The  Chesapeake Paddlers Association is fortunate to have many talented individuals who are willing to donate their time to pass along their knowledge to other club members.  As I was once told, "It was the way I learned.  Someone taught me,  I'm only passing the information along.  It will help keep you safe."  I love that attitude.  

Anyway, yesterday CPA co-hosted another lecture/workshop on the topic of Cold Water Safety.  The speaker was Moulton Avery, internationally recognized heat and cold stress authority, Executive Director of the National Center for Cold Water Safety, and long-time fellow Chesapeake paddler.   The presentation was held at Annapolis Canoe and Kayak.

Having reviewed hundreds of accidental drowning cases, Moulton has come to characterize Cold Water as a large, hungry predator.  "It is fast, powerful, and deadly.  It has unlimited energy, no need for sleep, and is perfectly camouflaged," he states.   He paints a vivid picture, one best kept in mind while floating on it's back this winter.   You can look at cold water from three feet away and it looks perfectly innocuous.  Throw in an inviting sunrise, a little warm air flow from the Gulf, and most of us are eager to take the bait.  But don't be fooled.  Cold water is a ruthless killer.  If it doesn't fill your lungs with water in it's initial envelopment, it will try to stop your heart or cause your brain to stroke.  And if you are lucky enough to survive the initial few minutes, over the next hour or so it will literally suck the life out of you.  

Nine out of ten canoe and kayak fatalities are cold water related.  According to the US Coast Guard, in 2011 canoe and kayak ranked second out of 13 boat classifications in the number of fatalities.  The only boat classification that had more fatalities than us were the power boats.  

So, next time you consider cold water paddling; before you leave please look over Moulton's Five Golden Rules.  They will help you stay alive.  Then remember my reminder: Hunting season is open.  The predator is hungry and he will be waiting for you.  

This morning after writing this blog, I learned that as we tested our gear yesterday in 36° F bay waters, some folks in Jamaica Bay, NY faced down the predator.  This time the prey escaped, but there will be many more face-offs this season.  

Please, read the information provided on the National Center for Cold Water Safety website.  It contains much practical information aimed at increasing your chances for survival should a mishap occur.  As Moulton readily points out, no one plans to drown.  But we all also make mistakes.  On land, mistakes carry with them little consequence.   On cold water, even the smallest of mistakes can cost you your life.  We all must plan and prepare for the worst possible events that can happen.  Above all, dress for the water temperatures and wear your PFD.  Proper cold water dress will buy you time in your struggles with the beast.  While help may be only a few feet away, rescues never happen quickly and the countdown begins when you hit the water.

Good luck out there. 

Note:  The National Center for Cold Water Safety is a non-profit organization.  It relies on your charitable contributions for continuing support.  Please help them get the word out.  We need to work with them to change the statistics.   Get involved.  Donate!

Post Script.
CPA steering committee member Catriona Miller has posted Moulton's presentation on YouTube.  Due to the length, it's posted in two parts.

Cold Water Safety Part 1
Cold Water Safety Part 2
_ Last Thursday my friends invited me to do a paddle with them to see the cherry blossoms over by the Tidal Basin in Washington DC.  We met up at the Columbia Marina at o-dark thirty and put in to paddle across to the Potomac’s north shore.  It was a foggy morning.  In the darkness, we each had headlamps, or rear-mounted deck lights to make ourselves visible to other boaters – not that there is a lot of boat traffic in Washington DC at 6:30 AM, but you know - it's the safety thing.  From the tidal basin, we began working our way up river along the seawall, towards Chain Bridge.  I had not been past the Roosevelt bridge on previous paddles in this area, so my friends were pointing out the various sites: the infamous Watergate Hotel, the actual water gate used to damn Rock Creek and flood the lock so that boats could transition from the C&O Canal to the Potomac; Roosevelt Island; the Washington Canoe Club; Jack’s boathouse, and a long list of other places and sites I’ve read about, but never seen.

Somewhere along the way, Kurt, a retired naval officer, asked me if I had my Boaters Certification with me.  “Huh?  What’s that?” I replied stupidly, thinking he must be joking.  “Your Safe Boaters Certification.  Didn’t you know you could be heavily fined for paddling in DC waters without one?”  “You’re kidding,” I said with a sigh as the realization that he was serious settled into my consciousness.  “No.  Seriously, if the Coast Guard stops us, you could receive a $1000 fine if you do not have one on your person.  By the way, there is a course that is going to be offered by the DC Harbor Police on April 22nd.  You might consider taking it.  It’s free.”  “Well, damn.  You learn something new every day,” I thought.  “Someone is always making things difficult.” "Do you have one?" I asked.  Kurt looked at me with for a moment then said, "I was in the Navy.  It's a requirement."  I could read the punctuation on his face - "dummy."

Did you know that you are required to have a Boating Safety Certificate to legally paddle in DC waterways?  Did you know that not carrying a whistle is an arrestable offense? 

I didn’t either.  Turns out, more and more states are moving in the direction of requiring canoeists, kayakers, even SUP paddlers to be course certified in water safety, just like the big guys.  Most states honor certificates from other states.  So, if you were certified in Virginia your certification is valid on Washington DC waterways.   

Apparently, these legalities are not new.  They have just not been enforced because most paddlers are safety conscious.  Paddling safety is given top billing on most kayaking websites.  But, I’m thinking that much if this recent emphasis is being driven by the rash of drowning we’ve seen recently.  Many in this area were kayak related.   Kayak fishing seems to be an upcoming sport.  Unfortunately, some of the fish hooked play a kayak like my dog plays with a yard ball.  And while this is part of the “sport,” it can also be dangerous.  In cold weather, at night, and with even colder water conditions, and maybe a few brewskis…  well, who knows how much fun you can have?   “Hmmm,” I’m thinking.  “So, maybe this forced education and certification might not be such a bad proposition.”  I’ve also run into some pretty obnoxious SUP paddlers who seem to think that because they are small and self-propelled, they have the right of way and can paddle anywhere they choose – including large boat harbors.  This could actually be a very good thing.

I'm also thinking that we're going to see a much more rigorous enforcement of these issues as the summer draws near.  So, you've been forewarned.

I’m interested in hearing your thought on the subject.  Do you think Safe Boating Certificates are a good thing?  Or just one more government regulation that interferes with your freedoms.

Here is a link to help direct you to where you too can become “edjumakated” and board certified.

USCG Auxilliary “About Boating Safety”  The site contains an embedded link to a Zip Code Course Finder.

If you live in or near the DC Metro area, there is a free course that will be taught by Rob Calligaro of the DC Harbor Police on River Safety.  It will teach about the legal requirements, Navigational rules, safety equipment, and other issues related to safe boating and paddling.  The course is free and is the equivalent of the United States Coast Guard approved Boating Safety Certificate.  More information is provided in the calendar link.

BTW, I'd like to thank Kurt for the stimulating discussion of Boating Safety Certification that seeded this blog.

Post Script:
Boating safety classes are available throughout the year on
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
(VDGIF) website.

The District of Columbia Harbor Police also offers an online course.

Stay safe out there.