Kayaking is a passion. We do it in every season. Living in a non-tropical environment however introduces complexities which have no tolerance for arrogance or oversight. Numerous articles (print and internet) have been written on appropriate clothing, nutrition, mental attitude, hypothermia treatment, and judgment.
Do not think because you paddle a calm lake in cold water in April when the air is warm that you needn’t pay attention. Likewise some of those sunny winter days when the wind is tranquil, the sun is bright, and your trip is only for a short duration. The one thing we can say about the weather is that it is changeable and unpredictable. I’ve seen people become hyperthermic in the summer and unprepared to help themselves.
Want a guideline to help? Check out this chart on water temps and gear.
Have some doubts? watch this video clip – well worth the time!
Think cold water won’t affect you? So did he…….
Going on a tour and looking for some info? Here’s a paddler that gives a list of the equipment she brought with her on her month-long trip of Vancouver Island’s West Coast in BC. Great articles and lists about equipment, safety, and clothing for colder water paddling can also be found at the Sea Kayak Carolina website (they also sell appropriate apparel and equipment as well as offer instruction).
Want to compare what a selection of testers wore and their survival/health risk? Check out this video clip.
Don’t paddle solo. If you are immersed in cold water (duration of survival is directly related to how you are dressed), you can lose the ability to use your hands, coherent logic, and energy, thus the chance of a successful self-rescue is quite limited. So let me repeat that – Don’t paddle solo.
PRACTICE ,PRACTICE, PRACTICE in the summer to get your procedure and timing down to precision. Practice your rolls. Practice alternative rolls or rescues in case you are injured and cannot perform a roll. Keep aids within reach (not in the hatch). Practice using a tow belt. Get the capsized paddler out of the water as efficiently and as safely as possible.
Carry a VHF or Cellular phone. Develop signals with your partner or group.
In navigation, techniques, safety. The BCU and ACA both offer excellent programs. Some printable brochures and information to read – it may just save your life.
- ACA_brochure:_cold_water_survival (pdf)
- Article: cold shock (pdf)
- Safety (pdf)
- Cold Water Boating (pdf)
A breathable drysuit, gloves, a neoprene hood, hat, fleece and layered moisture-wicking under garments, and a full change of clothes. Above all, avoid cotton as it holds moisture.
You must consume energy producing food prior to paddling. Your body is working harder trying to keep the core temperature warm. Low energy translates to errors and greater risk of capsize.
And, hydrate! We tend to forget this in the winter, but it is just as important as the summer.
Even if you don’t do them, put this on your New Years Resolution list. Cold muscles get damaged. Tears, pulls, dislocations may occur. Stretch regularly and especially (gently) before you paddle. This increases the blood supply to the muscles and tissues, allowing them to function and also creating more body heat to sustain warmth.