Rowing in Maine in the spring and fall means the water and air temperatures will be cold. And no matter what level of blade expertise you have, accidents can happen. Even a stable recreational shell can flip if you encounter debris, wakes, or simply catch a crab. We all like to think, “it can’t happen to me.” But, it can happen! Rowing when the water temperature falls below 50 degrees should be done with great consideration and caution. Hypothermia is a swift and incapacitating killer that strikes when the combination of cold weather and moisture work to decrease body temperature. It can take mere minutes before a full-size adult is incapable of helping herself/himself once hypothermia has set in. Keep in mind that you don’t have to fall in the water to get hypothermia. Cold air temperatures and any moisture on the body (from being splashed, rain, sleet, snow) can lead to hypothermia.
The following measures are recommended when rowing in cold weather:
SIGN OUT in the logbook AND let others know when you will be on the lake
ADHERE TO THE FOUR OAR RULE The boat must have a minimum of four oars on the water, or
USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM Single scullers should row in minimum groups of 2 boats (preferably in groups of 3 boats; 1 to go for help, 1 to stay with the wet/injured rower).
WEAR AN INFLATABLE COMPACT LIFE VEST or wet suit.
STAY CLOSE TO SHORE Row along the Rt. 52 shore and NOT out toward the middle of the lake. You must be able to get out of the water in 5 minutes.
TAKE WITH YOU (1) a cell phone in a waterproof bag attached to the boat; and (2) a noisemaker of some kind, also attached to the boat and easily accessible.
The only true safety device or practice other than common sense is a support/coaching launch. In the event of an emergency, a well-prepared safety launch can assist the individuals in question and transport them to safety. Even then, hypothermia is an issue. All individuals should ask themselves before launching if being on the water is the best and only way to train.
Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when the temperature of the human body is lowered to a dangerous point due to exposure to cold and/or wet conditions. Cold temperatures and wet conditions work together to pull heat away from the body, lowering the body’s core temperature. Even in mild conditions, the addition of rain or submersion in cold water and can sufficiently reduce body warmth to trigger hypothermic conditions in the body. A person’s condition can degrade rapidly, impairing breathing and coordination, making it impossible to swim or keep one’s head above water. Emergency action needs to be taken no matter what the level of hypothermia.
SYMPTOMS Rapid shivering, numbness, loss of strength and coordination, semi- consciousness.
ACTION Maintain open airway. Transfer to a warm environment as soon as possible. Remove wet clothing. Use blankets to help warm individual or, if available, a warm shower. Warm torso area first. Seek medical attention.
SYMPTOMS Person will be pale, stiff, and cold, unresponsive to stimuli, and possibly unconscious. Little or no cardiac or repository activity will be present.
ACTION Move or manipulate as gently as possible. Prevent further heat loss, but DO NOT attempt to re-warm. Maintain open airway, and activate EMS procedures. Call for emergency help immediately!
PHOTO CREDIT AMY WILTON