How late in the season can you still go kayaking?

Here’s a random question for a rainy Sunday morning…

How late in the season (Fall) can you still go out kayaking? Here in Virginia (the metro Richmond area), the temps always vary wildly and the James River still flows like normal but it will cool down to upper 50’s or so. Should something tragic happen, and you get wet, you might have a problem you know what I mean? Granted, some sections of the James are only 3’ deep or 4’ or so, but still…

The air temps also wildly vary to it being 52° one day and then the next it is beautifully sunny and 70°. So my main question is how to you prepare for kayaking in the cooler weather when the temps/water vary so much?

Here are some beautiful photos from yesterday when I was out on my Cayman 124F, SOT fishing kayak (no fishing pole, no fishing, just going out exploring).

A view from the river looking back at the Huguenot bridge in the distance.

See the Great Blue Heron?

With proper clothing, you can paddle year-round, as long as you have open water. Remember, kayaks originated in Arctic cultures.


To the end of the season - then start the next. Fall turns to winter, winter turns to spring…

Or, I paddle year round.


I paddle year round and sometimes I even wear a wet suit. However, I will not paddle if the water turns solid.

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Thank you all for the great replies. I guess it was one of my basic “curiosity questions” since I’m a relative newcomer to kayaking.

My Cayman 124F SOT fishing kayak used to belong to my late brother-in-law, who sadly, as a Vietnam Vet, succumbed to cancer from that awful chemical they used in the jungles called Agent Orange. :cry:

One of the things to consider is that water temperature is often more important than air temperature. People generally understand air temperature and how to stay comfortable, but if you were to fall into the water, the heat loss is much greater. For example, if the air and water are both the same, your heat loss will be some 26x greater if you are in the water as when you are out of the water.

Here is a site I found that shows water temperatures at Cartersville, VA on the James River in a prior year. As you can see, it gets pretty cold.

Everyone handles cold differently, so what I or others do may or may not work for you. That said, if the water temperature is below 60F, I am normally wearing some sort of thermal protection (wet suit or dry suit). If above 70, I am not. If water temp is between 60 and 70, I take into account other factors, such as air temperature, chance of flipping, others who could help me get rescued, etc. Keep in mind I am well practiced in rescues and always carry a PLB and usually a VHF, so can call for help in emergencies - if someone doesn’t know how to rescue themselves and help would be long time in coming, they should automatically be more conservative in what they wear.


Wow… Thank you for that excellent reply! :sunglasses:

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I’m pretty new to kayaking too. 38 degrees (air temp), I was way over dressed with my long underwear and sweat shirt/pants under my drysuit. I’m planning on kayaking all winter, (might stay home in front of the fire when air temps get below 0 deg F, but we’ll see! ) I plan to get a tulik for over the drysuit when it gets cold.

My problem is figuring out what I’m doing for my hands when it gets cold. My hands get cold fast, but I despise thick gloves!


You don’t know if you are overdressed until you are swimming.

When you are adequately dressed for swimming, you will often be overdressed for sitting in the kayak. Not much to do about that. I often dip my hands in the cold water to get cooled a bit. If that is not enough, I go into the water to get cooled.

I used mittens with open palms (this is a product photo, in my own I have removed the seams between the fingers to get better isolation):

I can feel the paddle shaft through the opening, and that is enough for me. When I don’t need them, I stick my hand out through the opening and peel the entire mitten back over my underarm, where it is ready for use.

I often also use a pair of pogies, installed on the paddle shaft. These are really warm for paddling, but as soon as I pull the hands out, they give no protection. So I also wear the mittens described above, peeled back, so I can quickly pull them forward and protect my hands while I am in the water.


Dry suit, hood, good gloves and neo booties. Then can get away with it assuming suitable precautions for the environment until it freezes.


When I waded into the water to burp my drysuit, the water was cool. But you’re right, I should not have considered myself over dressed for how much I was sweating paddling. I need to think about that a little different than I have been.

I picked up a pair of these, but my fingers went numb pretty fast. I was going up-river, so I had to be picky with where I stopped. When stopped, I could stretch the glove enough to get my fingers out without removing the glove, and make a fist, which warmed me back up in short order… But it would have been nice to not have to stop.

I’ve been trying to find a “one glove fits all” scenarios, but maybe thats asking too much? or at least for my whimpy hands. The pogies look like they would be really warm. I’ve been trying to find gloves that worked good for rolling and paddling. It looks like the pogies are wide open on the end, so they will fill with water during a roll. If water temps are around 35 deg F, air temp is around 0 deg F, I’m guessing you wouldn’t roll with the pogies? If I stowed the pogies for rolling (looks like they velcro around the paddle shaft?), whats the best thing to wear on my hands for 20 to 30 minutes worth of rolling around, playing in the water?

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I paddle more in the late fall, winter and spring. Summer is just too hot. Of course I live in Florida.

The question is too general or too personal. It isn’t the time of year it should be a discussion on the conditions and location to determine typical conditions.

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At an air temperature of 0 °F, I would certainly use pogies, also for rolling*. Yes, water will enter into them, but they will drain and work fine afterwards. Their insulation effect mostly comes from creating a bubble of still air around your hand, not from the insulation of the fabric itself.

(*: That is, if I actually went paddling under those circumstances. I have often paddled in ice, but I have never paddled in so cold air temperatures.)

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Here on the Gulf Coast of Texas we pretty much go all year.

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Allan said, " At an air temperature of 0 °F, I would certainly use pogies, …"

I would go inside and prepare to drive south back to Florida.


I paddle pretty much when ever the water is open. I paddle a canoe, which is different than your kayak. A canoe paddle does not always get your hands wet. But, so much exercise, heat generation, Dress well, and your fingers will normally have enough eat to keep your hands warm. And in capital letters WOOL There is zero substitute for wool in a wet environment. lots of different wools, take your pick. I adore, merino wool, cashmere, and bison down.

This spring, April and May, I paddled about 600 miles, western US spring melt, my feet were wet continuously. Bison down socks, my feet were never cold. I wear jeans, but my torso, normally 3 or 4 layers, Lotsa ways to do it. Normal, a thin cotton next to my skin, merino wool or cashmere sweater, long sleeve, long body, third layer usually a long sleeve dress shirt, waterproof, wind shirt, or splash jacket if needed on top, and there is always the insulation value of your PFD Keep the torso warm and there is extra heat available for hands and feet. ALWAYS, always have a dry bag with a complete change of clothing, one full set, and if you have taken a dunking without a wet or dry suit, at 34F and the water temp is the same, immediately change.

Dressed well? If the water is not frozen, really hard to paddle, go have fun.

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I love mittens, even thin neoprene warm up quickly. The challenge is when you need finger dexterity and you have to take them off (similar issue with pogies). Either carry or wear a pair of 0.5mm neoprene NRS gloves in addition.

If the air is reasonably warm or calm, I’ll carry them in PFD pocket, if it’s really cold or windy, I’ll wear them inside the mittens.

You don’t need to take pogies off for rolling - in fact if a person uses pogies, then they should practice rolling with them on. In a real world boat over, you’re won’t have time to strip them off before rolling.

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Year round. Dress for the water. If you don’t already have a dry suit, get one! And, please practice with it before the temps drop too much.

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Excellent advice everyone! Thank you! I really appreciate all the fantastic replies! Here in Virginia it can get cold, but not THAT cold, if you know what I mean… The “piedmont area” (Charlottesville — eastward to the Chesapeake) has places where rivers, ponds, and lakes will get skim ice overnight, but by sunrise, it will melt away.

The best advice is that whenever the water temperature is below 60 degrees it is advisable to dress for cold water immersion with either fleece or wool garments if it is not too much below 60 and you are paddling near to shore or fleece and wool as a base under a dry suit if it is colder or you are paddling far off shore.

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