I'm working on a Cold Water Immersion project and am looking for real-life stories from those who have unexpectedly fallen overboard and/or capsized a boat in Alaska waters. Please tell me your story and include the water temp & air temp (if you remember it), the circumstances that led up to when you found yourself in the water, what went through your mind during the entire cold water immersion process, how you were rescued, whether or not you had on a PFD and any other details you may recall. Either post here or send me a PM, please! Thanks! Mike
I can't think of any good ones or even any that would help you out. The only times I have gone in the water were either on purpose, messing around, or while wading along the shoreline.
I will say the times in watercraft we had no PFD's. They all happened in interior Alaska rivers and lakes during June and July not sure on water temps but the air was warm 70-75 degrees. Every time we just swam to shore or got back in the canoe and paddled a full canoe to shore then dumped it out and did it again, we were immersed for 3-10 minutes on each occasion.
ice & bath water
These stories are not much, but they are true.
Had a contest to see who could stand in shorts and flip flops longest up to their knees in the Knik in July. I made it 30 seconds and could hardly walk when I got out. My freind (with more body fat) made it 90 seconds and could barely walk and her legs were bright red as though sunburned.
Try holding your head under water in a direct snow/glacier melt stream and see how long you can take it......I have never lasted more than 3 full seconds.
In my experience our bodies our ultra sensitive to water temperatures at or near the freezing point, and also at or near our body temperatures (when did you ever see a hot tub over 106 that any body could stay in for more than a few minutes.
I think I saw a graph that showed an exponential difference in our ability to tolerate water within 5 degrees of freezing or 98. In between these points it is a more linear function that ranges out to the common reported times of around 30 minutes to an hour or so before you are toast (or ice!).
Along with Tito...
I too succumbed to "cold water frozen brain cell syndrome". I got in a snow melt run-off at Snug Harbor (Chisik Island) one year for about 3-4 seconds; instand headache. I also dove for starfish in Kachemak bay (no clothing or appartus except my shorts). Not much of a survival story, but it makes me think about how long someone could last without a survival suit. We do not wear PFD's on the boat, either on the Kenai river or in the marine waters; in fact, they are crammed in the anchor locker and stuffed in so tight you probably couldn't get them out in a hurry under duress. Hmmmm......
I managed to slip off the deck of my boat in the whittier harbor coming home from a bear hunt in early May '05. I was wearing hip waders with 2 layers of fleece underneath. I was energized enough by the cold water that when I managed to grab the rail with my hand on the way down, I somehow miraculously pulled my whole body out of the water and back into the boat. I wasn't in the water for more than 2 seconds...but I did completely submerge. It was cold....and it was a long drive home. I loaded the boat onto the trailer and changed my clothes in the back of my truck....and drove home with the heat on high....I think I got warmed back up somewhere around Chugiak....maybe even Palmer....
Water temps were probably around 45 degrees, that's about what they usually are around that time of yeat out in the sound. No life preservers, and I don't carry immersion suits.
Pulled 4 people out of Skilak, 1 on the big Su
SKILAK; '97 or '98
My hunting partner and I were spring bear hunting on Skilak up towards the glacier. After a week of camping/hunting we were ready to return home. The lake was starting to kick up with 2-3' swells and beginning to whitecap, so we packed quickly and and made a run for the boat launch. About 2/3 the way across the lake as we were pounding waves when my partner yelled there was debris floating off the port side, duffel bags, canoe paddle's and so on. By now the lake was 3-4' swells and whitecapping and we were running with the wind.
My partner began searching visually for anyone in the water as we held our position for a minute. He spotted one , then two, people bobbing. We raced over, pulled them in. They said there were two more bobbing around. We found them both including the two in the boat already. (Mind you this all happened very quickly, probably took only a few minutes.)
We ran them back to the launch, brought thier vehicle down and stuffed them inside w/the heater on high. By now the lake was really crappy.
We were in my 18' Alumaweld, bundeled up in our hunting gear, temps were cold but I don't remeber exactly.
The 4 swimmers were in two canoes attempting to cross the lake and go camping. All four were 18-22 yrs old, wearing life jackets, and one girl was a few months pregnant. We happend to cross thier path only moments after they both capsized.
A few more minutes of delay on our crossing and I don't think they would be here today.
BIG SU; '01 or '02
My wife and are drifting down from Talkeetna to the Big Su bridge after moose season to run the boat one last time and look for a bear. Halfway through or float we hear a boat motor whining at the top of its RPM and then sputter for a minute till its shuts down somewhere downriver of us. We continued drifting until we came across an 18' jon boat w/a jet on it, about 20' from the river's edge sitting high and dry on the sand bar. The motor was hot to the touch, not a soul around and no tracks leaving the boat.
Pondering what to do next, my wife spots someone about 1/2 mile down river waving frantically on the other bank, (across the big su). Of course we go down and pick him up along with his new labrador puppy.
Turns out he just purchased the boat and pup to duck hunt. On his first trip out he decided to run upriver from the Big Su bridge. He hit a sandbar while trying to turn around, fell out of the boat with the pup and bumped the throttle wide open as went overboard, it was a stand up console type.
The boat continued upriver and on the oppisite bank were it came to rest about 1/2 mile away. The mercury switch in the outboard shut it down before it overheated and that is what we were hearing earlier while drifting down to it. This gentleman was a long way from any roads, in bear country, without a weapon, late in the afternoon and wet. We helped him get his boat going and departed once he was pointed in the right direction.
So, I don't know if that's the type of story you were looking for or not, but that's what I had to offer.
Cold Water Survival
The best information on cold water survival, whether falling through the ice or overboard in our cold waters, is from Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht from the University of Manitoba. You can access some of his demonstration videos done for the Discovery Channel at http://www.yukonman.com/cold_water.asp
The one on ice water immersion is definitely a must for anyone messing around in the outdoors here in Alaska.
Thanks everyone! I don't think a person has to spend much time in Alaska's outdoors without experiencing the cold water a time or two. I've been in the drink (unexpectedly) twice; both in Prince William Sound without thermal protective gear. The first time I only had a rainsuit & street clothes on, the second time I was wearing a float coat. Interestingly enough, I was less subject to the short term effects of a cold water immersion the first time than I was the second time. Here's the story:
We were crossing Port Wells from Decision Point to Esther Island and my overheat alarm went off. The water was pretty choppy, so I shut down the main engine and sat on the transom (in the rain & wind) wearing my Helly's, making way with the kicker. We had a good drift track into Surprise Cove, so that's where we headed. It took an hour or so to get anchored up in Surprise. We rafted to another boat that was already there and my wife moved up along the port gunnel to adjust the fenders. She slipped and went into the drink. She doesn't swim and gets pretty tense in the water, so I ran up the side and dove in (without a PFD) looking for her....it was only 20' deep where we were so I could see the bottom, but no sign of her...I swam back up and she was right next to the boat...she had her Stormy Seas jacket on. My sister threw me a Type IV (hit me in the head) and we were out of the water in less than three minutes. She was shivering pretty violently, probably a combination of stress and cold. My concern was for her and I don't recall that I had any reaction at all to the cold water; I had been sitting in the rain for over an hour anyway and I suppose my skin surface temp had been lowered so that the difference between the 45 degree water and my skin temp wasn't as great as if I'd been warm and dry. Kind of like when warm water looses calories (as a measurement of heat) quicker than cold water. Still, an experience I didn't want to repeat...yet, that's where I was a year later. This time, I self-rescued within minutes. I'm not sure I would have been able to do so if I spent more time in the water; it was a challenge to deploy my swimstep ladder after only a minute in the water. Since then, I've been in the water several times, mostly for training and with full protective equipment (drysuits, Type III, helmet, gloves, boots, etc.) and the effects of cold water immersion are extremely minor in comparison. The lesson learned for me is to wear the right gear when the risk is high...and to constantly assess the risk! Mike
My dad told me a story once - he was driving along a large river (back in Russia) in spring, around late March - early April. Just by accident he saw a kid fall through the ice not far from shore. He pulled over, ran to the spot where the kid went in and dove in as he was (he used to be a rescue diver). He spotted the kid, grabbed him, but by that time the river's current pulled him away from the opening in the ice. The water was dark, so he couldn't see anything. The only thing he said he could do is to kind walk under the ice (it wasn't deep) towards the river bank and was able to break out of the thinner ice. He said it all happened really quick, less than a minute, but he could barely move when he got out of the water.
Again, back in Russia, when I was a kid I feel through ice while walking the dog. I panicked pretty bad, because the current of the river started to pull me under the ice, and as I was trying to climb up the ice, it kept breaking under me. After maybe 10 seconds or so, I was able to get out and ran hoe as fast as I could, I didn't even feel that cold.
One more - when I was about 12 -13 I tried to swim across a creek, maybe about as wide as montana creek, but deeper. I made it about half way and realized that I could barely move my arms and legs it was that cold. It was definitely not a good feeling I had at that moment. I remember seeing my dad running over to me on the opposite bank and he swam out and grabbed me. That was definitely a good lesson learned that day.
Willow Creek . . .
It wasn't falling out of a boat, but . . .
One early April back in about '94 or so my buddy and I decide we're going to go fish the Willow for rainbows, as breakup had already begun. Temps were in the '30's, and the river was open. We waded across the slough just up from the mouth, and I can remember thinking "man, this bottom is really slick. . . ". We got across to the island, and fished around the island for an hour or so with no luck. We decided to pack it in, as it was apparent we were only getting some casting practice in. As we headed back across the slough, the "bottom" gave way when I was about half way across, and I was immersed in some really cold water. I was wearing neoprene waders without a belt, and remember thinking "save the rod" as I went down. So, I held my rod up high, and sidestroked the 15 or so yards to shore. We shuffled on up to truck real quick and I stripped down to my shorts. My buddy loaned me his sweatshirt, but I didn't have any spare pants with me, so I sat in the truck with the heater blasting all the way back to Wasilla, where we stopped at what used to be a Salvation Army, or other used clothing store. My friend went in and purchased a set of old sweatpants for me to wear the rest of the way home to Eagle River.
I'm glad I never had to explain to a trooper why I was sitting there in wet whitey tighties . . . I'm also glad that my first lesson on ice bridges was as uneventful as it was. Oh yeah, I saved the rod too!
What's interesting is the first thought was really not rational . . ."save the rod" instead of "get the hell out of the water now fool", or something similar.
Cold Water Immersion Video
If you'd like a free copy of the new DVD "COLD WATER BOATING" all about how to survive a capsize or fall overboard into cold water, just contact:
Mary Kay Ryckman
Alaska Office of Boating Safety
550 W. 7th #1380
Anchorage, AK 99501
It's an excellent video, made with our pal Gordon Geisbrecht, and several others. Some new and excellent information.
Cold Water Boating is a very good video. Wear a PFD!
I've got a copy of the video, and it is quite good. I thought they did an excellent job.
So many Alaskans believe that there is no point wearing a PFD because they will die from hypothermia in a couple of minutes. NOT TRUE! As "Professor Popsicle" (Dr. Geisbrecht) has shown, most people can be successfully rewarmed even after an hour or more....IF YOU DON'T DROWN! But without a PFD, you will probably drown in a few minutes or less. A PFD won't guarantee you will live, but your odds are way better than without one.
Last May I was rafting on the Mat and a friend fell overboard from my raft, in some fairly mellow class I or class II water. Just a moment of carelessness, one of those stupid dumb things that happen. He was wearing a PFD and we got him out in a minute or two, went to the bank and dried him out and warmed him up, continued our trip. Had he not been wearing a PFD......?
Some years back a bunch of us were launching zodiacs off the beach north of Anchor Point and trolling for kings, around Memorial Day. One boat got dumped while landing, and a buddy went in. With all the heavy clothes he almost died just a few yards from shore.
Get a clue and wear your PFD!
Took a hook and over I went.......
Commercial fishing (long lining Halibut) out of Valdez years ago. We had been out for three days doing test trials on the boat, getting gear ready and scoping out a new area that we hadn't fished before preparing for a 24hr opener. We were all tired and wiped but decided to stay up all night and finish cutting bait and getting the hooks baited for the next day. Next day opener starts and jump on setting gear, had 4 sets out and took a nap. Captain wakes us up and wants to see how the "new ground" is producing so we go pull gear, JACK POT! We start hauling up halibut left and right, no sharks, no skates, no cod, JUST BUTT! After the haul we start to reset the gear before going to off load. There was 5 on board, captain running the boat, 4 on the back deck, 2 handing baited Gannon's and 2 snapping gear on the main line. I was snapping gear and Mr. was on the other side snapping gear, I snap then reach back to grab another while he would snap and so on. Mr. was getting really tired and he started to pull downward on his set to hard so the baited hook was starting to swing wildly going off the back of the boat. I mentioned it to him that hey, dude, getting a little wild pay attention before one of use gets hooked! No more then 2 minutes go by and I take a hook in the chest of the rain coat and over I go! It happened soooooo fast, thank god I had my knife duck taped around my chest upside down. I can remember the water hitting me in the face, it was like a thousand needles smacking you, cold! I pulled the knife and started frantically slashing for the Gannon as I was going down, down, down. Finally cut it free, I was maybe 35-45 feet down in about 150ft of water. I used to scuba dive a lot in Hawaii and I can remember just popping my ears as fast as I could and slashing. By the time I got to the surface I was exhausted, totally drained. Mr. had already cut the main line off the reel and the captain had the boat turned around and waiting for my head to pop up. I was never so glad to get back on that boat, they couldn't get to me fast enough!
It was a terrifying experience and to this day I ALLWAYS have a knife on me at hand while out in a boat.
Water temp was cold, early June. Air temp was around 60*.