Background: Like you all, I have been wondering just how bad it would be to be dunked in cold water. I was dunked once ice fishing and it wasn't pleasant, rather painful and I was unprepared. Everything we have said with the exception of a few poor souls who might have had the misfortune of being submerged has been speculation. "I would do this if...I think I could that...." The fact remains that until you are actually the one bobbing around like an iceberg unable to get back in your boat you will never know, and for most unfortunately that might be too late. Wes is right, everything is a compromise. I want to know the severity of the compromise. This is something that I am sure everyone has though about. I want to answer some questions. If I am constantly far from shore gambling with my life, and so are you, I want to know at least what will happen. Actually any idiot can tell me what is going to happen, I want to know how long it will take and if I realistically have a fighting chance without a dry suit.
The Questions: I am looking to answer a few questions. I already know I am going to freeze and get wet. I know it is going to be painful, immobilizing, and cause hypothermia. What I want to know, and will be useful information to the rest of us, is how long? Do I have time to get back into the boat before paralysis sets in? I want to know how long it will take before I can no longer physically get into the boat. How long I can tread water? How long until signs of hypothermia set in? What are my body temps versus water and air temps over this period of time? How realistic is survival?
What I hope to prove is that even though I will not be wearing a dry suit, I can still make a reasonable attempt at survival after a submersion in chilly waters with the current equipment compromise. I don't think this will be the case. I am expecting the worst. By reasonable attempt I mean, can I stay in the water long enough and remain alert and mobile enough to either swim to shore or wait for help? I don't think I will ever be able to get back into my boat alone in cold water. I think with the length of time submerged in cold water needed for rescue I don't have a chance before hypothermia, gasping responses and paralysis set in. I would need the assistance of another boat for stability, especially with diminished motor skills. I am not going to attempt any boat reentry in this experiment. I think I can make a good sound conclusion from just being subjected to cold water.
Unfortunately I don't believe the the neoprene gaskets on the suit will be capable of keeping water out long enough for me to have a realistic chance at survival. They are great for dry wear, but I think will prove useless with submersion. This is speculation, I need to know. My initial conclusion is that the suit will fail. The question will be how long it will take for the suit to fail. Will water enter the seems and gaskets immediately or will it seep in over a few seconds. According to the coast guard, you are good for a couple minutes in water temps below 40 degrees. After 3 minutes or so extreme hypothermia sets in and you go unconscious. I am interested in the first 30-45 seconds. Do I realistically have a chance to get back into the boat, make a swim for it, or at the very least, get a distress call out before I am too cold to move. I believe that even the simple motions of getting out the radio or cell phone will be impossible within seconds of submersion. We all trust our lived with this equipment and our ability. I think this test will be a bit of a wake up call as to how much we trust dry tops and pants to count when you need it most. I don't believe it will.
The experiment: Putting the NRS Black Rock Plus combo to the test. Tighten up all the seals, neck, wrists, waist, and legs and go for a swim from shore. No abnormal changes will be made like heavy gloves or a neoprene hood, just the normal paddle wear. I will be fully (over head) submerging in waist to chest deep water in close proximity of my heated car and dry clothes. I will be measuring water temps, air temps, and body temps before and after submersion as a measure of hypothermia. I am interested in lengths of time.
In an attempt to simulate an actual roll I will fully submerge over head with nothing more than my usual fleece hat for at least 2 seconds. I expect this to speed up the chilling process as most heat loss occurs from the head, but will be realistic. I am expecting to be frozen, shivering and gasping within the first 5 seconds of submersion. Given that you lose body heat 10 times faster in water than in air, I don't think having dry gear on will provide any real protection from submersion. they are great for splash wear and piece of mind, but I don't think it will work. I hope I am wrong.
The main concern is hypothermia....please read!!
As for safety I will have dry clothes ready and the car cranking full heat before I get wet. Also, a thermos of hot liquid for reheating. I have read and been subjected to the signs of hypothermia in advance, and so has my lab partner. I plan to be tethered to shore. And as always, adult supervision along with a cell phone.
I will make sure to get photo documentation of me turning blue in the water, expression on my face when water is soaked through and the pain starts (which I expect to be zero seconds), and flashing lights as the ambulance drives away.
Rationalization: People polar bear swim naked in water colder than I plan to be in. I am not doing anything that some people do all the time.
Other: We have talked about how waders will fill with water and although they won;t sink you by themselves, re-entry with full waders will be imposible due to weight. I am expecting the same with dry gear. I think water will seep in but when you attempt to exit the gaskets will work against you by not allowing water to drain out as fast as you would need it to. I think this will be a potential problem with the gear for not only cold water by exposing your skin to water for a longer period of time, but also during warmer months when you would be mobile. The weight of water built up and held in by the neoprene gaskets will make it difficult for re-entry. I will let you know when I try to get out.