Is there a practical water temperature when you quit kayaking for the season?

I cannot think of any offers you can make that she can’t refuse.

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I agree with the Old Eagle. To me, the first chart I posted is quite sobering. If a person is wearing a Type III or Type V PFD, then “time to unconsciousness” is probably their survival time. These types of PFDs, aren’t designed to hold an unconscious person face-up in the water.

And as others have pointed out, before losing consciousness a person’s hands could be so numb as to be useless. Wind and wave conditions make matters worse.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s good information at the US Coast Guard website (PFD Selection, Use, Wear & Care). It shows a similar chart.

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Dear pikabike,

And therein lies the rub. I’m toast! :grin:


Tim Murphy

Harrisburg PA

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I think that’s the best summary I’ve seen, thanks to you and BorealWoods for posting.

I like that it shows that danger may start up near 80 degrees. I know that people will refuse to swim in the YMCA pool at 80 degrees and right around 79-80 is considered ideal for swim team since the only way to stay warm is vigorous exercise.

I just wanted to add one point. points out that 50-60F is the highest risk temperature range for cold shock. To me that’s not intuitive and it’s quite a different risk than long term immersion.

Funny (?) to see the disagreement on the threshold of “cold” when it seems like such a non-controversial topic . :wink:


Wow - this guy is super-human, but as I said before, for us normal folks the result is more often like this.

Let’s think it through - immersion protection for paddlers is similar to the layering that you do in other outdoor activities.

Start with a moisture-wicking base layer next to the skin. Synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester and polypropylene work well since they don’t absorb water and move moisture from your skin. Stay away from cotton. Some people use a base layer with neoprene, some people don’t. You definitely need it with a drysuit.

Next come the insulating layers. Neoprene is really the only insulating layer that works well when wet. In the coldest water you will need full coverage. Wetsuits should fit tight to minimize the influx of cold water (not a good picture for us old fogey paddlers :slight_smile: ), and thick enough to provide appropriate insulation for the conditions.

Fabric-based insulating layers (fleece, wool, and other non-absorbing materials) need to be kept dry under protective outer layers, so they are of limited use in the water unless you have a drysuit. (Carrying dry cloths in a drybag is a good idea for when you get out of the water.)

A windproof/waterproof outer layer comes next. Splash wear is an outer layer that will keep your insulating layers dry if you get splashed or rained on. If you go for a swim in splash wear, your inner layers will get wet, so the insulating layer needs to be neoprene. Splash wear will also cut down on evaporative cooling from the wet outer fabric of the wetsuit.

Drywear is the next level of protection. Dry suits come with neoprene (semi-dry) or latex (dry) gaskets to block water entry. Since the drysuit keeps your insulating layers dry, you are not limited to neoprene as an insulating layer, and can mix and match fabric-based insulating options depending on the weather and water conditions.

So the answer for low-cost immersion protection – I’d say a neoprene wetsuit (coverage and thickness appropriate for the conditions) and a splash top. Don’t forget head, hands and feet – probably neoprene there as well. I went to NRS and added it all up - $500. Not cheap, but a lot less than a drysuit.

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I may overthink the cold water topic since I have some background in heat transfer so I look at immersion as a heat transfer problem with various clothing layers affecting conduction and convection. I’ve also done a little bit of subjective evaluation of various garments in a YMCA pool just because I’m curious.

My base layer is a synthetic compression layer. The compression helps reduce both conduction and convection. A tight fitting Speedo is warmer than a heavier loose-fitting swimsuit. So in 65 or 70 degree water I think folks would be better off if wore their Speedo or bicycle shorts or two pair of yoga pants as an underlayer versus just street clothes. I think that even just a synthetic skull cap is a fine idea to provide a little protection against dipping your head one time when falling in. So I do think about the “easy” things that folks can do that are directionally correct.

I also think about “tunability”. I can cover a broad range of my paddling needs with a 2 mm neoprene vest and shorts and tuning the warmth with underlayers, overlayers, headwear, footwear and gloves. I often have to make adjustments during a winter paddle as I first get too warm and then too cold.

For me, paddling on rivers where I can get out fairly quickly, I think about the risk of dipping my head so as we exit Summer I first make sure to wear a synthetic skull cap and I’ll switch to my 0.5 mm neoprene skull cap next and I use the (amazingly comfortable) Kokotat balaclava that I bought at Celia’s recommendation for the coldest conditions (sometimes in combination with the NRS skullcap). In my mind $28 for the NRS skullcap and $40 for the Kokotat balaclava is pretty high value for top quality head protection and the NRS and Kokotat headgear also provide easy ways to tune your warmth while paddling.

For immersion in the coldest water I think your low cost recommendation is solid but maybe not the only option. My semi-dry Kokotat was not much more than $500 and seems way more versatile that a thick wetsuit since it’s comfy over a broad range of temps and the drysuit that tdaniel mentioned is under $500. Personally I can’t stand thick wetsuits.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m trying to debate you, if so I apologize. I just enjoy the discussion.


Debates are good, but in this case you are singing to the choir. I am in the “everyone who paddles in cold water (except Sing with his wetsuit :wink: ) should have a drysuit” camp. For me a drysuit is much more comfortable, more flexible and warmer that a wetsuit. There are some inexpensive versions, and you can find drysuits used for less money, but the drysuit is only the outer layer. You still need a base layer, insulating layers and protection for your head, feet and hands. It is going to cost more, but well worth the money in terms of comfort IMO.

I’m less concerned about water temps in the 60’s and 70’s, although I guess if you are in the water long enough it could be a concern. Rivers and lakes around here are in the mid-50’s now. In a month they will be in the mid 40’s. We could still have days with air temps in the mid to high-70’s. Those are the days when the inexperienced get into trouble.


I was very fortunate when we capsized a canoe in 41° water. I went under with no gasp and the pfd popped me up. The river bank was 15’ away and the air temp was 70ish. I got out of the water in a hurry.

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I went in on a New Year’s Day paddle in Ann Arbor in 35 degree water and fortunately the Huron is “stand up and walk out” in most places so multiple layers of synthetics worked just fine for me for that one situation. But there are so many variables that can work against you and I take more precautions these days. More recently I had a buddy fall into deep 50 degree water at a put-in on the Kalamazoo and I think he got out as quickly as he fell in.

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I think Doggy Paddler may have nailed it. I can’t believe the selection of affordable wetsuit stuff on Facebook marketplace in Ann Arbor.

It varies. Water temp is too cold only when the paddler does not have the appropriate clothing for immersion for that water temp.

I agree with this because people paddle recreationally in different ways.
While I am searching for a drysuit, I’m using layers of wetsuits that I already own and I just picked up neoprene pants (1 mil) for 29 dollars on Amazon. So if I layer that under my Lavacore 1.5 full front zip and a Henderson vested hood, I can achieve quite a bit and still peel off layers to climb around and explore the shore a bit.
I’m trying to imagine a drysuit in that scenario and I just don’t know enough yet to make such a big purchase. The other thing is they are much harder to find here.

The Henderson Hyperstretch hooded vest I wear layered when diving and it retails for 150 but I have found a couple on eBay for 15-20 each, like new.

Also it seems there are those out there that favor wetsuits for the best protection and I’m still exploring those reasons.

For me to spend 1000+ I’m going to have to try the drysuit on and preferably in the water and be able to return it (at this point because I’m so unsure)

I was ready to pull the trigger on a Kokatat I found on Amazon because I know I can try it and return it, I’ve never had a return rejected. But it’s now not available.

Also my issue is I CAN climb back in wearing a wetsuit but I have my doubts wearing a drysuit, the layers and the chest style PFD and that makes me feel uneasy because sometimes I’m by myself and I need to know I can get out of the water. Yes, I’m scared of a leaky drysuit. I see all those zippers here and there and honestly I can’t fathom how they don’t leak given enough time immersed. I would be very hesitant to put my dog or myself on an inflatable SUP as well because when I was at the shop, two people came in with leaks.

On the one hand, I believe the people with experience, but on the other hand I’ve never gotten in trouble sticking with my own judgement and not exceeding what my ability is (climbing back in.)

I’m curious what people think of this opinion?

I found his site because he had an exposure table

I have had a couple of drysuits over the past 15-years (they do wear out with use), but I have never had a problem will leaking. Latex neck gaskets are more secure than neoprene - I’ve always had latex. Zippers have never leaked, unless I didn’t close them all the way - user error, not zipper failure.

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I believe you but were you immersed for an extended amount of time?

I guess I can’t imagine how zippers don’t leak eventfully. I’ve spend a lot of time underwater with lots of camera housings, dome ports with gaskets I have to coat with silicone and eventually something leaks, through the tiniest pin hole.

And why is the guy I posted above saying neoprene is safer? Susan Conrad wore a Farmer Jane with a paddling jacket over that for the trip up the Inside Passage, I’d like to know why.

In the past (am now in waters that don’t require drysuit - FL) I’ve used drysuit in many different situations, from surf play to extended trips.
I never had leaks from zipper or gaskets. I did have gaskets wear out over time (used both front zipper and back zipper drysuits).
Getting to the surfski persons point - when used for surf play (winter - off WA coast (northwest)), I would heat up quickly, and the little dampness I got inside was from sweat (also have a bit of sensitivity to latex - would end up with a bit of a red ring around my neck).

Drysuit Failure (where a wetsuit would be preferred):
On one extended trip (paddle around L Superior) in (a quite cold) June, I was wearing the drysuit just about every day (mornings).
About halfway around, pulling it off over head - the neck gasket tore. Luckily, the remainder of the trip was quite warm, did not need the drysuit.

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Personal preference - there are people (Sing for instance) who prefer wetsuits for whatever reason. No problem with that. In terms of the issues above:

The drysuit does not provide any insulation, so you do need to add insulating layers for warmth. With the right insulating layers (takes practice) I find that I am actually warmer in my drysuit than I would be in my wetsuit - especially my feet. I do sometimes get a chill when I stop for lunch, but that is going to happen in a wetsuit or drysuit.

You will sweat when paddling in a drysuit, so the insulating layers will get moist (I wouldn’t say wet). That is one of the reasons that you need a good base layer to wick moisture away from your body.

I have always used latex neck gaskets, and have never had a leak. Might be different if you use neoprene, which is why I don’t. Eventually the gaskets will fail with use, but that is more likely to happen when you put the suit on or take it off.

As I said above, I have never had a zipper leak, but you need to make sure it is closed all the way. I did have a suit where the zipper eventually failed from age, but that happened when I was putting the suit on, not once it was securely closed.

If the drysuit fails (gasket, zipper, puncture/tear), then you are in trouble - no doubt about that. In my 15-years paddling I have never seen it happen. Hopefully I never will.

I am a river paddler, so I am not going to be bobbing around in open water for extended periods of time (hopefully). This spring I did take a safety class that involved swimming that had me in the water for over an hour - no leaks, not cold.


The “drysuit vs wetsuit” debate is a perennial fall topic in these forums. If you search that topic, you’ll find 20 years of discussions. Most of the folks here have expressed his/her position on preferred gear, one way or another. Each arrived at his/her positions from their own venues, experiences, skills, etc. Judgement is the key because it weighs the relevant factors for that particular individual.


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