Monday, February 1, 2016

Kayaking is only Safe if you make it that way

For most people kayaking is a relaxing and relatively safe sport.  However, as can be seen in several recent news stories, kayaking can also be dangerous -- and even deadly.  One of these news stories recounts a January 9th kayaking accident on Canyon Lake in which two brothers, aged 17 and 25 died.  The cause of the deaths is still being investigated.  What is known is that the brothers set off from shore at noon and at some point became separated from their kayaks.  A a helicopter, boat, and shoreline search commenced when they were reported missing later that afternoon.  Their kayaks were found on Saturday evening.  However, their bodies were not found until the following morning.

Canyon Lake, Texas on a quieter day.
 According to Weather Underground, wind speeds near Canyon Lake, which were about 14 mph at 3pm, spiked to 29 mph at 4pm on that afternoon.  Although little has yet been reported about the cause of this accident, it is very likely that the two paddlers were unable to make progress and then ultimately capsized when the wind speeds picked up.

One article on the accident reports that the water temperature of the lake was 55 degrees.  According to United States Search and Rescue Task Force, most victims will be exhausted or unconscious in less than 2 hours in water of this temperature.  Expected survival time is 1 - 6 hours.  For victims not wearing life jackets, exhaustion would come more quickly and drowning would occur immediately after the victim becomes unconscious.

People often underestimate the danger of cold water, mistakenly thinking that swimming in 55 degree water might be the same as walking around in 55 degree air.  However, as USSRTF points out, "Cold water robs the body's heat 32 times faster than cold air."  So while an inactive person without extra clothing might start to shiver after an hour or more in  55 degree air, the same person will start to shiver within 2 minutes in 55 degree water.

What can kayakers learn from this tragedy?  Wear your life jacket.  Be aware of the danger of paddling in water below 60 degrees.  Know your limits.  Listen to weather forecasts before you go out.   Be safe out there!

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