What You Need to Know About Cold Water Safety in Alaska

When you come up to Alaska for an adventure, chances are good that you’re going to at least get close to the water, if not on it. Chances are also good that water’s going to be pretty cold—it’s Alaska after all! If you come from an area where you don’t have to deal with extremely cold water, it’s important you understand cold water safety in Alaska and how you can make your trip a safe experience.

Information About Cold Water Safety

About 20 percent of people who fall into cold water die in the first minute of immersion because of cold water shock. Even strong swimmers can lose muscle control in about 10 minutes. This is because body heat gets lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. You have a much better chance of survival if you’re wearing a life jacket, but it is still highly dangerous.

With cold water, you should keep in mind the 1-10-1 principle. This being you have one minute to control your breathing, 10 minutes of muscle control and one hour until hypothermia sets in. This means time is of the essence. Most cold-water deaths will occur long before hypothermia sets in—for the most part, only people wearing a life jacket survive longer than 10 minutes in water that close to freezing.

It’s also important to keep in mind that just because air temperatures are getting warmer does not mean water temperatures are as well. It takes much longer for water to warm up for the season than it does air. Therefore, when the water is still cold, you should kayak, canoe, raft, paddleboard or boat at your own risk.

Safety Equipment

What can you do to prepare for time spend out on cold water? Aside from using common sense and being aware of your surroundings, the best approach to cold water safety in Alaska is having good gear on-hand:

  • Life jacket: Always wear a life jacket when out on water, especially when the water is so cold. Wearing a life jacket is the single-best way to increase your chances of survival if you fall into cold water.
  • Gear: Wear cold water protection gear that’s designed for the water temperature, not the air temperature. These include wet/dry suits, immersion suits, survival suits and exposure coveralls.
  • Radio: Carry an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or other radio signaling device with you any time you go out onto the water when it’s still extremely cold. This is especially important in more remote areas, but a good idea no matter where you go.

Have a Plan and Know the Conditions

Plan out your trip in advance, and make sure other people know where you’re going to be and when you’re going to be hitting certain markers on your trip. Leave details about the boat, passengers, towing or trailer vehicles, communication equipment and emergency contacts.

Always check the weather conditions before you go out, and get a reading on the water temperature. Consider waiting until the water is warmer if possible. For more tips and information about cold water safety in Alaska, contact us today.

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