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Paddling in Cold Water

Dress for the Water, Not the Weather

It’s the middle of November and we’re still experiencing double-digit temperatures… above zero! Paddlers are rejoicing with the extension to their time on the water and are jumping at the chance to get one last adventure in before the snow flies.

Paddling in Cold WaterThe warmer weather means light, fall clothing is quite comfortable with anything heavier making you too hot. However, when paddling in cold water this type of wear does little good in the instance of a capsize leaving you in immediate danger. Cold water assaults your body with no remorse and your core temperature drops rapidly when submersed. Dexterity and muscle function fail, capillaries tighten and nerves squeal in agony, and panic sets it – the results can be catastrophic and potentially fatal.

Getting back in your boat quickly is paramount, but some scenarios such as adverse conditions and unannounced weather make a re-entry virtually impossible. An example of this is the story about three kayakers who dumped in Lake Superior back in September. One of the paddlers spent more than seven hours in the frigid water before being rescued!

But they all lived to tell the tale and share their story of survival.

Wearing a PFD goes without saying, but protecting themselves with neoprene gear (wetsuits / drysuits, bibs, gloves, etc…) is what made the difference in the long run. Planning ahead, dressing for a swim, and thinking of the water temperature first saved their lives.

Consider the Worst and Be Prepared

Paddling in Cold WaterThere is no such thing as being over-prepared when it comes to your safety, especially when it involves paddling in cold water. The most experienced paddler is just as susceptible to this type of emergency as a novice is.

There are a number of factors to take into account before even leaving land including but not limited to the following:

  • How far away from shore to you intend to go
  • Is your boat designed and outfitted for big water or small water, short outings or long distances (i.e. Recreational Kayaks vs. Sea Kayaks / Tripping Canoes vs. Recreational Canoes)
  • Do you have a confident ability to perform a self-rescue / tandem rescue
  • What level of paddling skills do you have
  • How cold is the water
  • What is the weather forecast

Paddling in Cold WaterIt’s also important to know the body of water you’ll be paddling. Are there easy put in and pull out points, is there a lot of boat traffic, and is it easily accessible to emergency crews should an accident occur?

Unlike a high school math quiz, your life can depend on the homework you do before paddling in cold water. A great resource for doing so is the National Centre for Cold Water Safety (NCCWS). It’s packed with lifesaving information and includes genuine examples of those who have had close calls and fatalities.

Remember, the water that offers us some of the greatest joys in life can also hand out tragedy just as easily. By being smart, you’ll stay safe and live to paddle another day.

So dress for the water, not weather and always be prepared!

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