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Kayaking in really cold water

I just bought a house on a lake in upstate NY. I have been going out for an hour about 4 times a week. Neighbors tell me the lake rarely freezes because the waves keep it open, so I hope to continue all year long.

I have a Necky Zoar Sport (http://www.atlantickayaktours.com/pdf/Retail/Kayak/Necky/Zoar-Sport-Low.pdf) that I think is pretty much impossible to capsize. I took it out in Sandy with 2.5' waves and it seemed perfectly stable, though a bit difficult to control. So if I take it out when the water is reasonably calm, I don't see much danger.

I have a wetsuit (and wore during Sandy, as I expected to go swimming) but it is awfully uncomfortable and I really really prefer not to wear it. They are designed to be worn wet, and just don't do well dry.

I did go over in a canoe once in icy water and didn't care for it; but I think the chances of capsizing the ZS in calm water are about the same as being hit by lightning.

So... am I being an idiot for not wearing a wetsuit, or is it a reasonable thing to do.

(Actually the toughest thing about Sandy was just getting into the water. The wind would kept pushing the bow into the beach before I could even get into the kayak.)


  • Options
    Go for a swim - then report back
    -- Last Updated: Dec-08-12 4:17 PM EST --

    If you are comfortable swimming around for 15 minutes
    in what you are wearing - with a PFD on hopefully -
    then you are slightly protected from the elements.

    The important thing is ACTUALLY going for a swim
    - leave the boat home, bring towels and dry clothes instead.
    Run the experiment for yourself, you call the shots,
    you dress how you want, you analyze the results.

    The mammalian "gasp reflex" is a dooosey and often
    people suck in some water involuntarily - gasping for air.

    At 25 inches wide - that a LOT of surface area
    for a wave to pound upon flipping you over.
    At 14ft its a bobber; going up-and-over waves;
    potentially pearling the nose, or pitch poling.

  • Options
    Atlantic Kayak Tours website
    -- Last Updated: Dec-08-12 4:15 PM EST --

    here is a link to visit:

    http://www.atlantickayaktours.com/pages/expertcenter/how-to-dress/How-to-Dress-5.shtml In upstate NY the water temps will be below 45 degrees all winter and likely much of the way into April.

    if you would like to self-test, put on your wetsuit & cold weather gear. Tip out of your boat in water deeper than you can stand in so that you are fully immersed. Stay in the water at least 10 minutes, try some dog paddling or swimming around your boat. Then try your preferred method of re-entry. If it works, or not, you've proven it for yourself. Preferably conduct this test near shore (like within 15 feet) and w. a friend there who's got blankets and a car w. the heater running.

    Always assume you will capsize. Needn't be from waves. People have capsized reaching for something, spilling hot liquids on themselves, from sudden movements, from coughing spasms or nausea.

  • Hypothermia is deceptive
    I do not personally know anybody that has died from drowning or hypothermia, but just like a PFD, a wet suit is good insurance to lower the odds of death.

    Generally speaking, I do enough stupid stuff to get myself into trouble. Anything I can do to lower the odds of getting myself into a bad situation is a good thing.

    I have never had to have a PFD, throw bag, or wet suit to save my life, but I have them, because if you needed any one to save your life it would really suck if you did not.

  • You Don't Need It...
    until you need it (which is usually the worse time to find out that you needed it).

    Just going down to the corner store. Do I really need the seatbelt?

    Going for an easy ride on the bike path. Do I really have to wear a helmet? (My jury came in on this one recently,)

    Maybe this guy was just doing something stupid...


    If you are looking for agreement that it's fine for you to go without immersion gear in cold water conditions, if it's calm, there are a couple of folks here who share that perspective. The prevailing sentiment (mine included), however, is that -- Yes, you would be an idiot.

    Hey, you asked... ;)

  • A couple of years ago...
    ...three guys were out at the local reservoir in a typical fishing boat during February. It was a windy day and they were reported to be about 100 feet off shore.

    For reasons unknown to me, the boat flipped and two of the guys were (frozen) toast before they could get to shore.

    I always assume that I'm going to flip. I've flipped in four foot waves and even when I was just messing around on flat water (now that was a surprise). Last year just for fun, I tried a couple of rolls in 34 degree water while wearing a drysuit. I can say for sure that if I had to spend more than two or three minutes in that water, my hands would have become useless.

    You really need to dress for the water because you just never know. After all, it is a water sport:)
  • Well said, Sing. I went over my first
    winter, in 4' of water, near shore, December with 50 degree air temp (water was much colder), and though I didn't have a wetsuit on, I was fortunate enough to have dressed in all wicking fabrics (3 layers). Had I been in deeper water, I most likely would have been in DEEP trouble.(I purchased much better attire after this day.)
    One never knows what will happen as you can't always see what's under you in the water.
    Better to be safe than depoloyed into very cold water.
    Live to paddle another day.
    Paddle safe.
  • Inuit who still use kayaks
    traditionally do not use PFD's and do not use wetsuits or dry suits. They use sealskins. However they know a few dozen rolls that are truly bombproof to get themselves out of the water fast.

    So they have an arsenal of tricks instead of merely assuming they will never flip. That assumption ( that your boat is capsize proof) is going to kick your a$$.

    No one has addressed yet some peculiarities of sub freezing kayaking. First, your paddle is likely to ice up. Second your boat is going to become slippery. Very much so. Don't assume that you wont fall in either boarding or getting out just cause you have not done that before.

    Third, while your lake may not freeze due to wind action, water along the shore probably will. This makes getting in and out of the water a bit of issue. You may well have to slink across ice. In your kayak you may be more stable, but never underestimate the fact that ice sheets can give way and dump you in. And getting out back on to the sheet or floe requires ice claws. Do you have those?

    You hate your wet suit. I get it. Go get one you will use, and that is comfortable. Its safer prepare for the worst and hope for the best, rather than assume the best and have the worst crap on you.

    Also get dry clothes (wool, fleece, hat, gloves) in a drybag and consider that part of your kit. Its amazing how chilled you can get when your wetsuit actually gets wet and you get out.
  • Second the swim, plus...
    If you do actually capsize, unless you have a very reliable roll (which I suspect not), you will have to re-enter the boat from the water. Try this out near shore wearing what you prefer.

    Then try it wearing the wetsuit.

    No cheating, keep your feet off the bottom so you have to empty the boat, inflate the paddle float and get back in just the way you would in deep water.

    Unless your upstate NY is quite different from the one we live in, you'll be thinking dry suit and/or a nice warm pool to learn rolls pretty quickly.

  • Necky Zoar Sport
    I'd be willing to bet good money that somebody, somewhere has capsized that boat.

    I will admit that I have canoed in Minnesota in the winter on pretty cold water without protective clothing other than fleece or pile (no wetsuit or dry suit) so I am not going to say the idea is idiotic. On the other hand I stayed close to shore and was never more than 1/2 hr from my car.

    If you plan to be out no more than an hour, you too would be no more than 1/2 hr away from some type of protection. I would advise staying close to shore and carrying a set of dry, warm clothes and a towel in a dry bag just in case.

    Is there power boat traffic on your lake? I don't know what folks are like where you live, but I lived and paddled on a lake in Tennessee and had the unfortunate experience of having someone in a power craft intentionally try to swamp me a couple of times. Also, sometimes boat wakes reflecting off of the shore bank will meet the wake coming in to shore and amplify the wave heights somewhat unpredictably. I would never assume that a capsize would be impossible.
  • Saftety and Comfort
    -- Last Updated: Dec-08-12 8:02 PM EST --

    I have occasionally stirred up trouble with one or two people here by suggesting that one does not "necessarily" need a wetsuit or drysuit for paddling small, quiet rivers in fall or spring when the water is cold. Getting out of the water in such a situation normally doesn't take long (but it COULD take too long in certain cases, so being prepared for the worst is still highly recommended). However, I'd never say that about paddling lakes when the water is cold, especially not in winter (even the colder temperature of winter on tiny rivers would make me really nervous about not being well prepared for spending some time in the water). Besides, even with the best safety intentions, a lake paddler isn't likely to be nearly as close to shore as someone on a little river, and in a lake you are far less likely to be able to get your feet on the bottom anytime soon after a capsize either. Best to be prepared for the worst.

    I've never heard anyone say wetsuits are designed to work wet and not when dry. The usual complaint I hear is that they tend to be too warm until they get soaked. But if yours won't keep you warm when it's dry, wear something over it for additional insulation and to block the wind. I think the comfort issue is something you can get used to, but if not, a better option would be to find something that is comfortable, and wear it.

    All the other advice so far, I agree with. Personally, I normally wear a drysuit for boating on lakes when the water is cold, and frequently wear it for quiet rivers too.

    By the way, I'm assuming your lake is a deep one, since wave action won't keep any lake open all winter. In fact, constant wave action will make the day of freeze-up arrive sooner. You see, a lake won't freeze until some time AFTER the whole water profile cools to the temperature of its greatest density (about 39 degrees F). As water at the surface cools, it gets more dense and sinks, until eventually the lake gets filled from bottom to top with water having the temperature providing the greatest density. Once the whole profile from bottom to top reaches 39 degrees, water at the surface which cools further becomes less dense and "floats", where it stays exposed to the colder air and eventually cools below the freezing point. This process takes much longer in a deep lake than a shallow one, and if the lake is deep enough, it takes longer than the duration of the winter season so freezing never happens. Even huge, cold-exposed and wind-swept Lake Superior would freeze quite quickly each winter if it were as shallow as Lake Erie.

  • Deep lake here
    Sebago--lately will not freeze in the middle. Its over 400 feet deep in one spot.

    Wave action is working now to keep the near shore ice free but when the ice starts to form, that effect diminishes each day. Depth does prevent the middle from freezing even there is 3 feet of ice in near shore areas. Snomobilers at night from away sometimes find this out the hard way. Each year we have human depth finders. Sorry to be crude, but they invariably die. Already had one this year.

    So I suspect your lake too is deep. It would be far safer to use your clothing approach on a shallow windy river. I understand a fair number of Midwest paddlers do this in the winter.

    An upset can be no more than a minute swim to where you can stand. Get your stuff out of the dry bag and strip and change. And paddle home as you can't do an upset twice.
  • dry suit
    Upstate NY right....get a dry suit. I would not use a wet suit in sub freezing conditions personally. I also would learn to roll if you can't, or paddle close to shore and bring along a cag or somethign to warm you in the event you do go for a swim.

    I personally paddle and roll all year long, but use a dry suit.

  • Dry suit is not realistic
    I really doubt someone with a $700 - $900 kayak is going to buy a $1200 dry suit. I think it is better to advise that he get a very stretch thin surfer style wet suit and splash gear and carry two sets of dry clothes and emergency fire kit and shore sneak the rivers and shallow places.

    It is hard to die if you can simply stand up and walk to shore to change into your dry clothes. Except for surfing in water above 50 degrees this is almost the only winter paddling I do. A rec boat in the winter in not more dangerous than a canoe.

    Stay within two boat lengths of the shore all winter long. Wear your wet suit. Try to swim a bit in it after some of your paddles, when you have the heater in the car running and waiting.
  • Google Cold Water Boot camp
    I suggest you watch some of the videos on the site Cold Water Boot Camp and learn about how long you will last without the proper gear like a dry suit and a PFD.
  • I've done rolls ina Zoar Sport
    I've done roll practice in a Zoar Sport. Not that hard to capsize in it.

    My personal rule is to have a wet suit or dry suit on if the water is under 60.
  • 'Impossible to Capsize' -- Red Flag
    Other posters have pretty much covered the need to dress for possible immersion, so I won't repeat that. But I will second the suggestion to watch Cold Water Boot Camp. I also must say that anytime I hear someone say or see them write that their boat is pretty much impossible to capsize, it raises a red flag and, frankly, makes me question a person's risk assessment skills. Never assume a boat is "impossible" to capsize when your life could depend on it -- as it could in cold water. The Titanic was considered unsinkable, too.
  • I appreciate the help
    My intention is to stay within 100' of shore. The water is no more than 5' deep there, and I can run home from wherever in 10 minutes. (however I know from my one icy capsize that it would be an extremely long 10 minutes)

    I appreciated everyone's advice and I get it; bad idea.

    The explanation of how lakes freeze was interesting; I didn't know that, but it makes sense. The lake is 250' deep and I am told it never freezes in the middle. I am talking about near the shore though; my neighbors claim it remains open from waves. I used to have a place on the opposite side and it sure froze there. We'll see in a month or two.
  • Or...
    Get a $300 dry suit like I did.

    Or... stay off the water in the winter and ride a bike instead.
  • 100 feet might be too far
    Even if you can stand in the water it might take you too long to get out of it.

    My personal experience and information gleaned from personal accounts here and elsewhere suggests that individuals response and resistance to sudden cold water immersion varies quite a bit. Unless you are certain you can be out of the water in 2 minutes or so, I wouldn't risk it.

    You can read and read about the effects of cold water immersion but until you experience it you really don't understand it or know how you personally will react.

    My personal experience in paddling in sub 35 degree water is the same as what ByronWalter said above. Even with a dry top and a reliable roll I found that sudden upper body immersion was nearly instantly debilitating.

    One of the effects of immersion in water of that temperature is very sudden and dramatic vasoconstriction of the blood supply to the extremities. Blood supply slows to a bare trickle. As a result, your arms and legs can become near useless as soon as your muscles consume the oxygen supply they have at hand, which is pretty quickly if you have been exercising.

    I lived in Minneapolis for a decade or so. Every winter typically one would read about a drowning or a few drownings that occurred on one of the small local lakes, often very close to shore (within 6 feet). It was not uncommon to hear the victim described as "a good swimmer", and I remember a couple of instances in which a good Samaritan standing on the bank who witnessed someone struggling to get to shore jumped in to try to save them and wound up drowning also.

  • Options
    Take a cold shower
    Seriously. let the water run cold for a minute and then get under it.
    And stay under it for 5 minutes.

    I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but cold water is a killer.
  • There is an audience here.
    Several folks like to post news of paddliing fatalities so others can read and discuss them. It's even better if they have a personal connection. Go for it, if that's your thing !
  • dry suit
    There is one on the classified ads for like $400 or so. Can also get them on ebay. Does not need to be a top of the line model.

    If a kayaker is a novice then their liklihood of a capsize is greater. If they can't roll then liklihood of immersion is greater. All the more reason to get a dry suit.
  • One thing you left out
    Historically, inuit villages lost as many as 1/3 of their hunters to capsizes where rolling or rescue where the paddler did not exit the cockpit couldn't save them, and that included Greenland.

    And keep in mind that it was mostly Greenlanders that rolled. Most other (But not all) arctic cultures did not. There was one famous interview from the late 1800's or early 1900's where an old kayaker was asked what to do in the event of a capsize, and the answer roughly translated to "You shouldn't do that".

    Wear some cold water immersion clothing. The stories about inuit being immune to cold water are total bunk.
  • Too far from shore
    I've been hypothermic more than once, and curiously always in temps much warmer than upstate winters. I suspect it is because once things start freezing I don't make the mistake of underestimating the situation.

    Anyway, 100 feet plus a run to shore or the house to get your stuff is too far tin sub-40 degree water and air temps in the 20's or worse before wind chill factors. Hypothermia can come on much faster than the time it would take to make that distance and render you unable to use your hands to help yourself.

    There is a very common mistake people make when looking at the hypothermia charts - and there are many copies of it out there on sites from kayaking to power boating. They look at the time before death, rather than the significantly shorter time to where consciousness or physical processed like using your hands to get the wet clothing off are affected. In upstate NY winter temps, the time to the first part runs no longer than 15 minutes. And you, like me, could find in actual experience that you had an individually lower tolerance.
  • Be Very Careful...
    -- Last Updated: Dec-09-12 9:56 AM EST --

    ...even if you stick close to shore in relatively shallow water.

    Early last spring, while I was visiting relatives who live near Lake St. Clair, a young couple took a canoe out into the lake on a quiet 70 degree sunny day, and managed to flip it in shallow water perhaps 250' feet from shore. The man waded in, but the young woman, whom he thought was close behind him, didn't make it. He was so disoriented that he didn't realize she wasn't there.

    For me, cold water paddling equals full immersion gear - drysuit, fleece and merino underlayers, cold water hood and gloves, a drybag packed with a complete - and I mean complete from polypro underwear to a good wind blocking outer layer with lots of wool and fleece in between - change of warm clothing, and most importantly, a companion or two who know what they're doing.

    Final thought - wetsuit vs. drysuit - in this neck of the North Atlantic, it's drysuit all the way. A decent used drysuit need not be expensive - if you were here, I've got two Kokatat SuperNova suits hanging in the closet I'd be pleased to get $200 for. Perfect? - no, the booties leak a little, but some Aquaseal could fix that. I've upgraded by buying two used Reed ChillCheaters for about $250 each...and that's a hell of a lot less for all four suits than your survivors would pay for a coffin...

  • All I can do here
    is reinforce what others have already said.

    1) Surfboards, boats, ships all capsize in the right conditions. Anything that floats can encounter conditions that exceed the performance envelope of your craft. Frankly, if you think you won't capsize, you don't have enough experience to understand the dangers you are in.

    2) Prepare for immersion. You will probably find a drysuit more serviceable, comfortable, and warmer, than a wetsuit. Wear wool, not cotton.

    3) Read some first hand accounts on hypothermia onset after a capsize. It happens quickly and can overcome the best in a shockingly short time. Judgement and the lost of hand control can occur in less than a minute in some people, over 5 minutes in others. Find out which end of the spectrum you are in and try to do a self rescue in the conditions where you paddle. If you can easily do it, fine. Just remember than any conditions that make cause a capsize will still exist after you rescue and that you will be weaker after each successive capsize.

    You ask, "So... am I being an idiot for not wearing a wetsuit, or is it a reasonable thing to do," and the answer to this isn't that cut and dried. I feel you are taking unnecessary risks by paddling alone in conditions where immersion could well be fatal. That you are not taking some reasonable precautions to prevent hypothermia suggests that you are more confident in your boat than paddlers with a great many more years of experience than you. In truth, you are exactly the type of paddler that I would NEVER go on the water with because you endanger everyone around you.

    If your lake can produce 2.5 foot waves (which are NOTHING by the way), it can also produce larger waves. Unless you've been out in the worst possible conditions (and no matter what conditions you've been out in, something worse can come along), don't assume that any body of water can't outperform either your boat or your skills.

    You say the boat was , "a bit difficult to control," in those conditions. This suggests that a capsize is a WHOLE lot more likely to occur than you think. And by the way, it isn't the boat that capsizes, it's the paddler. The only way a kayak can stay upright in virtually all conditions is because the paddler knows what to do and when to do it. Any boat can, and will, capsize.

    I'll be honest and say that I feel you are taking unnecessary risks here, but if you are comfortable with those risks, go out on the water alone, dress in cotton, paddle during storms, wrap your boat with aluminum foil so it conducts electricity better, or whatever else you wish to do. I'll probably say something like, "it was an event just waiting to happen," when I read the incident report.

    If you feel that I am being harsh or rude, I don't really care. I've had to many experiences on the water where I've rescued others from their lousy choices and seen what can happen in even warmer water than those you plan to paddle.

    I've been in waters cold enough to defeat (to some degree) the thermal protection of a wetsuit and even performed a rescue in those waters. It wasn't fun, and the two scouts we rescued both had mild hypothermia after only about a minute of immersion.

    Pardon the wall of text, and either take what I write under advisement or not. Your choice.

  • You're bucking for...
    ...a Darwin award. Get proper immersion gear and wear it. While you're at it, learn some bracing and rescue skills. If you can't do that, stay off the water!

    I'm tired of reading about people who do what you're doing and wind up in a morgue. Irresponsible paddlers are the main reason we have fight off ridiculous legislation every year that's aimed at protecting us from ourselves.

    Yes, this is harsh, but so is reality. In cold water conditions, you have very little margin for error and water doesn't care how good your intentions are. If you don't believe that, buy a copy of "Sea Kayaker, Deep Trouble" and read it.
  • I hope Toller comes back and posts
    his game plan after he has thought it out. Otherwise this conversation, while well meaning, is one sided.

    It would be nice to know if our advice had any affect. If the decision is not to paddle that is fine.
  • At this time
    I don't even know if I CAN paddle this winter. If the shore freezes, I won't even be able to get to the water, so the whole thing is academic. Launching from the ice seems a bit dicey. I will have to see how it goes.

    A few years back I bought a canoe in February and had to try it out. The only open water was a large creek that flowed too fast to freeze over. I took the canoe out, dressed wholly inappropriately, and immediately capsized. I took the time to save the canoe and the paddle and ran home. It was a horrible experience that I hope not to go through again, but it was a huge distance from a Darwin Award!

    Changing the question a bit, the water is now 46*. How deadly do you figure that is; bearing in mind that I will be in 4' of water 80' from shore.
  • Depth isn't that big a factor
    It's the temperature. While it is unikely that you'll be capsized irrecoverably in 4" of water, you'll still be wet. If you get back into the boat and have a wet or drysuit on, you'll probably be fine, unless:

    - you are wearing cotton in contact with your skin - it will not warm up and will sap your body of warmth and energy
    - you are injured in some way - many lakes have rocks and in shallow water such as this, striking one's head is a real possibility
    - you capsize in deeper water (a hole, soft muddy bottom) and are fully wet with the added problem of having to re-enter the kayak
    - the kayak fails in some way (which can happen, though it is an admittedly rare event)

    The key here is that if you are not dressed for immersion, you are at risk. You sound a tad hardier than most and can tolerate the cold more than others may, but that does not mean one's tolerance can't be exceeded.

    If you want to know whether you can stand being in the water, the best option is to test it. Full immersion in whatever gear you use and then make the call as to how much risk you wish to take. I do this whenever I teach someone to kayak. I put them in the water and have them splash around a bit. If they can't take the temperature, we adjust the gear and make recommendations.

    It's a wet sport and is, I feel, as much about getting wet at times as it is keeping the boat on an even keel (so to speak, since kayaking is not about keeping the keel parallel to the bottom).

    The last thing I want to see is someone getting injured because they didn't take reasonable precautions (either due to a lack of knowledge or an excess of arrogance). However, if you intend to paddle in water below 50 degrees, you should be informed what to expect. Read the following:


    Note that these are survival times (30 minutes max. in sub 50F water). Sea Kayaker did these tests with experienced sea kayakers and found that many of them were so cold in sub 50F water that they pretty much lost the use of hands in as little as 5 minutes. If one is so cold they cannot re-enter the kayak and paddle, the issue becomes one of whether or not the paddler can be found within such short timeframes.

  • Options
    Honestly - swim it
    -- Last Updated: Dec-10-12 12:15 PM EST --

    We can't decide for you, only provide advice.

    I actually ran experiments, with various clothing on.
    Waded into the water till I was floating,
    hung around a few minutes, then returned to my apartment.
    My neighbors thought I was crazy, they were right :-)
    One neighbor insisted I tether myself to a tree,
    so I tied two throw bags together for 100 ft of line.

    It's damn tough to swim the first 30 seconds
    when all muscles clench the body into fetal position
    in an attempt to preserve heat at the core.
    Dunking head under water - filling that wetsuit full -
    not fun at all, the first few seconds, but it can be done.

    Wind whipping over a wet body as you get out
    can be a huge kick-in-the-rear as well.

    A simple cheap digital fever thermometer can easily
    show you if that core temp dropped a few tenths of a degree.

    Fear can be overcome by understanding and learning.
    Controlling fear/panic is crucial to survival.

  • you will find
    -- Last Updated: Dec-10-12 12:17 PM EST --

    a drysuit opens up a whole new world of paddling. My first time wearing a drysuit on my local run, I swam 20 minutes into the run. First thought was "wow, I'm warm...and dry." Level was high, cl. 2 pushing cl. 3, a run I was paddling with sneak routes and trepidation previously in cold weather/water. A bit later my buddy also ended up swimming. At the takeout we both laughed about our "losing it"....and did another run. Winter turned into my favorite season after that.
    I use a $500 NRS, as do several friends. I'm usually paddling a canoe that cost nothing/ $300. Safety is more important than a new boat.

  • For myself
    I am pretty confident that I could get back on shore from 46 degree water if I had to wet exit a kayak 80' off shore, but I would be pretty miserable.

    I can tolerate exposure to water of that temperature dramatically better than I can water of 35 degrees or less. But you might be different.
  • Depth seems to be allowing open water
    Four feet deep ought to have ice on it. Is your lake one of the Finger Lakes where temps are indeed milder as its ?

    If you can stay close to shore and dump, you will lose your finger dexterity first. That may mean that even within 80 feet, shunting of blood from your extremities to your core can lead to a loss of being able to use your fingers and feet normally.

    So try to keep those warm. Remember, forget your boat. Get yourself out first.

    Your specific question of 46 degrees being deadly is hard to answer. That is in some places our normal summertime paddling water temp. I have seen a person totally incapacitated in that water and require hospitalization. I cant tell you if that is a common response or not.

    I dump in 33 degree water. I do wear a drysuit and I think head protection is paramount too. I wear an ugly fleece lined neoprene skull cap to prevent heat loss. Your head loses a disproportiate amount of heat.
  • Every winter we lose a few
    Here in Washington the water temp drops to 38-40. Every winter a few people die on the big lake next to seattle. Universally they are in a 'stable' boat and not dressed for immersion. Many die on relatively calm day. Every Jan 1 a friend of mine does a dress for immersion 'polar plunge'. He invites people to float for 20 mins in the lake in their chosen kayaking gear. I imagine there is small spike in sales of drysuits and pile after these sessions.
  • Same as before...
    walk/swim 80 along the shore - but no 80 feet out - with a change of clothing, a car with a good heater and preferably a friend nearby.

    You lose body heat 25 times faster in water than in air. Colder is worse - whether it be colder water, colder air, more wind chill or a combination thereof.

    The bottom line is that you are hearing from people who have found out by personal experience what temperatures start getting dangerous for them. You are talking about temps that are within that range for some, or colder in my case.

    You are getting good advice to avoid paddling as things get colder without some solid experimentation to see what is safe for you. You should be embarking on that, rather than trying to get a magic number at which folks here will advise you it is safe to paddle.
  • Options
    Sidenote to all
    -- Last Updated: Dec-10-12 2:36 PM EST --

    Coast Guard and SAR teams rescues humans, not kayaks.
    - be prepared to loose your kayak and ALL gear.
    They will not "tow it" via boat or "lift it" via helicopter.
    If the wind blows it away from shore, they will not chase it.

    Tagging your boat and equipment/gear might be a good idea;
    any time of year, to increase chances of recovery.

    Personal ID - on your body - also a good idea - all year playing outside.

  • get in the water
    -- Last Updated: Dec-10-12 2:36 PM EST --

    I agree with Willi. Get in the water with someone nearby ready to help, and try it out.

    Comfort is a pretty relative term when you're discussing comfort of a dry wetsuit vs. comfort of cold clothing. And once you're in the water your strength fades quickly. I can guarantee you the choice will be made for you once you've spent some time in cold water with and without a wetsuit or drysuit, and some time warming up afterwards.

    I think if you're planning on learning anything in a boat more capable than you are right now, you ought to plan on getting wet. Which means preparing as if you're going to get wet. In conditions that kayak would be easy to capsize. And if nothing else, wear one for the people on shore who care about you.

  • Options
    no one can answer
    "how deadly"

    On the face of it a ridiculous question. Not meant as a slam. You seem to be searching for some kind of 'go ahead and do it, no problem' answer from ppl who are relating good bio science and actual experience w. hypothermia and its effects.

    Go and try it for yourself with whatever you plan paddling in. Don't go too far from shore: 20 feet at most. Capsize and fully immerse, head and all. See how prone you are to gasp reflex. Stay in the water at least 10 minutes. See how that affects your mobility and awareness. Try to get back in your boat. Do have a witness/friend with the ability to warm you up.

    This way you can answer it for yourself. Lots of people here have given your answers based on experience and scientific data re hypothermia and its effects. If you want anything more specific then it needs to get specific to you and your paddling venue - and there's only one way to get to that.
  • Options
    I've seen two paddlers in the initial stages of hypothermia in August in TN on 80+ degree days. The Hiwassee has water temps in the 50s and the weather was overcast with a stiff wind. Both were uncontrollably shivering and probably less than 5 minutes from being in real trouble if they had stayed in the water. One had taken a 3-5 minute swim and the other had a loose wetsuit for a self rescue class where you were in the water intermittently.

    Again, that was 80 degree weather in TN in August.

    If you can't warm back up quickly things can go bad in a hurry.

  • Just lost one to 56 degree water
    Here in Jordan lake the water temp is already down to 56. A man lost his life swimming out to a boat that had drifted from shore. I wear a wetsuit starting at 70 degree water and the water here gets into the 40's.

    I had a six month old dry suit have multiple failures in the 1990's and I've not worn one since without a wet suit underneath. The dry suit is really great until it leaks and then it is pretty deadly. Watch those Gaskets, you do not know how long the suit has been on the rack at the store and for some folks the gaskets only last a season.
  • Sad...
    Too bad about the recent death while trying to catch a floating boat. Note that it is rare than you will be able to catch up to a wind blown object since the max speed of good swimmers is well under 5 mph.

    Once wind gets hold of a boat (or other object) and starts moving it, it quickly will exceed the swim speed of most. I lost a friend in high school who tried to chase a wind blown volleyball and have since seen this type of event several times.

    As for temperatures, it is really a good thing to test what you can stand. The ocean off N. Ca. reaches a high near 62 or so in winter and is usually closer to 55 for the rest of the year. An hour in that is more than most can stand. I've been in colder water, and have even been able to swim for short periods in temps down to about 50 without a wetsuit, but it is REALLY not pleasant and I've only done this on really hot days.

    A lot of this is predicated on knowing one's limits and I don't think that sub 50 F water should be approached without knowing what you can stand, how long you can stand it, and how quickly you lose physical skills due to hypothermia (and note that the brain is affected more quickly than the body and it is very difficult to exercise good judgement in such conditions).

  • Again, I appreciate all your advice, but
    "Go and try it for yourself with whatever you plan paddling in. Don't go too far from shore: 20 feet at most. Capsize and fully immerse, head and all. See how prone you are to gasp reflex. Stay in the water at least 10 minutes. See how that affects your mobility and awareness. Try to get back in your boat. Do have a witness/friend with the ability to warm you up."

    As I have mentioned:
    1) 100' out is about 4' deep. 20' out would be barely up to my knees, so I don't think I want to capsize there. (my dock is 60' long and the water is 34" deep at the end. I haven't measured out further, but I can see the bottom very clearly, so it can't be very deep.)
    2) I have been submerged in water with ice on it (when the air temperature was 20) and while I don't like it, there was no gasp reflex (I suppose I should check to see what that is), and I immediately swam after my canoe and paddle and got them to shore; so there was no noticeable loss of mobility or awareness.
    3) 10 minutes? No, I expect I probably would die after 10 minutes. But since I will only be in 3 or 4 feet of water and it won't take more than a couple minutes max to get to shore, I won't be worrying about what will happen in ten minutes.
    4) Trying to get back in my boat in 4' of water seems pretty silly. Perhaps that is why it would take 10 minutes?
  • Gasp Reflex ...
    "I have been submerged in water with ice on it (when the air temperature was 20) and while I don't like it, there was no gasp reflex (I suppose I should check to see what that is"

    Yes you should check into the gasp reflex because that is what kills most people in cold water. It's a reflex when instantly immersed in very cold water. A lot of experiments have been done and it's pretty unusual not to have any gasp reflex without pre-conditioning even at much higher temperatures than water near the freezing point.

    I would be willing to bet if I capsized you in your boat in your skirt in 33 F water you would have one hell of a panicked gasp reflex. It does not matter if the water is 3 Ft deep you can still drown if you aspirate a little bit. At the very least buy a wetsuit and a hood. And if you don't believe the people posting here. Go do a test with someone nearby to help.
  • Options
    I'm out..........next, please on P.Net
  • Options
    good insulation
    between your ears.

    I'm out.

    You'll figure it out one way or the other.
  • You aren't getting what is being said
    -- Last Updated: Dec-11-12 8:32 AM EST --

    You are assuming just a few minutes to walk 100 ft thru extremely chilly water - I live upstate so I know you are talking sub-40 degree water by another couple of weeks of overnight temps in the 20's. That is probably a very good estimate for when the water is warm.

    It is not a reliable estimate for when the water is 38 degrees if you have remotely close to my own tolerance - your legs and balance could stop serving you well before you made it to shore in anything less than clothing for immersion. Or if you did make it to shore, you would be unable to help yourself. You are talking about skipping even a wetsuit. In fact trying to re-enter the boat from that 4 or 5 ft of water, a very basic paddling skill which I get the impression you don't have, would take less time thus be safer if executed well. The idea in very cold water is to get out of it as fast as possible. Wading 100 ft to shore is not that.

    So far you have expressed a paddling background that finds 2.5 waves challenging and seems focused on swimming or walking out of a capsize rather than handling the issue on the water some way that is faster (thus safer). You are not at a safe point to be paddling alone in dicey weather conditions, and certainly not to assume you can't capsize that boat. You are unlikely to get approval from anyone here for this idea.

  • so if it's so easy....
    ...then do yourself a favor and prove it to yourself in cold water.
  • I used to live in the north country
    prior to moving south, and after reading your plans I would do exactly what you plan to do especially if you can walk home.
    I used to stay close enough to the shore to be able to stand up and hustle out of the water.
    Many here take safety to the extremes and love to throw out "the darwin award" statement
    Glean what you can from some of them and disregard others.
    You are the master of your own fate!

  • Options
    you may not get gasp reflex, but...
    as others have said the simple thing is just do a test. You know your area best and how far you may be. Maybe have a tow rope or such on you with the other end with someone on the dock. Jump out and swim/walk to shore and just see how it goes. Everyone is different and you may do well (rare but I've heard of cases) but only with a good test from a realistic distance can you know for sure. Enjoy a blanket and hot chocolate on shore and appreciate how much better you understand your situation and how to cope with it. Knowing for sure is a great feeling.
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