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HWMinngrl
member (20)member
 
05/08/2022 02:49PM  
Hello all,

I have a question about safety measures on a trip when the water temp is quite cold. I’ve been to the BWCA twice before on day trips, but once was in early Sept after an entire summer of warming up the waters, and once was in mid-June when it was unseasonably warm (this was last June - it was so warm on Farm Lake / Kawishiwi River that wading in shallow water felt nearly like being in bath water and the air temp was 75 degrees). This year, however, I’ll be going in very late May and into early June. With the ice-out date still to come, but likely still occurring prior to my trip, are there any safety tips to keep in mind? I’m thinking that Gunflint Lake and the Granite River will be very cold, as cold as Lake Superior, I would imagine, and the one time I kayaked on Lake Superior I wore a full wet suit. I’m just thinking about the possibility of capsizing into water that is perhaps in the 40s. I’ve never heard of anyone wearing a wet suit in the BWCA, but what would you suggest for a trip when the water temps could be in the 40s?

Thank you !
 
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IowaGuy
senior member (100)senior membersenior member
 
05/08/2022 03:18PM  
Are you on a solo trip?

If not, is there more than 1 canoe in your group?

When I'm on solo trips in mid-May, I tend to canoe closer to shore if the conditions aren't perfect (wind/waves being the main risk). I don't take chances with big wind. Capsizing far from shore in a remote lake can be a death sentence in 40 degree water. Review the 1-10-1 rule, if you capsize you need to be able to reach shore in a few minutes before you start to lose muscle coordination.

If more than 1 canoe then you can stay relatively close together to increase safety should one boat capsize, but you should definitely have a safety plan in place beforehand. Wearing lifejackets should be a non-negotiable.

Not a bad idea to read the BWJ article about capsizing on Gabimichigami, it's a little dramatic but will get you thinking about how to avoid and/or deal with a cold-water capsize:

https://www.boundarywatersjournal.com/images/samples/judgement_day.pdf

I had a mid-May scare on Gabi many years ago when I was paddling across the main lake. I was a fairly inexperienced big-water canoeist at that point in life, and though it was very windy, the waves didn't look too bad from the lee side where I launched so I decided to go for it (young and invincible mentality). However, the wind steadily picked up from behind me during the crossing and as I slowly approached the windward side of Gabi the waves were growing larger than I'd ever canoed in. I started to slowly take on a little water from behind but luckily barely made it to shore without capsizing. It reshaped how I think about cold-water canoeing safety, I am much more risk-averse now and always have a safety plan should a capsize occur...
 
05/08/2022 03:26PM  
Having been there, and done that, I wouldn't bother with a wet suit even now. But I would recommend being cautious and staying out of the water. If you are 50 years old, you have a 50-50 chance of surviving 50-degree water for 50 minutes.
 
05/08/2022 03:51PM  
I'm headed out on Thursday, hoping it's possible to paddle. Yep, the water will be cold and presents unique dangers. I've never used a wet suit but do take other precautions. First, I stay closer to shore - For me and my skills, I'm less likely to tip and more likely to make it to shore if I do tip. Yes, I wear a PFD. I also stay off the water if it is too windy and I tend to be fairly conservative when it comes to waves.

Hoping everyone stays safe and enjoys their trips!
 
05/08/2022 04:24PM  
IowaGuy: "...and always have a safety plan should a capsize occur...
"


I'm curious on the details of your safety plan should a capsize occur?
 
05/08/2022 04:34PM  
I agree with IowaGuy and will add some. Do learn the 1-10-1 rule so you and others have an idea of how much time you have - in cold water its way less than people think. Everyone worries about hypothermia, but there are two bigger issues that happen much sooner - gasping in water and loss of muscle coordination.

If you have two or more canoes, it would be good to learn how to "right" a swamped canoe using the others, but keep in mind there is very little time to get that done and you might be better just focusing on getting to shore. There were 3 experienced paddlers on Tuscarora I think two years ago who tipped in cold water while fishing, and unfortunately time spent trying to right their own canoe may have been partially why only 2 of the 3 made it to shore.

Paddling close to shore is really big, and if you have two canoes stay fairly close together so one can aid the other quickly. I believe people tend to substantially overestimate their swimming abilities in good conditions, and its even worse in cold water and/or waves. Stay close to shore. Stay on shore if winds are bad and don't worry about keeping your schedule.

In my PFD pocket I have a sealed Altoids tin with 2 types of fire starters, matches, lighter, and fire starter, mini-flashlight, cord, mirror, razor, and a space blanket. If you go in cold water, first thing is you have to get out fast. Then focus on getting warm. Throughout the process you have to determine when/if you need to summon help. I also have a loud whistle in my PFD, and have sometimes carried an air horn. Finally, my Garmin InReach Mini is attached and can be activated if needed.
 
HWMinngrl
member (20)member
 
05/08/2022 04:46PM  
IowaGuy: "Are you on a solo trip?


If not, is there more than 1 canoe in your group?


When I'm on solo trips in mid-May, I tend to canoe closer to shore if the conditions aren't perfect (wind/waves being the main risk). I don't take chances with big wind. Capsizing far from shore in a remote lake can be a death sentence in 40 degree water. Review the 1-10-1 rule, if you capsize you need to be able to reach shore in a few minutes before you start to lose muscle coordination.


If more than 1 canoe then you can stay relatively close together to increase safety should one boat capsize, but you should definitely have a safety plan in place beforehand. Wearing lifejackets should be a non-negotiable.


Not a bad idea to read the BWJ article about capsizing on Gabimichigami, it's a little dramatic but will get you thinking about how to avoid and/or deal with a cold-water capsize:


https://www.boundarywatersjournal.com/images/samples/judgement_day.pdf


I had a mid-May scare on Gabi many years ago when I was paddling across the main lake. I was a fairly inexperienced big-water canoeist at that point in life, and though it was very windy, the waves didn't look too bad from the lee side where I launched so I decided to go for it (young and invincible mentality). However, the wind steadily picked up from behind me during the crossing and as I slowly approached the windward side of Gabi the waves were growing larger than I'd ever canoed in. I started to slowly take on a little water from behind but luckily barely made it to shore without capsizing. It reshaped how I think about cold-water canoeing safety, I am much more risk-averse now and always have a safety plan should a capsize occur...
"


Thank you! I will not be solo; my husband will also be on the trip. We will either be in one canoe or in two kayaks. I think we will plan to stay close to shore and paddle around bays rather than across them. Thanks for sharing that article; I am interested to read about that. I’m glad you made it out safely from your mishap! I am a pretty risk-averse person and like to have a plan in place ahead of time.
 
IowaGuy
senior member (100)senior membersenior member
 
05/08/2022 05:41PM  
Bobber#3, here is my cold-water safety plan:

When soloing in cold water, I always bring a spare set of warm dry clothes including stocking cap, synthetic long underwear top & bottom, warm pants, fleece jacket, warm socks, and gloves. I keep these in a dry bag and take them on all day trips. Dry bag also has fire-starting materials and a first-aid kit with loud whistle. Dry bag is lashed to the canoe. In addition, I have paracord tied to the canoe handle so I can line it if necessary.

If some wind, then I always canoe fairly close to the windward shore, even if it means a very circuitous route (I'm usually fishing anyway so biggie to stay somewhat close to shore in May). That way if I capsize, the canoe (with my dry clothes and firestarter) and I will quickly drift into shore (as opposed to blowing out to the middle of the lake, or getting separated from the canoe). Once I get to shore, while I still have muscle coordination, I will change out of my wet clothes and into my dry ones, and get a fire started for warmth.

Also, IMO just thinking through in detail what one would do upon capsizing is a very useful exercise and is part of a safety plan, so as to hopefully minimize panic if it ever actually happened...
 
05/08/2022 06:56PM  
This is where you want to be on windy days. We saw three canoes capsize while we watched from shore and never for a second considered going out to "help".





Bayley Bay, Basswood Lake, Quetico - August 2012
 
MikeinMpls
distinguished member(1055)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/08/2022 08:09PM  
bobbernumber3: "This is where you want to be on windy days. We saw three canoes capsize while we watched from shore and never for a second considered going out to "help".






Bayley Bay, Basswood Lake, Quetico - August 2012"


Your post made me think back to the times I have gotten in my canoe to "help" someone who had capsized. Two times were on solo trips, and the water was calm. Inexperienced canoers, one who decided to fish from his canoe, standing up, without a pfd.

Another time was with my wife on a Minneapolis lake. Dude paddling around a tandem, alone, again without a pfd. Too rough of water for him. I instructed him to hang on to my gunwale with one hand, but if he attempted to climb in my canoe, I would chop his fingers off. I was serious...sorry if I sounded llike a jerk, but panicked people do panicked things, and we didn't need three in the water.

So many times I/we've been at camp, whitecaps, water I wouldn't be on, and I've been paddling 45 years. I've asked myself if I would go out to assist in those conditions... I think I probably would not. Besides the inherent problems paddling an unloaded canoe in high winds, what would do? Perhaps hang on the canoe as I paddled them in... but their packs? Where would I bring them? To the shore...then what? To my campsite...uhhhh, no.

Much of the above was just stream of consciousness babbling cuz I'm wasting time.

Mike
 
Duff
distinguished member (130)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/08/2022 08:44PM  
Laugh at the wind.............from shore.
 
05/08/2022 08:59PM  
I would suggest you do all those things mentioned and bring a wetsuit/drysuit if you have one. Why not?
 
HWMinngrl
member (20)member
 
05/08/2022 09:14PM  
Thanks, all, for these great tips! I feel much more prepared for cold water temps and now I have a plan to implement. Some of these suggestions I wouldn’t have thought about, so I truly do thank you.
 
05/08/2022 09:18PM  
Your main goal is to be smart and stay out of the water. Don't take foolish risks.
 
OgimaaBines
distinguished member (350)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/09/2022 12:04AM  
Definetely make yourself a ditchkit that fits in your PFD. Emergency blanket, lighter/storm matches, tinder (vasoline soaked cotton balls are great), a powerbar, and an extra map of the area. I always have 1-2 knives on my person as well, but if you don't, a small knife in there will be good too. I don't expect I'd always be able to stay with my boat, and banking on being able to find my boat and secured/lashed packs or make it to a portage or more visible area by land has always been my plan. I've been out in some bad stuff a handful of times and never capsized, but came very very close a couple of them. When the water starts coming over the gunwales it's a scary feeling. All of these situations were avoidable, just the hubris of youth and not understanding how quickly wild weather can come up.

I have friends were were delayed for 3 days in the BWCA due to heavy winds. One of the group members was so worried that his girlfriend was worried that he convinced the rest of the group to go out in the whitecaps. They couldn't make it to the next portage and had to go opt for a worse campsite on the windward side of the lake.

I also wear wool, top and bottom as it is able to hold your heat better even when soaked. I stopped once for lunch at a campsite, and flipped the canoe getting back in, soaked up to my chest. It wasn't a cold and windy day but it was May in the BWCA and man I was glad for that warm wool.
 
TechnoScout
distinguished member (415)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/09/2022 08:12AM  
After reading this thread, I ordered a wool shirt for my trip in late May. I have never swamped a canoe, but I have only done about 500 miles in the BWCAW...there is a first time for everything, I suppose. Most of our route is not in open water, and the little that is, will be first thing in the morning when the winds are generally calm.
 
05/09/2022 09:32AM  
Do not lash your packs into your canoe. It would be very difficult to get them out if you wanted to attempt to upright your canoe for self-rescue. We grabbed our packs immediately and used them as extra flotation and also hung onto the canoes. The rest of the flotsam made our situation more evident to the luckily-timed float plane that dropped down for a mid-lake pick-up.

Becoming bobber#3
 
lionman
member (10)member
 
05/09/2022 09:40AM  
I've always gone to the BWCA in July-Sept when this isn't much of an issue, but a couple of weeks ago we flipped a canoe on the Mississippi in 38 degree water. I'm a strong swimmer, we were wearing PFDs, and were close to shore. Even then you start to loose mobility quickly, and cold shock isn't a joke. Since then, I've bought an NRS semi-dry top and hydroskin pants for early spring paddling. They're more comfortable than a wetsuit. Be careful out there!
 
05/09/2022 10:42AM  
I’ll be up in a week. If conditions look bad we wear a rain jacket over poly to jackets. I have extensive experience swimming in icy rivers. The rain jacket will hold in some body heat. An issue with a cold water dump is the initial shock and panic caused by the cold. Your body reacts to the extreme conditions, getting past the panic is a matter of experience. My advice is to keep your boat upright, if you don’t think you can do that stay on shore. On scary crossings we always lash out very water tight packs securely in the canoe. The packs displace a lot of water, it is possible to paddle a swamped canoe if done properly. This keeps your body out of the water minimizing hypothermia
 
05/09/2022 11:34AM  
There are many discussions on the forum about "ditch kits", if you don't have one -make one. Wear your PFD ALL the time you're in the canoe. I wouldn't treat a May trip any different than an Aug. trip. Dumping any time is a life- or- death situation.
You can minimize the dangers by using common sense and listening to the advice on the forum but s..t happens and how you are prepared to deal with it could make the difference between having a cool story to tell or a tragedy to forget.
 
Canoearoo
distinguished member(2534)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/09/2022 12:06PM  
This time of year, we always have a family ditch kit, and everyone has a change of clothes. In the ditch kit, we have 5 blankets, 4 ponchos, and lots of ways to start a fire.
 
EddyTurn
distinguished member (211)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/09/2022 03:13PM  
Wetsuite could be very annoying on a sunny day portages, even when water is just above freezing. As an alternative: in my experience wearing thermal underwear definitely gives some protection from hypothermia if the swim is not too long.
 
justpaddlin
distinguished member (425)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/09/2022 05:06PM  
I think you've gotten lots of great advice. The lifeguard in me just has to mention that the risk of cold shock (gasp reflex) is greatest in 50-60 degree water so if you are paddling alone it's best to have appropriate protection like a drysuit, semi-drysuit, wetsuit or drysuit/wetsuit pieces. I paddle year round in Michigan (not frequently in winter) and I have some 0.5 mm neoprene pieces for in-between seasons and I'd consider that pretty minimal protection for the conditions you'll be in.
 
mschi772
distinguished member(769)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/09/2022 05:24PM  
bobbernumber3: "Having been there, and done that, I wouldn't bother with a wet suit even now. But I would recommend being cautious and staying out of the water. If you are 50 years old, you have a 50-50 chance of surviving 50-degree water for 50 minutes."

I've heard a different variation of this psuedoscientific piece of "wisdom." "You have a 50% chance of making it 50 yards to shore in 50 degree water.

It'd be better to find some real science/data to share instead of folksy wisdom based more on how catchy it sounds than how accurate it is.

Cold shock (breathing, blood pressure, and cognitive impairment) can occur in water as warm as 50-60 deg F within as little as 3 minutes and can quickly result in hypothermia.
Involuntary gasping (which is a drowning hazard) during a surprise capsize/immersion can occur in water as warm as 75 deg F.
A human can survive in water of 40 deg F for 20-30 min before severe, dangerous symptoms overwhelm them.

Wear a properly-fitted PFD.
Wear/pack wool garments. Do not wear cotton, and do not rely on down.
Carry and know how to use a PLB or satellite messenger.
If you fall in, get to shore immediately. Get dry, even if that means getting naked first.
Get into dry clothes and/or wrap yourself in a blanket or your sleeping bag.
Start a fire and/or start heating water over your fire/stove. The fire is obvious, but drinking hot water is also extremely helpful.
If you cannot get your body temperature to rise or you start to feel disoriented, activate the SOS on your PLB/messenger especially if you are solo.
 
05/09/2022 05:52PM  
mschi772: "bobbernumber3: "Having been there, and done that, I wouldn't bother with a wet suit even now. But I would recommend being cautious and staying out of the water. If you are 50 years old, you have a 50-50 chance of surviving 50-degree water for 50 minutes."


I've heard a different variation of this psuedoscientific piece of "wisdom." "You have a 50% chance of making it 50 yards to shore in 50 degree water.


It'd be better to find some real science/data to share instead of folksy wisdom based more on how catchy it sounds than how accurate it is.
"


This folksy wisdom/catchy phrase only sticks with me because we were older than 50, colder than 50, and longer than 50. I agree it is totally unscientific.

My other folksy phrase is "You're not really cold until you pass out." In my experience.
 
HWMinngrl
member (20)member
 
05/21/2022 07:45AM  
I’m so thankful for this thread from a few weeks ago. After reading about two people who capsized already this spring, I want to be as prepared as possible for my trip on May 31 and I intend to be very cautious and play it safe, since I bet the rivers will still be raging in the next few weeks.
 
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