By Moulton Avery
Editor’s note: Moulton Avery is an expert on heat and cold stress. He gave his first public lecture on hypothermia in 1974. He was executive director of the Center for Environmental Physiology in Washington, DC for ten years, and is the founder and director of the National Center for Cold Water Safety. He is a former ACA Sea Kayaking Instructor and Instructor Trainer. You can see his Golden Rules for Cold Water Safety on this website by entering the key words cold water safety in the search window to the right and below, or just click on this link.
Fellow Paddlers and Friends! My decision to create a National Center for Cold Water Safety happened eight years ago when two young women died off the coast of Maine because their kayaks were blown offshore and they capsized in cold water. They were the same age as my own two daughters, and their deaths changed the course of my life. In the wake of that tragedy, I was unable to find a single organization that provided accurate, detailed information on cold water safety. Instead, what I found was a lot of confusing misinformation.
There’s nothing easy about starting a new organization, but with the help of some good people, the Center was incorporated in 2012, and seven months later we were granted our non-profit 501 (c) (3) tax exempt status by the IRS. Our web site, www.coldwatersafety.org, went live six years ago, and today it’s a respected source of information read by paddlers all over the world. This past year, we posted over 30 articles on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/coldwatersafety/, routinely reaching thousands of paddlers with detailed information that wasn’t available anywhere else on the internet. For example, our 2018 report on the Apostle Islands kayaking tragedy in which the father and three kids died reached over 25,000 paddlers.
As a result of our internet presence, a lot of people think that we’re a big outfit. We’re not. We’re a small organization, run entirely by volunteers. That’s why we’re asking for your support. We’re also the only organization in the world that makes educating people about cold water safety its sole mission.
Investigating close calls and fatalities is both complex and time-consuming. For example, when OARS kayak guide Tim Conan capsized and died while rescuing a client on Yellowstone Lake in 2017, our investigation included phone calls, emails, weather and geographic research, filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of the Interior, reviewing their documents, and writing our report – which directly reached over 17,000 paddlers. That’s just one case.
Despite the knowledge that we’ve made available, there’s still a lot of misinformation out there on the internet, including information from the US Coast Guard, the National Weather Service, and the American Canoe Association, as well as some leading kayaking magazines, paddling web sites, and equipment manufacturers.
Some people think that if you just pick up the phone or send an email explaining their error, other organizations will welcome you with open arms and make the necessary corrections. Unfortunately, that never happens. Nobody welcomes criticism, and large organizations are particularly resistant to even admitting that they’ve made a mistake, let alone correcting it. So, again, it takes a long time and a lot of effort to persuade them to change.
A word about funding: I’ve been teaching people about hot and cold weather safety for over 40 years, and as a matter of principle I’ve never charged anyone for that kind of instruction. Similarly, the National Center for Cold Water Safety doesn’t endorse products, accept advertising or charge anyone for access to our web site because we feel that doing so would compromise our mission.
There’s a very good reason for being careful about accepting funds from business and government – psychological studies demonstrate over and over again that it undermines your independence and objectivity, and makes you hesitate to criticize things that you know are wrong.
That’s why the best source of funding for an organization like the National Center for Cold Water Safety comes from individual contributions by people like you.
Please help us make our fundraiser a success by sharing this article and making a contribution – even if it’s only a small amount each month – because every little bit helps us to save lives.