Colder Conditions Require Appropriate Attire and Preparation
Winter conditions can be challenging. Some people look forward to winter ocean recreation as a way to keep enjoying the salt water sports that they love. Over the years, Jericho Rescue has rescued people in the initial stages of hypothermia at all times of year. In winter, this is a risk people should be mitigating with proper preparation.
Upgrade your attire
Play safe and dress for survival. Now that the air and water temperatures have become noticeably cooler, the wetsuit or thermally protective attire that may have been optional in the summer months are now mandatory. It depends on your activity. If you are sailing or windsurfing then a cold water wetsuit is in order. A full length 4/3mm or thicker wetsuit with a proper hood or hat would be a minimum (a 5/4mm or thicker suit would be even warmer). Wetsuit manufacturers also offer accessory thermal layers to add warmth as conditions get colder. This is a great way to extend the usefulness of your regular suit. Some folks prefer drysuits – this time of year it would be important to make sure you are wearing proper insulating layers beneath your drysuit. In either case, check to make sure your suit is in good condition with no holes and that the seals are functioning properly. Heat loss from your head and/or neck should be addressed with a hood, hat and/or a neck tube. Neoprene booties, gloves or mittens are also a good idea.
If paddling or rowing, its a good idea to add insulating and/or wind-blocking layers to a dry bag in the bottom of your boat. This way you can layer up and down as you cycle through work and recovery intervals during your workout or if you end up getting wetter than expected. It’s important that these layers work well when wet and do not absorb water – wool and synthetics are recommended.
Be smart about your activity patterns
Sailing, paddling or rowing in the cold means being smart about your route and preparation. Mitigate your chances of being caught out in the cold by doing more laps closer to home instead of forging further from shore. If windy, make your way upwind first to protect against getting caught downwind should something go wrong.
Be conservative with your gear choices, skill and endurance levels. The cold combined with extra attire always makes activity a little more difficult and the consequences of gear or skill failure are more dangerous. Choose a smaller sail, or a more seaworthy kayak than you might choose in similar conditions during the summer. Resist the urge for “one more reach” and make sure you’re on shore before you get tired or before the cold reduces your ability to operate your craft competently.
If you do fall into ice cold water unprepared, your body will cool off more quickly than it can generate heat. The 1-10-1 rule states that after a minute of fast breathing and panic, you’ll only have about 10 minutes or so of coordinated gross motor strength and function and one hour of consciousness. Plan your route so that you can quickly return to shore should you get colder than expected during your activity. However, if you cannot manage to re-board your craft after a capsize, always stay with your craft – it is far easier to spot than a person in the water.
Have a plan to call for help if you need it.
The law requires a sound signalling device, but a whistle or horn is no good if no one is on the water to hear it. If you do venture further from shore be prepared with a way to call for help. A cell phone in a waterproof case or a VHF marine radio (as long as you are licensed to operate it) are good items to bring with you.
Safety in numbers
Use the Buddy System. Always sail, paddle, or row with someone else, especially in cold water conditions. Let a reliable friend or relative know when and where you are going and when you expect to return. Diligently contact them upon your safe return.
For more information on cold water survival surf on over to Cold Water Bootcamp.