Canoe and Water Temps.

Just wondering what is considered a safe enough water temp. to go out in the canoe with regular clothing on (long johns, coat, gloves, etc.) , not owning special wetsuit or drysuit gear … waters around here are 50 degrees now plus or minus a few depending , and am getting impatient waiting … don’t want to endanger my wife who is eager to go out with me all the time again this year too , she has found a new love , fishing with me , God bless her soul , so I’m doing my best on that !! …

If those regular clothes are cotton
you are asking for trouble if you flip the canoe.

Depends on where you paddle
The risk is directly related to how far from warmth you will be. IF you paddle in a pond behind your house then you would be unlikely to have a problem even if you went naked. Moving back a step, if you are close to your car with a heater and dry clothes you are probably also ok. If you are a half hour paddle from warm and dry, you are taking a big chance. Take a dry bag with a spare set of clothes.

I paddle
my canoe in 50 degree water on a regular basis. No, I don’t wear any special clothes. Usually a pair of nylon zip off pants, a wicking undershirt and a fleece sweater, throw on an anorak to block the wind. Rubber boots for my feet. I carry some dry clothes in a dry bag and firestarter and the skills to get a fire going quickly in case I flip and need to warm up. I stay close to shore until the water warms later in the year. I wear my PFD in cold water situations.

No thermometer
I’m not sure what the water temps are, but I have been paddling the Minnesota River since Feb. 29th. The air temps were in the 30’s, so I had my polypro underneath. I bring along a dry bag with some warm stuff, and would paddle pretty close to shore. The most important thing to me, is not being stupid. Don’t lay a gunnel down to turn like you would in the summer and keep an eye out for icebergs.

Followup to Temps.
I see a few of you carry a dry bag with a change of clothing in it , sounds like a good idea , but won’t help until you are out of the water … we ALWAYS wear the life vest , plus it helps to keep you warmer in colder weather … but it’s like this , if my wife goes in , she won’t be able to get back aboard the canoe from the water , I got her the most expensive life vest I could find and made her wear it from day one , she can swim alright and if it came down to abandoning the canoe to go fetch her floating away , I’d go after her in a heart beat … but I ask about safe temps. , so I will elaborate a little more , I mean safe enough temps. to be in the water awhile if required ?? …

This page has charts for different
temps and survival time. The right clothing, though, extends the time:

Safe Water Temps.
That’s a really good page full of info. Yak., thanks , after reading it I’ve decided to wait awhile longer before I take her out … who could of guessed the part that they keep repeating about " DO NOT " attempt to warm the arms and legs during EM first aid work , Drop-Out they call it , and it’s fatal usually , who could of guessed ?? … water temps. hovering 50*F. aren’t very safe , not much time and movement decreases that little window by 50% …great info. Yak. , thanks again .

some general information
Without knowing anything about your paddling skill, where you paddle, the quality of the water, and a host of other factors, I’ll give some general “rule of thumb” type information.

If the air temperature and the water temperature (represented in Fahrenheit) added together is 100 or less, then you have a severe risk of hypothermia. It’s not really “safe” up until 120, and even then there are risks.

What I wear is a pair of breathable waders with a large, wide, tight belt at my waist. I wear a neoprene shirt, the wader top, an insulating layer if needed, and a paddle jacket (not a dry top). Then my PFD, cinched type as a chest belt to keep water from going down, and cinched tight below to keep water from going up. It works. I’ve tested it. It doesn’t fill with water and drown me. It does let in a little water, so I don’t stay dry and there’s still a risk. I always paddle with a companion when the combined temps are below 100. I carry firestarting materials and a spare insulating layer of clothes. I carry high energy, quick burn food and water as well.

In the water I paddle, this lets me stay on the water just about all year. I get more cautious about trip selection the worse the weather and temps get. I get more cautious about paddling with new companions, too. I prefer to paddle with people whose skills I know and can count on in adverse conditions.

This is what I do, and some generalities to consider.

Cotton will kill you.

  • Big D

You must mean safe enough for you
For me, I was out scooting my boat across the ice and dropping into the open pools. Then power onto the ice again, repeat until happy. I am guessing the water temp was about 32.3 F.

PS, I refuse to tip my boat over for anyone while on the water. Just a habit.

Canoe and Water Temps.
She wanted to go out so bad that I put it all together and made what I’ll call 1/2 plans to fish some feeder creeks off the Susquehanna around Harrisburg PA. area this weekend … The nephew and I have been hitting the rivers for over a month now , but in a Polarcraft Jon and the Smallies are on BIG time now , so all the fish tales and photos have made her near crazy wanting in on the action from our (Her-lol) canoe … I was a bit timid about it all since the water is still hovereing 50+ in those creeks , but there is this one that has a launch right at the convergence of the creek and main Susqi. river so I wouldn’t have to actually take her in the river to enter the creek … I almost took her there but changed my mind because of a few a things , 1.- last Mon. we found a big jamb up at the the train bridge concrete bases (call it a strianer/sweeper), the 100 yards of water upstream of those bridges is were the fish are happenning this week , further than that and it’s a no bite still , 2.- the weather was going to be a bit sour , and 3.- this was going to be her first time out in the canoe this year and well , frankly and politely , she needs more time on the paddle , quite a bit more still and you know how that is , lol !! … So bottom line , all packed set and ready she was anxious , and I turned east to the flat lands and took her to a nice big ol pond she calls her favorite … the water was silted murky , from the rains , didn’t catch a single fish and she said she had a blast , what a Gal !!! … I’ll get her on those Smallies soon , but when things are a bit more in our favor from a canoe … I guess it’s kinda like what you said Big D , when water conditions require your canoe partner to have a certain level of skills that you can be comfortable with , and they really haven’t those skills yet , you take an easier , milder road perhaps , lol … thanks to all , have some great floats and even better fishin !!


– Last Updated: Apr-14-08 11:34 AM EST –

Damn it Big D , I don't want to die of over exposure to COTTON !!! ....... but I'm addicted to the stuff , lol ......... after all what was that ol commercial jingle , " It's the Fabric of our Lives " ........ so what is it about cotton , soaks up water like sponge , right ??

Cotton is comfy but bad.
I got rid of the lightweight polypro union suit I have been using for deer hunting and bought some heavier cotton suits last year. Ended up with mild to moderate hypothermia! I just could not get warm in the snow/drizzle. I will have a new suit this year for sure.

2 fishermen just drowned below the dam in Mosinee WI this past week when their boat was capsized in the cold water. One lucky fella was rescued and I don’t think they have found the other two yet. I have fished this exact same area many times but you won’t catch my wife and I out there til the water warms up. Fish are not worth dying for IMO.


A short answer

That’s not all
It soaks up water like a sponge, but so do a number of other fabrics. The real problem is that wet cotton cools quickly and is actually LESS insulation than being naked. Wet cotton COOLS you rather than RETAINS YOUR WARMTH. When it’s wet with cold water and the air temps are cold as well, you die of hypothermia more quickly than you would if you were naked.

Wear fabrics that retain warmth when wet. The classic is wool. Wool retains about 80% of it’s insulative power even when wet. There are artificial, “hi tech” fabrics that do an even better job. Polypro, PolarFleece, and many other fabrics retain their power to insulate when wet. If you’re in that zone below 120 combined water and air temps, you want to be wearing clothes that allow you to retain your body warmth even when you’re wet.

  • Big D

I don’t get the logic of “combined” temp
What does water temp have to do with air temp? If you’re in the water and can’t get out, does it matter that the air is 85 if the water is 35? And what about if the the water and air are both 60? You’re still pretty cold if wet at 60 if not prepared . . . .


Where are you going to find 85/35
conditions? About all I can think of is a short warming trend that goes back down and the water doesn’t have an opportunity to warm back up. The ratio/total isn’t an exact science, but makes sense. In the end, you have to make a judgement, but if you don’t have the experience to make that judgement, its a good guide.

Where? Mountain run off in the Spring?
Don’t have any of that here, but I understand there are many waters that rarely warm up, despite the air temp. Even here, last Spring, we had an 80 degree day, yet the water was under 40. Like you said, quick warm up.

That was an extreme example, but I just don’t understand the logic.


Not staying in is advisable

– Last Updated: Apr-16-08 10:05 PM EST –

I think there's a presumption that you're going to get out of the water quickly if you go in.

If the water's 35 and the air temps are 85, that 35 degree water's going to kill you if you stay in sure enough, but assuming the thermal shock didn't kill you, if you get out and get the wet clothes off you'll warm up pretty quickly - especially with exercise.

Also, I presented it as a rule of thumb. As all rules of thumb, exceptions are expected. 85/35 is an unusual situation. 58/40 is not.

There's another general rule, which is to dress for the water temps rather than the air temps. But if you dress for 35 water temps and have 85 air temps, you could well be risking heat-related illnesses. Would you wear a base layer, a heavy insulating layer, and a drysuit, plus pogies and wool hat on an 85 degree day?

- Big D

If you’re afraid of flipping when fishing, either you need paddling practice and/or a different boat for the job…imho. If you feel like you’re “pushing the envelope”…you probably are.