How to Survive a Kayak Hypothermia Attack

Refers to the inability of the body to re-warm itself from chilled. Many believe that hypothermia is caused by extremely cold water condition, but many studies suggest otherwise.

In “An Introduction to Canoeing/Kayaking” a teaching module by Iowa Department of Natural Resources Des Moines, Iowa state that the condition can happen at any temperature once the body is chilled by wind or wetting (Des Moines, Iowa).

Moreover, Mayo Clinic state that “Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature.” The clinic further explains that “Hypothermia (hi-Poe-THUR-me-uh) occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).”

Causes of Kayak Hypothermia

Once the body cannot withstand the temperature, a Kayaker/paddler is bound to suffer from the attack. The major cause is as a result of extremely cold water condition. The chart below, which is extracted from teaching guide documents the temperature levels that are likely to cause hypothermia and the degree of the attack.

Hypothermia Chart

Hypothermia Chart Water Temperature (measured in degrees Fahrenheit) Exhaustion or Unconsciousness Occurs Expected Survival Time
32.5 under 15 minutes under 15 – 45 minutes
32.5 – 40.0 15-30 minutes 30 -90 minutes
40 – 50 30-60 minutes 1-3 hours
50 – 60 1 – 2 hours 1 – 6 hours
60 – 70 2 – 7 hours 2 – 40 hours
70 – 80 3 – 12 hours 3 – indefinitely
over 80 indefinitely

Source (Iowa Department of Natural Resources Des Moines, Iowa)

Hypothermia Symptoms

When Kayaking or canoeing, it is advisable to understand the symptoms so that you can quickly discontinue your kayaking activities. Number one indication that you are suffering from the disorder is when the body starts shivering.

This erratic behavior by the body can go on for a while before other symptoms erupt. Slowly the lips turn blueish and there is “loss of feeling in extremities.” After a while, body shivering disappears and extreme fatigue crops in.

Besides, a paddler will start hyperventilating, disorganization, poor coordination and reasoning, and loss of dexterity. However, if the problem goes unattended the victim is more likely to succumb to death.

How to prevent Kayak Hypothermia attack

1. Heat Escape Lessening Posture

When attacked, position yourself to reduce heat loss by (Heat Escape Lessening Posture). To perform HELP, your legs to cross at the ankle and pulled towards the chest; have your arm crossed at the chest. Further, you can hold your neck with the hands, and let the head be above the water at all times. This technique is effective for a single kayaker.

2. Huddle Position

When kayaking in a group and affected by the condition at the same time, the huddle position applies, here, the group to swim together forming a circle, and once in a circular position, wrap the arms around each other while keeping your legs together, and always ensure that the heads are above the water at every opportune moment.

3. Wear Wetsuit or dry suit

Before boarding a Kayak, assembled the necessary clothing for kayaking, such as a dry suit for a replacement if the craft flipped. In many occasions, paddlers are spotted cruising cold water without lifejackets which at a time provide the needed warmth other than for buoyancy.

4. Drink adequate water

Drinking plenty of water every day helps keep the body rejuvenated and improve blood cell performance. To avoid dehydration, take a dozen of a glass of water before leaving for the boating journey.

5. Adequate food

Eat well and frequently to avoid hypothermia attacks. By eating well, you are strong and energetic and able to paddle through the waves to safety. When paddling on an empty stomach, it is a matter of time before you start feeling hungry and lose focus. When your stomach is demanding for while you are deep in the sea, chances of being driven away by the winds are not farfetched.

6. Dress for the cold

Kayaking during cold weather requires a paddle to dress appropriately for the bad weather. Michael Roberts wrote on Westword that “Coldwater is one of the largest factors when it comes to being injured. Hypothermia is a big concern, so you should be prepared for the cold temperatures with wet suits and dry gear.”

What to do when attacked

Seek for medical help, call the nearby health facility for assistance. To maintain warmth, it is advisable to Strip off wet clothes, put on dry, besides, take a hot drink if you are in a conscious state. To get help, call the Call help on 911 or VHF channel 16 if in the USA, or any other medical facility near you.

Kayakers believed to have died from Hypothermia

“The wind is getting stronger and the waves are growing. I fight as much as I can,” he wrote, adding he had eventually ended up on the beach, “soaked and frozen.” (Source: cabin radio).

Thomas Destailleur, in his documentary, narrates that “I am afraid of hypothermia,” he wrote, and “hoping the wind will fall.” A well-intended journey came to an abrupt in what could have been caused by cold weather attacked.

A man and his best friend suffered in a hypothermia attack after the kayak flip into the water. Unfortunately, the dog dies, while his best friend fought the severe hypothermia after kayak capsizes in Dorchester Bay. The two men were lucky to be saved by a goodSamaritan visiting the John F. Kennedy Library” who witnessed the stranded paddlers and called the police.

The two were lucky to perch on top of a float for an hour in a cold 40 degrees water. The two were rushed to the hospital for hypothermia treatment. Source: WHDH TV 7NEWS 


I wish to state that I am not a medical health officer. The information provided about kayak hypothermia attacks is for education and entertainment. For authoritative consultation and checkup, I do recommend that you consult further with your medical doctor. Moreover, for authoritative and qualified opinion online check on the and other registered health facilities online.

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