Enjoy water activities safely

Quesnel Power and Sail Squadron discuss dangers of cold water

While mention has been made previously about the dangers of cold water immersion, we truly believe it is of such extreme importance that we’re making it the central theme of our next articles. We wish to acknowledge the assistance and material contributions made by WORKSAFE BC, the Canadian Red Cross and The Lifesaving Society of Canada.

It is without fear of contradiction that we emphatically state: Cold water is deadly!

Drowning is a major cause of death for those who earn their livelihood working on or near the water, and for those who use British Columbia’s rivers, streams, lakes, and ocean for much of their recreational fun. A significant contributor to the high fatality rates is the cold temperature of our waters. It has been shown again and again that a person’s physical fitness or ability to swim in warm water will not save him or her from drowning in cold water.  While hypothermia can be a factor, the killer is often that first shock of cold water on the body.  The effects of hypothermia take time — usually more than 30 minutes, but cold shock can be incapacitating within a minute or two.

Cold water is defined as water below 25°C but the greatest effects occur below 15°C … and our waters are usually below that. Exposure to cold water changes how your body functions and the effects are so powerful that you may not be able to help yourself.  The first shock takes your breath away. Within a very few minutes, your hands are so cold you cannot hold onto anything. You cannot pull yourself out of the water. Swimming becomes difficult or impossible as your breathing and muscles are affected by the cold. Eventually hypothermia sets in. Even if you are rescued, you may still die.


It was a cold and wet November night aboard a crab fishing boat off B.C.’s north coast. The crew members were re-baiting a crab pot on deck when the vessel took a port turn. They had been pulling traps on the starboard side, leaving the buoy line in the water. The line became caught in the propeller and started to pull the trap off the table. One of the crew reached for the trap as it slid over the side of the boat and was pulled into the water with it. As he entered the water, he let go of the trap and remained at the surface. Lines and floating objects were thrown well within his reach but he made no attempt to hold onto them. The crewmember was finally pulled on board after about 11 minutes in the water. He was unconscious and could not be revived. Neither he nor the other crewmembers were wearing a flotation device or immersion suit. The water temperature was 9°C (48°F).

We’ll continue next time with the four stages of cold water shock.

The Quesnel Power and Sail Squadron is proud to promote Boating and Water Safety.

Please support our efforts by encouraging your friends and family to always be water-safe.

If you would like more information about the Quesnel Power and Sail Squadron, talk to any member, or email your comments or questions to: c_rite_n@telus.net with QPSS in the Subject Line.