Cold Water Paddling
WW Safety and Risk Management
Review & Discussion Notes
- Individual responsibility
- James Raffan’s - “Lemon theory” (from Wilderness Crisis Management)
- Princeton Outdoor Action Centre – Accident* Model – “Multiplicative Factors”
- Specific Spring (Cold Water) Paddling Preparations
1. Individual responsibility
- Review own notes, shake out the mental dust
- Be prepared, physically (fuelled!?) , mentally, attitudinally, emotionally
- Check out the gear, don’t assume. Fix/repair/replace, buy, rent or borrow as necessary
- Remember that away from land the group becomes a team (mutual supporting)
- Stay in voice contact (calm days) & signal contact (hand, paddle, whistle) in adverse conditions.
- Learn, practice and pass along common safety signals.
- Commit to paddling at speed of slowest canoe in the group
- Be aware of needs of others in the group
- Paddle in a group (not alone) there is safety in numbers. (Club protocol is 3 boats)
- Paddle within own abilities and voice concern if being “pushed” beyond own comfort zone (Remember there is no shame in walking)
- Have the gear (invest $!) sized paddles, helmet, pfd, throw rope, whistle, bailer, knife, balm …
- Make an investment in own training and practice, practice, practice.
- Be courteous to everyone with whom one comes in contact with on the water or shoreline to maintain and build our paddlers good reputation.
- Treat the fragile environment with care, keep well away from wild life.
- Be aware of other traffic on the water and give them ample room.
- Review “River Running protocols” (upstream boats have right-of-way, 1st boat down becomes safety, discuss with leader a “ducky” or leap-frog strategy. If in doubt (eg at a bend and 1st time on the river) – check it out (shore scout).
2. Lemon Theory (after James Raffan’s Wilderness Crisis Management)
Its not really about the real fruit, rather this theory uses the analogy of the lemons in the jackpot machine to illustrate the process by which accidents happen in the outdoors. When you play the jackpot machine (aka - “one-armed bandit”), you win when you get a whole row of 5 lemons; in the lemon theory, when you do get a whole row of ‘lemons’, the opposite happens…. you lose!
In the outdoors, accidents* are rarely caused by a single catastrophic event, rather accidents are often the results of a chain of decision and events, one leading to another, that add up to create sufficient accident potential to precipitate an accident. What this means is that while individual incidents are harmless when it occurs by itself, the snowballing effect of the consequences of the chain of incidents often leads to an accident of high consequences.
Every time a group ventures outdoors, they are putting a token into the slot and pulling down the handles of an “Outdoor Disaster Jackpot Machine”. Each time a casual factor such as not bringing sufficient warm clothing is overlooked, up pops a lemon in one of the windows of the machine. As more and more factors are overlooked, more lemons appear. The process continues until the end of the activity where no jackpot appears or when all lemons appear – Disaster!
A situation might be as follows:
The one guy who really knows the route, Kelvin, has the flu on the morning of departure and did not turn up but the group decided to carry on as Paul, sort of knows the way – Up pops 1 lemon.
Many people did not have adequate warm clothing and rain gear – Up pops another lemon, that makes 2!
Bad weather signs were ignored – Another lemon pops up, making it 3 lemons in total.
The group left the main track to take a “short-cut” of which Paul wasn’t really sure of, which looked like a path – Up pops another lemon, which makes it 4!
The group gets a whole row of lemons; they got lost and the rain is pouring and some of the group members get seriously ill due to the cold! So there!
Looking at the lighter side of things, this article is not about the danger of the outdoors, it is about the lemon theory, which is a very simple and easy to remember way of enhancing safety in the outdoors. Keep the lemons from occurring too often during the trip and you will have made the trip a safer one. Avoid those lemons!
Thanks to Ng Chong Herng who took the initiative to post this to the Internet ..
(*Editors Comment – I try to avoid using the word “accident” as this absolves responsibility and infers its all a matter of chance).
3. Planning a Safe River Trip - Outdoor Action Guide to Outdoor Safety Management (by Rick Curtis)
- Know the river
- Know your group
- Know your own skills and resources
- Have the right equipment
b. On the River
- Travel safely
- Keep the group together in some fashion
- Be prepared for a rescue
- Have the proper paddling and rescue skills
These two factors can overlap to a greater or lesser extent. The greater the overlap the higher the Accident Potential. The effect of combining Environmental Hazards and Human Factor Hazards multiplies the Accident Potential rather than simply being additive. The greater the number of hazards, the more quickly the Accident Potential can rise. For example:
Accident Potential Increase
2 Environmental Hazards
2 Human Factor Hazards
4 times higher Accident Potential
3 Environmental Hazards
3 Human Factor Hazards
9 times higher Accident Potential
Examples of Hazards
i. Environmental Hazards
ii. Human Factor Hazards
Cold temperatures (water/air) equipment
Overexposure to sun
Poor physical strength, stamina
No awareness of hazards
No skills to avoid hazards
Resistance to instructions
Irresponsible/careless attitude towards self, others, equipment
Other inexperienced paddlers on the river
Need to "prove" self - macho
Lack of proper equipment (PFD, helmet etc.)
Improper clothing for temperature
Boat in poor repair
Lack of knowledge of environmental hazards
Inadequate skills to extricate self and group from hazards
Poor safety judgment
Poor teacher of necessary skills
Poor supervisor, does not correct problems
Ineffectual under stress
Bad road conditions
Other erratic drivers
Rushing to meet schedule
Overly tired from long drive
Not driving defensively
Poor driving skills
Group not yet formed, lacks cooperative structure
Interpersonal frictions unresolved
Poor communication patterns
Scapegoating or lack of concern for slow or different
Individuals excessive pressure or stress to "perform" macho
No practice in working harmoniously under stress
Lack of leadership within group
Splintering into sub-groups
4. Spring/ Cold Water Paddling – Be Prepared
White water paddling is often at its best real early in the season as the ice melts. The annual migratory urge is incredibly strong as we seek to put our paddles back in the water at a time when there are no bugs, lots of river power and very cold water. While the urge is not to be denied, there are increased risks that need to be respected. Lets be prepared.
Situation - it is a sunny spring day in early April and the air temperature is a comfortable 18 degrees centigrade. Our paddling muscles are just aching to get going. Reality checks tell us the water can still be a great deal lower, and at 0-1 degree C it has the ability to suck life preserving heat from our bodies at an incredible rate. (30 times faster than air!) There are also a lot of other freaky things afoot on our rivers in Spring, like increased presence of sweepers and human made strainers, flooded river banks, powerful currents, and ice.
While there are many short lived rivers that beg to be paddled in early spring, there are risks ranging from slight personal discomfort, thru hypothermia, a spoiled trip, loss of physical control, or even drowning. So what strategies for avoiding & dealing with the increased challenges of Spring paddling?
Lets Consider – What are some of the Hazards and Risks?
- Ice bridges that create effective strainers ( virtually impossible to escape if caught underneath).
- Sweepers and other accumulated Spring river ‘junk’ (strainers). Bridge Pilings!
- Flood level currents with increased power and the ability to swamp an open boat
- Very cold water that can quickly suck the life preserving heat out of our bodies.
- Upon immersion in cold water – the gag reflex that can cause us to involuntarily inhale cold water.
- Hypothermia. (Numb in 5 minutes, dead in one hour?)
- Secondary drowning (insipient, dangerous, not overly obvious)
- Rapid loss of strength and muscle control which severely hampers our self- rescue ability.
- Increased time delay in our traveling companions providing aid in pushy water conditions.
- Dormant muscle-memory (or to avoid loss of self esteem, as some would call it, “rusty paddles”)..
- Sun and Wind burn (face, lips, hands) and trench foot
Strategies for success
- Lets check our gear carefully and ensure it is still serviceable and hasn’t deteriorated over the winter months (surprising what a few hungry squirrels can do).
- Get to the pool in January, February and March and practice kayak/canoe rolling.
- Take conservative lines, avoid taking on excessive water when paddling open boats (eg “wave blocking”, back paddling, spray decks) and in “big” water – get there early!
- Travel in relatively close mutually supporting groups (minimum of two or better still, three boats).
- Be well fed, hydrated and rested.
- Know how to prevent hypothermia, how to recognize in self & others and what to do about it.
- Carry along a “hypothermia kit” in a water proof barrel.
- Carry a thermos flask of warm drink (ht chocolate, apple cider or even jello mix).
- Group First Aid kit (as always), Don’t forget your sunscreen, glasses and lip balm too.
- Be well protected with a dry suit or wet suit, neoprene paddling gloves, wear a skull cap under helmets and wind-proof paddling jacket.
- Having the right gear (helmet, throw rope, spare paddle, bailer, sun screen, layered and spare clothing, sun glasses, skull cap, mits, booties, etc., etc) is ok as long as we know how to use it
- Stretch and Warm-up before commencing the run.
- Be realistic in our self-assessments about our readiness to paddle a given spring river. Lets not get in “over our heads”.
- Gather recent intelligence about conditions on intended rivers and weather forecasts.
- Practice braces including that powerful “righting pry”.
- Consider ‘shock loading’ wetsuits with warm water (or tea?) to avoid a potential gag reflex upon immersion in cold water.
- If a wet exit is unavoidable, keep mouth above water, or shut, to avoid a gag reflex.
- Carry a hypothermia kit (dry clothes, sleeping bag, matches, hot chocolate) on longer runs or where escape routes are not too accessible.
- Take a river rescue course. Practice self rescue skills
- In a rescue scenario in cold water – paddlers come first! (gear, kit, boats are a 2nd priority).
- Paddle hard all summer and really build up a solid skill base.
- Other stuff – spare paddle, whistle, pfd, water, sunscreen, sun glasses, bug dope, 1st aid kit.