I’ve been pretty busy lately teaching kayaking at some local high school physical education classes. The teaching isn’t too hard, but all the boat loading, unloading, and gear hauling takes its toll on me physically, not to mention having to get up at 5am this week. As a result, I haven’t gotten a blog posted for over a week.
I was watching the news today and saw a story about a teenage girl who drowned in Lake Michigan yesterday on our unseasonably warm 83-degree day. She decided to jump into the water from a pier, obviously unaware of the danger of jumping into 38-degree water. If I heard the story correctly, she didn’t surface. A friend jumped in to try to save her (we’re lucky only one person drowned), but was unable to help.
I can’t stress this enough. Please! Please! Please! Tell everyone you know about “cold shock” and the dangers of jumping into cold water when you are not dressed for immersion. It’s not just kayakers that need to know about this. Sometimes I think that kayakers are the only people around here who DO know about cold shock. I’ve lost count of all the fatalities over the years in which the story goes,
“Person jumps into Lake Michigan from a boat/pier (or capsizes from a canoe/kayak), never resurfaces, divers later find the body. Police/fire/dive team spokesperson talks about hypothermia on the evening news.”
It isn’t hypothermia that kills a person in less than 5 minutes, even when the water temperature is barely above freezing. It’s cold shock, or the subsequent swimming failure that occurs right after. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, please take the time to visit the website, www.ColdWaterBootCamp.com. If you know a police officer/fire fighter/dive team member, please encourage them to talk more about cold shock instead of hypothermia. The survival times that people see for hypothermia lull them into thinking that they will be out of the water long before anything bad will happen.
If you’re tempted to cite the annual polar bear plunge at Bradford Beach as proof that this is not dangerous, keep in mind that the polar bear plunge participants mostly do not submerge their heads, so they don’t suck down a lungful of water. They are also in shallow water, so swim failure is not an issue unless they venture out farther where the fire department safety guys are standing around in dry suits waiting to effect a rescue when needed.
That’s my 2-cents worth for the day.