My name is Moulton Avery, and I need your help building the National Center for Cold Water Safety – an organization whose sole mission is to reduce the hundreds of close calls, injuries, and fatalities that occur each year when paddlers accidentally capsize in cold water.
Roughly nine out of ten open water paddling fatalities are the result of cold water immersion, yet most people have absolutely no idea that jumping or falling into cold water can be deadly – even for people who can swim. The tragedies that result from this lack of awareness are positively heartbreaking:
A Scottish wildlife expert and his seven year old son; a young man on his honeymoon; two young women in the prime of life who were just out for a short paddle; a father who took his two year old son out for a canoe ride on a shallow lake to give his wife a break on her birthday; a young woman who went out for a short canoe trip with her boyfriend, who wanted to serenade her with a guitar.
It's a long, sad list that gets longer every year, and the victims are fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, grandfathers and grandmothers, none of whom expected to die when they went out on the water that final time.
We’re in a unique position to change this tragic situation, but we need your support to make it happen.
“Moulton, if you just get the ball rolling, good people will come out of the woodwork, as if by magic, to help make this dream come true.”
While it might sound like the job is almost done, the really hard work is just now beginning. This coming year is going to be financially difficult for this fledgling organization. It’s a tough little bird, but it’s barely out of the nest, and we need your support to give it the wings to fly.
This fundraising campaign ends January 31st, so we have 15 days to make this happen. Please help us spread the word by telling everyone you know about our need for funding. Use Facebook, blogs, email, whatever you think will get the job done.
By working together we can really make this dream come true.
An Unspeakable Tragedy Gives Birth to a Dream
I want to share a very personal story with you. My dream of creating a National Center for Cold Water Safety began with a terrible tragedy two and a half years ago:
On May 16th, 2010, two young women, Irina McEntee, 18, and her best friend Carissa Ireland, 20, launched their kayaks for a short, round-trip paddle between Peaks Island and Ram Island in Casco Bay, Maine – a trip that Irena had made many times before. The water was calm and the weather was gorgeous and unseasonably warm when they put their boats in the water. Irena’s parents actually had a view of the paddling route from their house on Peaks Island and saw both girls land safely on Ram.
When they attempted to paddle home, however, the weather had changed. A marine Small Craft Advisory was in effect and the wind was gusting to 22mph. That may not sound like much on land, but out on the open water it’s another story, particularly for small human-powered boats like kayaks.
Unable to make headway against the wind, Irena and Carissa were blown out to sea and into much rougher conditions where, dressed only in shorts and light shirts, they capsized in brutally cold 48F (9C) water. After a grueling all-night search involving the U.S. Coast Guard, multiple local agencies, and more than 150 people, they were found by the Coast Guard at 9:00 am the following morning, floating lifeless in their PFD’s, three miles offshore and seven miles south of their original destination.
At the time they died, Irena and Carissa were almost exactly the same age as my own two daughters, and it was obvious to me that neither they nor their parents had any idea how deadly an unprotected immersion in cold water can be. I’ve been reading about tragic accidents in the great outdoors for forty years, but this particular tragedy picked me up and shook me like a rag doll.
I knew rationally that their deaths weren’t my fault, but emotionally, as a father, I couldn’t shake the haunting feeling that maybe if I’d done more to promote cold water safety rather than quitting the field at half-time to raise two daughters of my own, Irina and Carissa might still be alive. I wrestled with that feeling for weeks before finally deciding that I couldn’t live with myself if I walked away from this unspeakable tragedy and went on with my life as if nothing had happened. That’s the crucible in which my dream for a National Center for Cold Water Safety was formed.
Why Cold Water Is So Dangerous
With very few exceptions, immersion in cold water is immediately life-threatening for anyone not wearing thermal protection like a wetsuit or drysuit. When cold water makes contact with your skin, cold shock causes an immediate loss of breathing control. The result is a very high risk of suddenly drowning - even if the water is calm and you know how to swim. In rougher water, the danger is even greater. Inability to coordinate your breathing with wave splash greatly increases the danger of inhaling water.
Cold water drowning can happen immediately, but it can also take a fairly long time – a gruesome, drawn-out process in which small amounts of water are inhaled, over and over again, until your lungs become so waterlogged that you suffocate. Inhaling about five ounces (150 ml) of water is enough to cause drowning.
Furthermore, because skin blood vessels constrict in response to sudden cooling, cold water immersion also causes an instantaneous and massive increase in heart rate and blood pressure. In vulnerable individuals, this greatly increases the danger of heart failure and stroke.
All of these things happen long before hypothermia becomes an issue.
A Minefield of Misinformation
Cold water safety is a complex issue. It's poorly understood by the general public and the same holds true for many large organizations. Misinformation abounds, and can be found in books, magazine articles, news stories, videos, instruction manuals, and paddling courses. It’s also woven into the vast majority of cold water paddling advice available on the web.
Bad information spreads like a virus, and in my experience, the most effective antidote is to shine a spotlight on the problem and counter it with accurate information from the scientific and medical community. It’s a proven approach that works well, and it’s the reason you no longer hear bad advice like "remove your clothes if you fall into cold water", "treat frostbite by rubbing snow on it", and "don't ever let a hypothermia victim fall asleep; slap them if you have to".
We're going to address each of the many misconceptions in detail on the Center's web site so that you can see for yourself exactly why so-called rules like "50-50-50" or "air + water temperature" make absolutely no sense, have no science to support them, and should therefore be discarded.
Golden Rules of Cold Water Safety
Our cold water safety program is built on a foundation of five Golden Rules that are very practical and easy to follow, and we’re going to explain each of them in detail on the Center’s web site. While each rule is important in its own right, it’s the combination of all five that allows you to build yourself a strong cold water safety net.
Always Wear Your PFD
Always Dress for the Water Temperature - No Exceptions
Field-test Your Gear
Swim-test Your Gear Every Time You Go Out
Imagine the Worst That Can Happen and Prepare for It
Tragic Stories Change Peoples’ Minds and Behavior
To effectively promote cold water safety, we need to put a personal face on this issue. A key feature of our website will be a section that looks at the personal stories behind the close calls and fatalities that result from immersion in cold water.
I know how effective that approach can be because my own life was changed forty years ago when I almost died of hypothermia on my first-ever backpacking trip. It was a rough, eye-opening experience, but I didn’t find out just how close I came to dying until several weeks later when I ran across a used copy of Dr. Theodore Lathrop’s groundbreaking booklet: Hypothermia – Killer of the Unprepared.
Dr. Lathrop was a smart man, and he carefully balanced the dry facts of heat production, heat distribution and heat loss with graphic accounts of victim after victim who had succumbed to hypothermia. Reading their stories, it was very easy for me to imagine myself as one of them. The information in his booklet not only changed my rosy view of the great outdoors, it also changed the course of my entire life.
About Our Mission
The National Center for Cold Water Safety was established to reduce the incidence of close calls, injuries, and fatalities due to cold water immersion. We’re in a unique position to accomplish this because our sole mission is the study and promotion of cold water safety. Research and program activities at the Center are devoted to bridging the gap between basic scientific and medical research and the practical application of that knowledge in support of cold water safety.
Accurate information on cold water safety is vital to anyone venturing onto cold water, whether their sport is canoeing, kayaking, sailing, fishing, hunting, paddle boarding, board sailing, surfing, open water swimming, scuba diving, rowing, surf skiing, or motor boating. It is also mission-critical for risk management, occupational safety, emergency management, search and rescue, and any commercial or military operations in which immersion in cold water is a possibility.
The National Center for Cold Water Safety is a valuable resource to which both individuals and other organizations can turn for accurate information, technical assistance, and training on the subject. Our educational philosophy is to partner with any individual, group, or organization interested in the promotion of cold water safety.
About Moulton Avery
Moulton Avery is an expert on heat and cold stress, and an internationally recognized authority on cold water safety. He served as Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Physiology in Washington, DC for ten years, where he developed the first national public health campaigns to safeguard vulnerable populations during extremes of hot and cold weather.
Before moving to Washington, DC, he was Director of Carolina Wilderness Institute, a non-profit skills-based wilderness school he founded in North Carolina, where he developed and taught dozens of semester-length courses, classes, and workshops on a wide range of wilderness travel and outdoor safety subjects.
Moulton has been a key figure in promoting cold water safety for over thirty years, and his work on heat and cold stress prevention has been nationally featured in hundreds of newspaper articles, radio programs, and television shows, including The Washington Post, All Things Considered, and Oprah.
He is the author of numerous journal and magazine articles on the subject of heat and cold stress and his writing has appeared in publications such as Emergency Medical Services, Encyclopaedia Britannica, American Pharmacy, Aging, Rowing USA, and Sea Kayaker. His pioneering article, Cold Shock, appeared in Sea Kayaker Magazine Vol.7, No. 4, 1991. He gave his first lecture on Accidental Hypothermia in 1974.