Musings on IT, data management, whitewater rafting, and backpacking

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Staying warm on the river

On a guides mailing list we were asked for tips on keeping paddler guests warm late in the day.

Here are some of mine:

  • Preventing hypothermia is far, far easier than treating hypothermia. Anticipate shady-cool, windy, wet conditions late in the day, particularly as the days get shorter. Keep your guests warm, dry, well-hydrated and well-fed throughout the day.
  • Check your guests warmth, don't rely on your own comfort level. You might be built like a walrus, acclimated, warm and toasty, while some of your guests are turning blue. Ask each guest (not the "group") if they are warm enough -- some will lie and say they are "fine". Look for wet cotton, goose bumps, shivering, blue skin, lethargy, slurred speech.
  • Keep a special watch on kids. They resist wearing warm clothes, and can go from bundles of energy, to blue and shivering in the blink of an eye when their reserves run out.
  • Hang a keyring thermometer from your PFD for an objective measure of temperature. Reminds me to check with my guests.
  • Put your guests in garbage bags. Bags block the wind and keep the heat in, while taking very little space. Tear holes for the arms and head, slip over your head. Worn over or under PFDs, endless discussions on the pros and cons.
  • Wet cotton must be removed, even under splash jackets, wetsuits, and garbage bags. Guests will be warmer with bare skin than wet cotton, especially when you have upstream winds.
  • Work your guests harder, they will warm up, and usually have more fun. Call more crew turns. Catch and release some eddies. Find a wave to surf. Pretend to be a salmon swimming upstream. Spin the boat in circles. Use your imagination, make it fun.
  • Keep your boat in the sun as you float. Work your crew to catch those last slivers of sunlight.
  • Keep your guests dry - stop the water fights, avoid the big splashes, keep guests in the boat and out of the river. Sneak around the big holes and waves instead of going for the wild ride.
  • Tell your guests: "If you're gonna FALL, fall INTO the BOAT" to keep them drier.
  • Move the cold, wet, shivering bow paddlers to the middle of the boat, and let warmer guests have some fun up front.
  • Encourage your guests to drink water. Not intuitive, but well-hydrated people stay warmer, even drinking cold water. Never river water or alcohol.
  • Feed your guests. Provides both a calorie boost and a psychological boost.
  • Keep your guests engaged by singing songs, playing games, etc. Don't let them hunker down quietly shivering.
  • If someone is shivering, deal with it now. Don't wait for things to get worse. Stop the trip if you must.
  • At takeout, get shivering people out of wet clothing and dried off ASAP. Then either work them hard loading gear, or get them into a car, don't let them stand around. Put someone in charge of dealing with cold wet guests, and let the rest of the guides deal with logistics. Send one car ahead with the coldest guests.
  • At takeout, keep PFDs on until the last minute for extra insulation and wind blockage.
  • At takeout, have snacks and drinks ready, usually in the shuttle vehicles.
  • Head guides must check in with all guides, and take a look at all guests, to make sure all of these things are happening.

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