New Jersey fall

I’ve been kayaking on the D and R canal in central NJ almost everyday since May. I would like to continue at least into early December. The water temperature now is about 50F. I don’t plan on going out when the air temp is below 45f. Im in a recreational kayak so a capsize in unlikely. Unlikely but not impossible. (Eddyline Equinox) for those unfamiliar with the canal it’s about 60 feet wide 7 feet deep and protected from wind and waves.
I have some really good biking rain gear. For those familiar with Showers Pass I have an elite 2.0 jacket. I really don’t want a wet suit or dry suit. I do not plan on going in the water but for the unplanned swim I would like at least a chance at re entry.
Would just some warm clothing be acceptable for a brief accident or more technical attire? What would you more experienced guys recommend?

As one of the “more experienced guys”, I think you should always dress for the water temperature. Since your immersion time is likely to be short you could get by with “a semi dry”. Here’s a link to some budget semi dries.

I own the typhoon and a gul (along with 3 stohlquist’s, 1 kokatat, and a palm). Both the gul and typhoon would work and are a great price. The fleece even comes with some of models. Make sure you get a front zip if you are boating by yourself. Do look at the sizing carefully. For less than $400 you can be warm, dry and safe . You don’t want to plan for what will probably happen- which is probably nothing. You want to plan for the unexpected and what can kill you. A few hundred dollars is a small price to pay for your life. 50 degree water is nothing to mess around with. Gear up (semidry/drysuit/westsuit) or don’t go. That’s what experience has taught me.

I am in a similar situation to you. I paddle a boat that I am not likely to capsize and in waters that are not likely to cause a capsize. I do not paddle far from shore. My preparation for a cold swim consists of carrying a dry change of clothes in a good waterproof drybag. And, just in case that is not enough, I also have waterproof matches so I can light a fire if need be.


Oddly enough, I agree with both tdaniel and pgeorg. Old school, wear wool & plastic with a good windbreaker and carry a full change and a towel in a dry bag. Manage the risk levels properly. My two concerns from your post for the “old school” plan is that 1) it looks like you are paddling alone, and 2) I can’t tell how easy it is to get on shore & dry out from the canal especially if the depth is over your head. If you are indeed alone that at least doubles the risk level and if you can’t easily get on shore then that puts you more into an off-shore mode.

A Tropos (or similar) paddling suit with a soft neck would considerably up your comfort time and allay any concerns about getting feet/legs wet at launch & landing.

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It’s not hypothermia that will ordinarily kill you. That takes some time, assuming you are wearing a PFD. It’s also probably not swim failure given your situation, unless you spend too much time trying to drag a swamped boat to shore or are in an area where you can’t get out of the water.

However, the gasp reflex due to the shock of cold water if your body is not protected and if your head in underwater at the time can kill you almost instantly for all practical purposes.

I would not go out in water below 60°F without at least a Hydroskin top, and preferably a light weight farmer john wet suit regardless of the location or conditions. Just a bit below that, a full wetsuit. Either of those options are not that expansive. What is your life worth?

Right after not wearing a PFD, cold water immersion is the leading killer of kayakers and canoeists, often in combination. Until you have experienced it sudden cold water immersion is far more dangerous than you can imagine.

Check out the National Center for Cold Water Safety for a lot of information on the topic.


First piece of advice: get out of that D&R Canal. It’s pretty boring and the banks are knee deep mud. Try - at least - Carnegie Lake in Princeton, or better still Lake Mercer in West Windsor. Both have easy places to launch and are cleaner and more interesting than the canal.

2nd piece of advice: dress for the swim.

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From personal experience in ice cold water and 45 degree air in a 70 foot wide river, I wasn’t in the water more than two minutes. It was a serious shock and I had hard shivers within a minute. Wear poly. Take a dry bag with warm clothes - hoodie and warm hat at least. Paddle as hard as you can until you warm back up. I stopped shivering after five minutes, was pretty much dry in twenty but not really warm again until I got back inside.

Hydroskins. …

Thanks for all the great reply’s! sorry for the slow response. I decided I’ll try a 2mm farmer John and 2mm jacket. I had a bad experience with a dry suit when I was younger. When they fail they are not that warm but I do expect that they are much better now and appreciate the input. For shoes I’ll continue wearing my 6 inch fishing boots but with a neoprene sock. They kick off easy if I have to swim and I rarely get wet above the ankles launching.

My usual routine is 1 1/2 miles to the first lock and back to the launch site. This usually takes roughly 40 minutes then I play around close to the car to bring the total to 1.15 hours. I think I will alter the distance and just go back and forth maybe 1/2 mile then 1 mile reverse or something like this. The point being to stay closer to the car in the event I end up walking.

As far as the canal goes I don’t find it boring at all. I have a good place to launch, I appreciate the shade it offers and it’s close to home. Lake Carnegie and Mercer are both very nice but the distance does not fit into my daily schedule.

Another question I have is about sprayskirts. I have one but is there really any benefit to using it in this situation. Pros cons? Thoughts?


Well, I doubt that you’re going to see any waves(or boat wakes) in the canal, and I also doubt that you’re going to learn roll there so I wouldn’t bother.

My wife and I did paddle from South Bound Brook to the lock at Griggstown and back. Once. Once was enough!

Farrington Lake in East Brunswick is another nice paddle.

I don’t know how active he is given the pandemic but call John Pagani at and have him take you out on some of his tours. His trip from Liberty State Park out to Liberty Island and back is a riot!

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If nothing else a spray skirt will keep you a bit warmer. In addition it does not take much of a wake to dump a fair amount of cold water in your lap. That’s how I learned my lesson on a dead calm day when I had my spray skirt on but not fastened to the boat.

Another tip, air temperature is irrelevant once you are in the water.

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Different folks have different degrees of cold tolerance so what works well for one might not be so good for another.

For myself, I have paddled in the types of conditions (air and water temp) you describe many times without either a wet suit or dry suit. And I have on at least one occasion I recall fallen in without any adverse consequences except for being a bit damp.

So long as you can expect to exit the water fairly soon you run little risk of hypothermia with a water temperature of 50 degrees F. It feels quite cold to many people but survival time swimming averages around 2 hours and you can probably go an hour or more before starting to become incapacitated. That is very different from immersion in snow melt where water temperatures fall below 35 degrees F. In those conditions incapacitation due to vasoconstriction of the extremities can occur rather rapidly. A “gasp reflex” and layngospasm are also unlikely in 50 degree water.

I personally go with what pegeorg suggested. I wear one or more thin layers of synthetic wicking fabric covered by an insulation layer (wool or synthetic fleece), covered by a waterproof, wind-breaking layer. I have even sometimes paddled modest whitewater in this type of garb where immersion was at least moderately likely, and on the occasions when I did get wet I found that my body heat would soon warm the wet garments beneath the wind barrier about as quickly as if I had been wearing a wet suit.

Spray skirts generally do not work well with most recreational kayaks. The cockpits are large and the cockpit coamings are often not designed to hold a rand or shock cord well. Even if you can find one that fits, in the event of a capsize the large, unsupported deck of the skirt will often implode.

I have seen the adds for Kayakeast. I’m not too interested in tours. This is more of a workout for me. I will seek out Kayakeast and others next year for rolling lessons.
I don’t get why you seem to dislike the canal so much. I’ve biked all of it many times and have always found it a nice place.

Thanks. I’m not new to cold water but this was a bit confusing to me. I windsurfed, surfed and kite surfed through many winters. The difference is that with those sports there is no doubt what to wear as you will be getting wet. With the type of kayaking I’m doing there is very little chance of getting soaked. I don’t want to lull myself into a false sense of security over that.

On another note the spray skirt I have does fit well. I think I will forgo its use and just add some wind proof pants if it’s too cold. I think the skirt might just be more of a hindrance should the un expected happen.

I too have biked the full length of the towpath. It’s definitely scenic and fun on a mountain bike and when we lived in Somerset the canal was right at my doorstep.

The problem for me when paddling the canal is that it’s just too tame, the conditions on it practically never change and it’s just not much of an “adventure”. The water is almost always flat calm - as you’d expect in a canal - and is none too clean. It’s no place to learn how to paddle in wind and waves, to improve technique, or practice self rescues. The local lakes are much more interesting and although further away, I much preferred Raritan or Barnegat bays where I’d see a much greater variety of wild life. The lakes are also large enough to get a decent 5 mile or so paddle in without worrying about locks.

We left NJ a couple of years ago and now live on the South Carolina coast, and to be out in the salt water marshes and estuaries with a huge diversity of bird life - not to mention seeing plenty of wild dolphins - is magical.

But, if you are purely kayaking for a work out and the canal is close by then I can see your point. Good luck with your paddling.

So it turns out the water temperature is actually in the low 60s. I brought a thermometer along on a bike ride and checked myself. I feel comfortable in this with a farmer John and appropriate layering. It’s also very comfortable. I have been out everyday this week until today. If I decide to continue as the water temps drop I will consider a wet or semi dry as tdanilel recommended. Kokatats semi dry endurance Gortex seems like a good option. Expensive but they seem like a really impressive company.
Anyone else still paddling in central NJ?

Still paddling central NJ, mostly Spruce Run. Until this week, was using paddle pants and shorty or full dry top depending on temp. Will switch now to full dry pants and dry top. However, I think that’s pushing it and really I should be using my dry suit.

This last week was amazing until yesterday. What’s the water temperature like in spruce run?

Spruce Run and Round Valley are good places to paddle too.

I’ve also sailed and been scuba diving in both. I used to keep a 16’ day sailor on a trailer at Spruce Run and I remember my wife an I diving in Round Valley in late November - a local dive dive shop did a “Turkey Dive” for Thanksgiving - with air temps of below freezing and a skim of ice on the water. Of course we wore full wetsuits, neoprene hoods, mittens and boots. The water was quite a bit warmer than the air.

I might leave my sailing dinghy at Spruce run next season. I spent probably half of this summer there in the campground. Nice change of venue for my boy instead of being stuck at home all summer.