Many fatal boating accidents accrue do to cold water immersion, the initial cold water shock may produce instant cardiac arrest and if you survive the initial coldwater shock you soon will have to deal with hypothermia the key to cold water boating is preparation.
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Hypothermia, Cold Water Immersion And Cold Water Shock
Our dry suits may be the favorite piece of padding gear you'll enjoy using on our trips.

Backcountry Safaris Supplies Dry Suits
Sea Kayaking in Alaska Cold WaterWe supply dry suits for your comfort on all our rafting and kayaking adventures. Most outfitters will offer you rain gear to paddle in which may not help protect you from hypothermia in Alaska's cold water as well as a dry suit can. Your comfort is high on our list. Another advantage to dry suits is that in wet weather they add warmth and a comfort level you would not think possible in Alaska's environment.

What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is subnormal temperature within the central body. When a person is immersed in cold water, their skin and nearby tissues cool rapidly. However, it may take 10 to 15 minutes before the temperature of the heart and brain starts to drop. When the core temperature drops below 90° F serious complications begin to develop. Death may occur at about 80° F; however, a person may drown at a higher temperature due to loss of consciousness or inability to use the arms and legs.

What is Cold Water Shock?
Besides hypothermia, the initial shock of cold water can place severe strain on the body, producing instant cardiac arrest. In cold water immersion your breath can be driven from you and cause a phenomenon known as dry downing. Also called laryngospasm reflex, the cold shock can prevent you from breathing. Your larynx closes the airway and essentially causes asphyxiation; you suffocate since you are not able to breathe. Some people experience an involuntary reflexive gasp for breath and can inhale water rather than air if the face is in the water. Most of these immediate body responses are increasingly fatal as the water temperature decreases.

What Happens In Cold Water?
icebergs at Pederson GlacierMany of the fatal boating accidents accrue do to Cold Water Immersion and Hypothermia. What happens to the body when suddenly plunged into cold water?

The first hazards to contend with are panic and shock. The initial cold water shock can place severe strain on the body, producing instant cardiac arrest.

Your breath will be driven from you on first impact with the water. Should your face be in the water during that first involuntary gasp for breath, it may well be water rather than air. Total disorientation may occur after cold water immersion. Persons have reported "thrashing helplessly in the water" for thirty seconds or more until they were able to get their bearings.

Immersion in cold water can quickly numb the extremities to the point of uselessness. Cold hands cannot fasten the straps of a lifejacket, grasp a thrown rescue line, or hold onto an over-turned boat. Within minutes, severe pain clouds rational thought. And, finally, hypothermia (exposure) sets in, and without rescue and proper first aid treatment, unconsciousness and death.Normal body temperature of course, is 98.6° F. Shivering and the sensation of cold can begin when the body temperature lowers to approximately 96.5° F. Amnesia can begin to set in at approximately 94° F, unconsciousness at 86° F and death at approximately 79° F.

We're Prepared
dry suits hypothermiaPreparation is the key to cold water paddling. You must dress appropriately for the water temperature regardless of the air temperature. A prepared paddler is always ready for an unexpected dunking. Any water colder than body temperature can start the effects of hypothermia and cold water shock. Water colder than body temperature is the norm even in southern rivers and lakes. In Alaska, water temperatures less than 40° F would not be that uncommon on many of our glacier rivers or when paddling around tidewater glaciers.

Every year we are amazed at how many of our fellow paddlers (including very experienced paddlers) that we encounter are not properly dressed for the environment they are in. Most Alaskan whitewater rafting companies have acknowledged that drysuits are essential gear needed for their guests. Sea kayaking companies have been slower to come around and even today very few sea kayaking outfitters furnish this essential piece of gear to their guests.

Wearing a drysuit can increase your survival time and help protect you from cold water shock should you take an unexpected swim.

Wearing a drysuites can increase these times greatly.
Water Temperature
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness
Expected time of survival in the water
32° F (0° C)
Under 15 minutes
Under 15–45 minutes
32.5 – 40° F (0 – 44° C)
Common Temperature Found in Alaska
15–30 minutes
1–3 hours
40 – 50° F (4 – 10° C)
30–60 minutes
2–40 hours
50 – 60° F (10 – 16° C)
1–2 hours
1–6 hours
60 – 70° F (16 – 21° C)
2–7 hours
30–90 minutes
70–80° F (21 – 27° C)
3–12 hours
3 hours – indefinitely
Alaska Travel hotline

Backcountry Safaris
P.O. Box 1397 Seward, Alaska USA 99664
1-907-205-5900 • Fax 1-907-205-5902
Alaska Cruise Expert

Backcountry Safaris is a member of the following trade and travel organizations:
Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureeu
Alaska travel package
Hypothermia Related Links
Cold Water Boot Camp
Cold Water Boot Camp - YouTube
Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht (Professor Popsicle)
Outdoor Action Guide to Hypothermia
Hypothermia Treatment And Medication
Pre-hospital torso-warming modalities

Hypothermia, Cold Water ImmersionDid You Know?
Hypothermia, a preventable lowering of the core body temperature causes approximately 600 deaths each year in North America
Kenai Fjords Related Links
Kenai Fjords Wildlife
Kenai Fjords Birds
Suggested Reading
Kenai Fjords Historic Resource Study (online book) by Linda Cook and Frank Norris
Exploring Alaska's Kenai Fjords by David Miller
Kenai Fjords Park - Trails Illustrated Map
Alaska: A History of the 49th State by Claus-M Naske and Herman E. Slotnick
Guide to the Birds of Alaska by Robert H. Armstrong
Wild Flowers of the Yukon, Alaska by John G. S. Trelawny
Kenai Fjords Weather
Current Seward, AK Weather
Click for Seward, Alaska Forecast

Did You Know?
Sea Kayaking HistoryThe ancient Aleut name for a sea kayak is Iqyak and sea kayaking history goes back thousands of years. Archaeologists have found evidence that the native people of Alaska, northern Canada, and Southwest Greenland developed this sea going craft to hunt seals and walrus back as far as 4000 years ago.
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