Spring/Fall Lake Michigan

I’m wondering whether I should invest in a semi-dry long sleeve top for April/May and September/October kayaking on Lake Michigan. The likelihood of going for a swim is remote, as I paddle an inflatable Advanced Elements Expedition, which seems impossible to tip absent seriously wavy conditions. Therefore, I wonder if a long-sleeve is overkill. The price differential between a long-sleeve and a short-sleeve is significant.

Does anyone in this forum paddle Lake Michigan in the spring and fall, and if so do you have any recommendations regarding a top?

you tell me
after looking at this table.


Assuming nothing bad can happen is a fatal flaw. Give Murphy a way in and he will appear.

Follow up
I generally paddle no more than 30 yards from shore. So I guess the question is whether uncovered forearms is unacceptably risky in the event of a swim. (I will be wearing dry pants, dry boots, and dry gloves.) What I want to prevent is overheating while paddling.

Dry pants aren’t dry in a swim
Just a quick check - are you under the impression that the dry pants will keep you dry just in the boat, or in the event of a swim? The latter isn’t true.

Follow up
My aim is to repel splash water.

Some info
Look for Keith Wikle who posts on this site under “Wikle”. He can give you good information about lake temps on lake Michigan and suggest what you should wear and suggest instruction events you should consider.

You are probably going to get an earful from other paddlers. But your comments suggest that you really need to take some instruction before heading out on the lake. Believe it or not most kayaking drownings actually happen very close to shore and your boat is quite easily capsized. Not only that inflatables are notorious for being easily blown by high winds. Sudden and violent wind events are very common on lake Michigan. I would look into a dry suit or a decent wetsuit if you are on a budget. The water temps can be in 40s and low 50s in April and October depending on where you are paddling. If you get too hot, splash water on your wet suit or roll. Kayaking is a water sport.

I know you asked about clothing
but you should not assume that your inflatable provides you protection against all hazards. That is especially true for wind. Get a decent boat and take lessons.

Depends on where you are
I’m on the Chicago side. Wind patterns here generally blow warmer water out in the the Lake, and because of that, water temps in a typical May/June frame will be 55-65 degrees. With the amount of ice on the Lake this winter, I suspect the spring water will be quite a bit colder.

I have a shorty for 60+ water and full-length neoprene john for colder, matched with a variety of semi-dry tops and pants or bibs. Colder water gets full-lenth neo underneath and dry bibs with semi-dry top (only the neck isn’t latex). Warmer weather, shorty with splash pants and short sleeve semi-dry top.

More to the point, though - I wouldn’t take an inflatable kayak on Lake Michigan unless there was no wind and I was using it as a beach toy, rather than a kayak.

Follow up

– Last Updated: Apr-01-14 2:44 AM EST –

I appreciate all your concern about the suitability of my equipment, but I've been taking my hybrid inflatable out on the Lake several times a week from June through late September since 2011. I've paddled it in a wide variety of conditions. At this point I've got my head around what it can and can't handle. I accept the risk.

This spring I find myself antsy to get out on the Lake. In the past, I've avoided paddling so early in the year because of the low water temperatures. I've come here for tips on insulation -- not to seek legitimation for my boat.

The rule is dress for the water
What everyone is telling you. But you’re not listening…

You can always make yourself cooler but if immersed you need to stay warm.

Overheating ought to be the least of your concerns. I take it you haven’t paddled on cold water. Land temps can be quite warm…say the 70’s but if the water temp is 40 you will even while sitting in your craft not feel like you are sitting in the 70’s.

The nastiest breakers can happen near shore. That you have been paddling since 2011 tells us you have some experience… Now have you deliberately capsized?? Do it with a safety boat.

If your concerns are cost and overheating in regards to having a long sleeve semidry; you could look to buy used to reduce your cost and as was already suggested it is easy to cool yourself off.

You should assume…
…that you could end up in the water for longer than you might expect and dress with that in mind. A couple of years ago three guys in a fishing boat ended up in the water at a local lake. The water temp was just over 40 degrees and they were about one hundred feet from shore.

Only one made it back to the shore. Hypothermia did the other two in. My gear of choice is a dry suit and I wear it whenever the water temp is too low for me to handle a couple of hours immersed.

Remember the Costa Concordia?.. Anyone can end up in the drink:)

Air temp/water temp in spring

– Last Updated: Apr-05-14 3:06 PM EST –

Jdaviped, spring can be difficult when air and water temperatures diverge widely. Last week my local lake was 58 degrees and the air was above 80 -- in fact, 85 by the time we were headed back in. That's pretty extreme. I wore a shorty wetsuit, a nylon shirt and my PFD. Kind of on the light side, but I was paddling with a competent friend ( in full wetsuit) who I knew could put me back in my boat quickly if need be ( and vice versa). And I have OK self -rescue skills (a roll, cowboy, and paddle float with foam paddle in winter.) We ended up a little sweaty under our suits but I felt like I did the responsible thing. (I had been tempted just to wear splash pants with a shirt or splash jacket.) Alone, I would have been in a drysuit for sure. Other paddlers might have been more cautious than I was that day. But we all try carefully to assess risks. In my case the assessment is always about the kayak ( suitability and condition); other gear and paddling clothes; myself ( physical and mental condition that day plus skills apprpriate to conditions); and paddling partners if any (their competence).
A good web site for you to check is coldwatersafety.org. We just had the guy who runs it down to our paddling club for a workshop. We live in a place where there are usually some springlike days in Jan and Feb, and lots of paddlers go out then in jeans and sweatshirt. One of them capsized and died 3 years ago on a Jan day : air temp in 60s, water temp 41. Cold water is presumed to have incapacitated his limbs, and then he drowned. Alone and not wearing his lifevest.

What if you get caught in the rain?

– Last Updated: Apr-05-14 2:59 PM EST –

Honestly, until I got my terribly fancy Pak-light cag I probably pulled my dry tops out more for unexpected rain than anything else. If the long sleeves feel like overkill, you can always just splash some water on yourself and see if that controls the temps ok. I rarely have a dry head, or hat, when it is a hot day on the water.

test your theory and submerge yourself
Some times the best answer is your own discovery. Why not go in the water, submerge, then sit up to your shoulders with your feet planted on the bottom and your best friend on shore. After ten minutes, try using your radio to call for help. Try swimming or re-entering your boat. Let us know what you find out. Be safe…always safe.

The latest report is that Lake Michigan
is never going to thaw again.

Below freezing here last night still. The late-moving-on hawks are having some fine dining on also-slow-migrating songbirds. No good reason for any of them to head further north.

Maybe time to put ice skids on the kayaks for summer.