DANGER: Cold Water


It’s mid April, there have been some really nice days, but it’s possibly the most dangerous time to be on the water.  The reason is Cold Water. It is essential that you dress for immersion, not the air temperature.

There have already been several unfortunate incidents in our area.  A couple of days ago the news media carried the story of two fishermen who capsized their canoe in Smithtown Bay at the mouth of the Nissequogue River.  Luckily for them a bird watcher spotted them in the water and was able to notify 911. Nevertheless they were last reported to be in critical condition at a local hospital

In another incident two young men lost their lives in the Hudson.  One apparently fell from a pier and the other jumped in to rescue him.  Neither made it out alive.

Newsday recently published a couple of photos showing people enjoying their day on the water.  The first picture was of a couple of fishermen in their boat on Lake Ronkonkoma.  Both appeared to be wearing heavy thermal hooded sweatshirts…..and apparently no Personal Flotation Device (PFDs or Life Jackets).  That is in violation of NYS Law which requires PFDs be worn until May 1.  The second photo depicted a father and son on the Connetquot River.  The son is in a kayak and wearing a PFD but the father, on a stand up paddle board, appeared to be wearing just a tee shirt and shorts…. no PFD as required.  I will assume that the folks in these photos ended their day successfully but I wonder how things would have turned out if they had gone into the 40 degree water.

Cold water presents two lethal hazards.  The first is Cold Shock.  That’s an uncontrollable gasping reflex-action that occurs when your body gets immersed in cold water.  If you’re gasping uncontrollably while your head is under water you are finished right then and there.  The second hazard is Hypothermia.  That’s the lowering of your body temperature which in itself can be fatal.  It quickly results in a loss of muscular control which causes swimming failure.  You might be a good swimmer but the lack of muscle control will quickly take away even your ability to tread water. Without a PFD you won’t be able to keep your head above water.

At this time of the year, with water temperatures still in the 40’s, it is essential that you’re dressed for immersion in cold water.  Either a drysuit or a wetsuit will provide adequate protection for a brief immersion, and properly fitted PFD will help keep your head out of the water. A heavy cotton sweatshirt will afford absolutely no protection in the water, it will soak up so much water and weight it will be harder to pull yourself out, and once soaked it has no insulating value.  Wet clothing and wind will just add to evaporative cooling and hypothermia.

Don’t take chances, dress for immersion and wear your PFD.

A Public Service Message from North Atlantic Canoe & Kayak. We’re serious about fun!!



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