Cold water rolling question

I paddle alone 99% of the time and am still doing rolls in the lake, the lake temps are around 58*, (Mid. 50’s air temp.) i am guess and dropping fast…is it getting to cold to safely roll alone? Didn’t feel to bad this past weekend, did a 1/2 dozen and when i was done, towel dried my hair and pulled a warm hat on and was about 10 min. paddle from the launch. I have done a little reading and took a cold water rescue class from Suz and am wondering if it’s time to hold off on the rolling when alone and resume if we can get in a pool. Also i want to invest in some ear plugs for rolling…any brand people like better than another. Thanks.

How Likely is a Swim?
If you never swim, keep on going. A drysuit and a diver’s hood can keep you rolling in colder temps. Personally, I don’t like rolling with gloves or mitts on. I want to feel that ripcord if I have to pull it.

Pretty safe if your roll is reliable
Since right after learning, I’ve done almost 100% of my roll practice alone. If I had waited for others to practice with (rolling or ANYTHING else), I would still be stuck at the very beginnerest stage of sea kayaking. Just Do It–carefully.

Next to shore at a pond or lake, onshore wind if any, truck nearby, dry change of clothes ready, etc. minimize the risks. I would definitely add ear plugs, noseclips if you don’t already use them, and a neoprene cap or hood. Glacier ice-climbing gloves when it gets really cold; otherwise, I go bare-hands as much as possible. Though I have not done so, bringing a big Thermos of hot drink would also serve to warm you quickly, if necessary.

Doc’s vented ear plugs plus the neoprene cap (smooth outer face is warmer than fabric outer face) prevent cold water from causing exostosis (not to mention pain and/or infections). You can still hear OK, though obviously there is reduction of hearing. Much better than solid plugs, which I used to use. Some water can still get in but it’s nothing like the flood into unplugged ears.

If you get water in your ears that doesn’t quickly drain out, put a drop or two of 50% alcohol/50% vinegar in there to kill bacteria and help dry the ear inside.

The German “rodent headphone” noseclips stay put better than other types, in my experience. They also last longer. The neoprene cap strap gives you an attachment point for them (I hate losing noseclips).

My personal tolerance for cold water is determined by how severe and how long-lasting the ice cream headache gets. Found out that sometimes the ICH begins at the first roll. Other times, it begins after a few of them. If I keep rolling after the ICH starts, it generally subsides. If I keep rolling after that, eventually I just get too damned cold! And that kind of cold takes a while to recover from. Learn to tell what your own body sets as its limits.

All this assumes you have either an adequate wetsuit or drysuit, of course.

And have fun! All this solo skills practice in flat water really does pay off in the long run, including when you paddle in moving or white water.

the colder it is, the more you need it
The way I see it, there is little danger to a wet exit in a swimming pool. The same with a wet exit in any warm water where it doesn’t matter how long you stay swimming in terms of hypothermia. I learned to roll because of cold water. I think that’s the all around biggest reason folks ever learned to roll a kayak (the reason they didn’t know how to swim is because the water is always too cold to enjoy swimming in I would guess, in case someone feels the need to throw the inability to swim argument in there). I always practice my roll all winter. The bigger danger is in not doing it. If you paddle alone, that increases the danger of a wet exit even further, so the ability to roll in that icy cold water paddling alone becomes even more important.

The thought process sneaking in telling you that if you don’t intentionally tip over, you don’t run the risk of a wet exit, is worth considering in terms of where you practice. Practice the rolls where you can swim to shore or a dock and quickly to a warm area such as your car. I used to practice rolling every day at the end of my paddle where I could get out and get to the car if things didn’t work out, especially when everything was covered in snow and ice. As long as you are regularly performing rolls, it’s easy to maintain calm confidence in the event of capsize. So the idea is to plan for the worst case scenario vs. hoping for the best and convincing yourself that it is a better idea to do so.

A good idea to stop practicing your roll, but continue to paddle in colder conditions? Absolutely not. But there are more folks that behave that way than the other way around, and by far the majority of them get away with it.

Doc’s plugs, vented
Easiest to find these at scuba places or WW. The scuba places will generally send you a template first to choose the size - they have more than a couple - then subsequent to that you order the plugs. It’s worth it to get them in a color and tethered, makes it easier to find them when one you pull one out.

Vented so that you can still hear what people are saying. No water comes in.

Rolling Alone
Practicing rolls in cold water is pretty much all that’s available out here. Ocean temps are under 55F most of the time and low 60’s, when they rarely happen, are considered too balmy. As long as you are prepared for immersion in cold water, all should be well. I just have a couple of caveats:

  1. Don’t roll any further from shore than you wish to swim in from. The reasons for this are clear, but the cold water and its effects upon the body make this more important. I’ve seen world class swimmers/water polo players lose physical control in cold water and, depending upon the temperature, the time from functional control to dysfunction is surprisingly short (often within in a couple of minutes).

  2. Practice is great, but practice also suggests a risk of failure. So one fail to recover, it is important to have a back up re-entry method as well. Getting out of the water quickly, as suggested above, is important. I probably didn’t even need to say this, but on the off chance that someone needs to be told, I’ve added it.


Just as long as you can self rescue…
If you practice on a regular basis sticking your head into water down into the low 50s is no big deal. You can get a neoprene hood to make it more comfortable if you go below those temps. It’s best to practice in the conditions you paddle in, so if you paddle in cold water practice in cold water -but in a spot you can easily wade back to shore or swim without assistance. Practice wet exits and recoveries too, because when you do capsize in real conditions in cold water, it’s much easier to be disoriented and have to pull the skirt and swim.

+1 practice rescues
If doing a special practice session (as opposed to how I generally throw a few rolls in on most paddle days for fun and practice) then you may as well practice rescues too. Since you’re going to get wet you may as well start with a quick swim. If you can’t handle the swim or rescues then I’d avoid rolling alone.

Ear plugs
What I, and most people around where I paddle, use is Doc’s earplugs. They come in sizes, so need to be fit. A lot of paddle shops carry them.

You can also buy various neoprene type covers for your head and/or head/neck. They all work well in cold water. Kokatat makes one.

When practicing in really cold water, I was taught to first splash the face to get it wet and cold to avoid a reaction.

Thanks Celia…i remeber you saying
something like that the last paddle we did. Thanks

Thanks, i feel like i got a lot of great
feedback…i do have a drysuit that i am wearing and a headheater that is slick on the outside, fuzzy neo on the inside. I am at a boat lunch, but i guess i need to drive to it instead of paddling to it. It just wasn’t that cold YET. But it will be real soon. I am rolling in about 4 feet of water (A. because it feels warmer-B. 'cuz i can walk to shore if i was to fail the roll)

So i feel as though i am on the right track with what i am doing…hot drink and chocolate are always with me when i am out in cold weather, even close to home. But this makes me feel better knowing how others are handling this and the tips and advise.

That is why i come here. Thanks

great tip about the vinegar mixture
i do use nose plugs…i am going for the earplugs though too.

Doc’s vented ear plugs plus the neoprene

I also wear a diver’s mask when practicing rolling in truly cold water.

Dive shops are great places to research and get cold water gear. I have an ice diving hood from a scuba shop for truly frigid water rolling. My favorite find in a dive shop was Deep See Comfort Dry Gloves:

Splashing the face first
I forgot all about that! Used to do just that when practicing in cold water. It does seem to prime the body for what’s ahead (reduces severity of ice cream headache). Maybe causes the blood vessels to start constricting before the head actually goes into the water. Also probably why the ICH usually diminishes after the first roll or two.

Thanks… :wink:

thanks for asking!
I appreciate these PNetters’ suggestions too. They encourage me to do some rolling practice in the lake this winter.

G in NC

Have you considered a Tuilik?

With a Tuilik over my drysuit, I’m able to roll in Lake Superior when the water temp is in the 40s for a long time. Sometimes, I’ll go out for a two-hour paddle and roll for much of that time without feeling cold at all.

If you do not use ear plugs you may

– Last Updated: Oct-27-11 12:38 PM EST –

want to take a dose of Meclizine HCL (25 mg) about an hour before rolling practice.

About a week ago I went to my local flatwater venue to practice maneuvers, rolling and sculling. The water temp was in the upper 50's and I did use a 3mm neo cap. However the repeated flushing of the cooler water in and out of my ear canals eventually threw off my equilibrium. This is not the first time I have had this happen and regrettably I left both my ear plugs (Doc's) and the Meclizine at home. Once I realized I had reached my limited I called it a day.

Lucky…the inner ear is your balance center. When people get an ear infection it affects balance. So does very cold water…different people are more susceptible.

I have seen people that couldn’t sit upright without help after just one dip in cold water…some become so disoriented and feel like they are going to vomit…they need help to sit on a beach until things stop spinning…(An Ice creme headache is nothing in comparison)

When I teach rolling I carry ear plugs to hand out…it is very important in cold water (I teach in Lake Superior many times a year)

Best Wishes


^great tip here^
Back of the neck and sternum are good spots to splash also - you’ll feel it most there.