e. severe hyperventilation” (Survival in Cold Waters, Canada Transport). Cold water exposure of the head and neck will cause the heart rate and blood pressure to increase, which may lead to cardiac arrest.
Canada Transport considers cold water to be water less than 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more detailed information about the risks of cold water shock for off-season boaters, please refer to Chuck Sutherland’s web site: www.enter.net/~skimmer/coldwater.html. Another resource with details on cold water shock and hypothermia is Canada Transport’s web site, http://www.tc.gc.ca/marinesafety/TP/Tp13822/menu.htm.
The safest strategy for boaters to follow is to dress for the water,
regardless of the air temperature.
Patuxent River Watershed
Department of Corrections
Black and white photos illustrating Mick Blackistone’s story Is There Still a Pearl In Maryland’s Oyster? [Vol. xv, No 11] should have been credited to David Maher. Maher, a founder of Discovery Village in Shady Side, documents Chesapeake Bay’s vanishing work boats. See more at http://www.discoveryvillage.net/.