Hot days, cold water ... what to do?

Here in the Washington DC area it’s supposed to reach 80 by Friday (as far as I’m concerned that’s hot …) but the water temps on the Potomac are hovering around 57 - that’s likely to be close to what the temps are on most bodies of water around here. And it will be sunny, too. I’m playing hooky on Friday to take my new kayak out for its maiden voyage. I have a 3mm farmer john and drytop as well as paddling jacket and pants. Too late and too few $$ at this moment to think about going out and buying yet another piece of gear (yesterday WAS April 15 after all and I refuse to loan our government money for free so I always owe them at tax time). If I suit up in farmer john and drytop I’ll roast; if it’s paddling jacket and pants and I take a swim I’ll get chilled pretty quickly. Does just the farmer john with a long-sleeve wicking top make sense? Any suggestions for how to handle these “in between” days?

Get wet
BTW, 57-59 is the water temp in July in Maine where we vacation, so this is a normal issue for us for 3 and this year 4 weeks of the year. And as you point out, it’s plenty cold for hypothermia.

As to solutions, the only one we’ve found is to dress for the water and just get wet as needed. Before we could both roll reliably that meant ducking into the water off of the other person’s bow, now it mean rolling. I suspect that neither option will be available to you, so I suggest that you have something you can dunk into the water and pour it over yourself. Just keeping your head wet can have a huge impact - I also like having a hat that I can keep soaked.

As to layers, the one issue with a wetsuit is that they really only protect while in the water. You can chill very quickly with a wet wetsuit and a breeze hitting it, so your layers up top should always include a wind-blocking layer over wetsuit-type apparel.

When/if you go to a drysuit, you’ll find that you can put super-wicking layers under it and, with getting wet, likely stay more comfortable in this transition time than in a wetsuit. But that’s down the road.

I wear trunks and a quick-dry top, carry a wind/waterproof jacket behind my seat, long-sleeve top, polypro watchcap, windpants, wool socks, gloves in my dry bag. And, I have a full change of warm clothes in the car.

If I get wet, I use the gear…if not, I’m comfortable.

Stay close to shore (NM)

get a canvas Tilley hat
… and wet it often

Dress for the water temperature
and roll, wet-back scull or dip off a bow or other object to cool off.

Doh! Why didn’t I …

– Last Updated: Apr-16-08 9:06 AM EST –

... think of that? A hat I can keep wet could help but it makes more sense to dress properly for the water temps and just douse myself with it every so often to keep cool. Thanks. I knew I could count on you guys!

I can't roll ... YET ... but it's on my to-do list this summer. And I may not have a paddling partner on Friday. Wetting myself (no - not THAT way) is the way to go!

Listen to Andy’s words of wisdom
My wife and I will be paddling in much colder water than that today.

If by some reason we tipped, we would be close enough to shore to get there very quickly.

If you don’t have faith in your ability, then just paddle in water where you can stand in case of a mishap.



Not to worry …
Wide river but not too wide where I’m going. Boat has plenty of flotation, I’m proficient in self-rescue, and am a good swimmer.

If I go over it will because I did something stupid, not because of water conditions. Now if you talk to my wife about the “stupid” part she’d tell you …

Our lesson this week…
We had a nice sunny day yesterday in CT and got out for our first paddle. It was our first paddle with drysuits and new vests. With the new and bulkier equipment, we both managed to do unintended wet exits…my wife at the start and myself at the end. It was shallow water for us both, but she went in before she had gotten gloves on. The icy lake water rapidly chilled hands and impressed upon us how hairy things could get very quickly. The drysuits worked great, keeping us dry & our fleece kept us warm. the learning for both of us was the we will unquestioningly dress for immersion in the future.

Farmer John it
At you can read my account of my unintentional swim in the Patuxent River last weekend. For 52 degree air/water, I definitely went with the drysuit and I’m glad I did - though I was paddling with others.

Before I had the drysuit, when paddling alone on the Patuxent and the Potomac, I would do the wet suit farmer john and a dry top - and PFD. I’m pretty well self insulated and a strong swimmer, but I never wanted to take the chance alone - you might go over and hit your head on something, etc.

You will be in mid-conditions where being in the water for a while wouldn’t be healthy, but the the air temp is too hot for a drysuit or a 3mm wetsuit. In these conditions (cool water, hot air), I wear a hydroskin farmer john and, if I’m doing a lot of rolling, a shorty drytop. With no expectation of immersion, I’d just wear a rashguard shirt. You’d be fine paddling with a hydroskin farmer john and a splash jacket and getting your hat wet if you get hot. If you’re worried about dumping (most people never dump on flat water) you could stay within a few minutes swimming with your boat to shore. Sorry about recommending more gear, but that’s one of the drawbacks (really the only one) of kayaking. Have fun with the new boat.

cold shock thing
I am consistently concerned about the hazard of instantaneous cold shock, not immersion hypothermia if accidently going in. The advice of staying close to shore, not paddling alone, staying in calm conditions all makes sense to me if i were just concerned about immersion. My main concern would be even 10 feet from shore in 10 feet of water, capsizing and not be able to do a darn thing if shock set in. To me, that makes things even more challenging to dress because a wet suit or drysuit will not prevent cold shock. I believe that a proper face and neck hood is best for that and who wants to wear that with warm air temps. Thus, I have never quite figured this out!

newbie here
This is a very interesting thread. I just bought my first kayak a few weeks ago. I bought a dry suit right away because I knew I would want to get out on the water as soon as it opened up.

What water temp am I going to want to go to a wet suit? Or with only a shell? Will I even need a wet suit?

The more I read the more confused I am.

it’s always a compromise…
one side of the equation or the other…risk/reward. assess what you know/can do, what your group can do, weigh out your “worst case” scenario’s and make your decision.

gotta roll? really, really gotta roll? alone or in a group? people around?, etc., etc.

conventional wisdom is to dress for the water temp…hypothermia kills more of us than anything else (well…is “dumb” a category?)

we did a paddle up in maine last spring and we were in just shirts even though the water temp was prety darn frigid…we covered way too many miles at a pop to be sweatin’ our collective asses off encased and layered in dry suits and the odds of any of us spending more than literally a minute in the water was remote enough to make it feasible.

personally i don’t think i’d a been able to keep enough fluid in me to dress for the water AND paddle the speeds/distances we were paddling.

again though, conventional wisdom is to dress for the water and erring on the side of caution is far better than the reverse.

there, I said it, so THERE! PHFFFFFFFT!

(Outriggers are better, ask me I’ll tell ya…)

What you’re used to

– Last Updated: Apr-18-08 7:31 AM EST –

Just an overall comment on the personal factor in all of this - we have started being able to hook up with local paddlers where we vacation in mid-coastal Maine. Since our local waters back home have started hitting at least the upper 60's by the time we go, we show up in drysuits and a hood readily available and often lighter weight full finger gloves.

One of the local folks we have paddled with the last couple or so years has never shown up in anything more than sandals, baggy shorts, a very basic waffle-type long sleeve underwear top and a floppy hat.

While we've never seen him get wet other than on purpose, he did do a quick roll once and seemed to be just fine afterwards. But then, this is his normal swimming water.

Personally, if you have a drysuit I’d say just gradually lighten up the layers under it until the water is warm enough to dispense with anything more than regular lightweight non-cotton paddling pants and a shell and or a fleece top. There’s no law saying you can’t wear stuff like super-venting light workout or even biking shells under a drysuit. I do that a good bit. The one place that something like a wetsuit may have a cleaer edge is is WW, where it’s some cushioning against rocks and the neoprene is less of a concern if it gets torn. But even there I am seeing more and more drysuits show up. They just make life so much easier.

What are your plans re learning to roll, things that guarantee you’ll get wet? Being able to cool off in the water without having to get out of the boat is the single biggest thing you can do to make this simpler.

Well, I am sure at some point I will want to learn how to roll but I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. I haven’t had a class and don’t really have anyone local to teach me yet. I might need to work on that.

more explanation on "dip off a bow"
I am not familiar with this technique. Can someone offer some explanation/tips?