Gear and water temps ...

Looking for guidelines on what to wear as the water gets colder. Water temps here are down to low 60’s in Narragansett bay. I know to dress for the water temps, but what specifically is best, and at what temps?

I’m thinking water temps:

60 - 65: dry top

50’s: wet suit or dry suit

Under 50: dry suit

Is this the right gear at these temps? How long can you be safely in the water with the above gear and temps?

it’s personal
Everyone’s a little different so you have to go take a long swim in your gear to get the right answer.

For me, in the 60-65 degree range I wouldn’t want to be without a wetsuit of some sort.

Some good info

Don’t forget about post-capsize

– Last Updated: Oct-16-10 10:30 AM EST –

You capsize in a wet suit, roll or otherwise re-enter your boat, it's about 60 degrees air temp and a 10 mph wind is blowing you. If you don't have a good wind-blocking layer, that wet wetsuit is now a surprisingly fast trip to hypothermia.

That is why I just go straight to dry suit once it's cold enough that I'd have to worry about getting chilled in a damp wetsuit. For me it's easier to beef up on wicking and fleece layers that I'll wear around here in the winter anyway than buy the stuff for that 10 to 15 degrees of temperature between summer and mid-fall. I also find it more comfortable than a wetsuit. I do beat the heck out of my dry suits, so I buy Kokatat for the warranty.

PS to above - I am talking about the typical wetsuit that paddlers get, not the fancy ones that surfers use. But you are talking more bucks by the latter, enough to make an NRS dry suit sale price look accessible.

I’m in Rhode Island
and from now on through the winter, I’ll be using a dry suit. You can never be safe enough when the temps start to drop. As well, a good layer underneath will help as well - wool is your best friend!

If you have a dry suit…
…why bother with a wetsuit at all. I find my dry suit to be far more comfortable and versatile.

drysuit i agree.

– Last Updated: Oct-16-10 6:18 PM EST –

with apossible exeption of winter storm surfing and stuff like that. i have two working drysuits right now , and one two piece kokatak solution.
The NRS event breathes extremely well, but is made of thin fabric..its super comfortable and i use it a lot in summer i use a quite light finnish drysuit called URSUIT 4 tex. just a zipper an high quality neoprene gaskets. Now winter is here. i do a little bit of rolling in "MY" creek these days and today i drew my kayak over and through 1,6cm ice..this suit i exellent under another garment. thin jacket/tuilik.
winter kayaking is serious buissniz. wool..lots of it.
dry towels. several pairs of gloves..neoprene hoods..
the water is one thing,afterwards with possible wind chill etc etcanother...its real easy to get in trouble...
this also is gale season here..thats really tempting stuff for me , but extreme care must be taken..
test your stuff througoutly so you know how it feels to swim around in icy water...that will give a good indication..nose clip might be smart too...
take cARE

dry top alone
Drytop by itself is worthless unless you have a perfect roll. Once you’re out of the boat the drytop does nothing at all.

Bill H.

Wet suit
I paddle all winter w/ the water and air temp in the 30s and only wear a wet suit. I have tried dry suits and dry tops but sweat way too much in them. In the winter I am only paddling for training so I maintain close to a 6 mph pace. I usually paddle by myself but in an area w/ commercial boat traffic, near a Coast Guard station and police marine station. I carry a submersible radio and also practice cold water immersion. If the air temp is much below 30 I wont go because ice will start to cover my deck.

One question asked above was how long a person can manage to be in the water with a given set of clothing. The charts are deceptive here for anyone who hasn’t been in that spot, and that is why the recommendations for dry suit and other things like winter gloves, hood etc above.

A person can survive, as in be conscious and alive, for a decent amount of time in the water with a wetsuit and three season gloves. The problem is that their ability to actually use their hands and focus their attention well for a self-rescue in cold water is much less than that time unless they are suited up more warmly than you describe. It’s not much help being aware of things if you can’t make use of body parts to get out of the water. Good thermal layers under a dry suit buy you that time, or a surfing type wetsuit that’ll run you near the cost of a more inexpensive dry suit on sale.

This is based on my own experience. It wasn’t a capsize luckily, but I’ve started into mild hypothermia (teeth chattering uncontrollably, shivering and limited control of hands) more than once and the last time was in a wetsuit, standing on land after a rolling/swimming session with a sudden squall on a 68 degree day. I ran for the car to get out of the wet stuff and even out of the wind it took quite a bit to get myself out of the dry top and wetsuit. Five minutes of waiting and I’d have needed help.

I appreciate that you have been able to manage with just a wetsuit for your training purposes, but IMO your advice is poor for someone who is looking for a conservative approach to safety in winter paddling in the NE.

Thanks for the responses
Helps to get a reality check now and then. I’ve recently got back into kayaking, so I’m in that gear collecting phase … again. Used to have a dry suit and radio, but not now.

I look forward to the weekend, when I can get back out on the water. Last weekend was a mile stone for me, actually played along the rocks in mild swells, for the first time. Nothing compared to what many here do, but exhilarating for me.

But safety comes first. With water temps now at 60 or below, time to hang up the boat for the winter. A wet suit may buy me a few more weekends, but up here New England I think a dry suit will have a longer window of use. Having just bought a boat and other gear, a dry suit is not in the budget now. There’s always next spring.

add a helmet to the list
Playing in the rocks is always fun, and is usually a part of any paddling I do. I’d recommend bringing along a helmet for those trips, and only messing around in the rocks when you’ve got a competent friend along with whom you’ve practiced rocky, wavy rescues.

Yes, and thought about that …
… while there. Wasn’t part of my plan for the trip, or even for this year.

I’ve always given rocks a wide berth. Just sort of came about on the return. I was feeling great on my first paddle out in more open ocean, with gentle 1- 2’ swells and a little chop on top. Coming back in, I decided to stay inside several boats fishing, which brought be closer to the rocks. The boat felt so good in the rebound, and I fascinated by the rocks, cliffs, coves, etc. The water was crystal clear, and I could see occasional rocks below. The boat maneuvers so effortlessly, I found myself slipping between a few rocks.

About that time it occurred to me that if I ended up upside down, I could get pushed into a rock before or as I was exiting. Reluctantly backed off.

Great points
Relative skill levels, and ability to still function.

Advanced paddlers with a solid roll, and\or the ability to get back in the boat quickly in conditions, can think in terms of being in the water less time than those who have no roll, or may need several tries to get back in the boat … or may end up clinging to the boat or heading for shore if all else fails.

Someone mentioned having multiple safety plans. One of those should be what to do if you can’t, for one reason or another, get back in the boat.

For me, with a dry suit I can layer or not, depending water temps, thus covering the range of a wet suit plus colder waters. Equally important, a dry suit lets you stay in the water longer if needed, and you’re dry when you get out.

Before all this…
…learn how to spend only three seconds at a time in the water…by staying in the boat.

You need to determine for yourself
People’s tolerance for cold varies, as do their skills and therefore the ability to avoid long periods of immersion.

Just to give you another person’s comfort ranges, here are mine:

Water temp 60 to 65 deg: Wetsuit is OK if air temp is above that. Shorty 2mm good if day is sunny and hot. Full wetsuit if cloudy or not hot. This assumes lots of time in the water, such as rolling.

Water temp between 55 and 60: Full wetsuit if not expecting to be in water for long. Otherwise, drysuit with appropriate underlayers (which are easy to vary for temps).

Water temp below 55: Drysuit preferrable but, again, it depends on expectations and conditions.

Water temp below 50: Drysuit. And the rolling will cause ice cream headache even with that and a neoprene cap.

I don’t see how wearing a wetsuit is comfortable if you sweat heavily wearing a drysuit. I get sweatier wearing a wetsuit than a Gore-tex drysuit. Are you talking about a non-breathable drysuit?

The sweat thing is not as important in warmer conditions when you deliberately cool off by rolling or getting in the water, but I wouldn’t wear a wetsuit in truly cold conditions. That sweat inevitably becomes cold itself. (Good to test this out near shore with your car and dry clothes ready.)

cold water workshop
I am conducting a few cold water workshops in New England:

Connecticut - Wed Oct 20 - North Cove - - this is at night at the shop and we won’t be getting wet.

These three are full day events that involve discussion, hands on learning and paddling:

Freeport, Maine - Oct 23 - Lincoln Canoe and Kayak -

Newton, MA - Oct 24 -

Kennebunkport, Maine -Nov 6-

Cape Ann, MA - Nov 7(exact location TBD-weather dependent) - NSPN - cold water paddle -

If you are interested in attending any of these, contact the organizers at the shop or for the club paddle, contact through the club. If it isn’t too full, non members will be able to attend.


Watch your head
I’m glad someone finally mentioned a rolling cap. I suggest that whatever suit you go with, you buy yourself a full neoprene surf hood and wear it when the temp dips. No use buying a top of the line Kokatat drysuit if you forget the other major danger of cold water capsizing: involuntary gasp reflex.

Actually have one of those …
… The kids think I should wear it for Halloween, with a black cape and one of those big fake axes.