spring paddling

As a relatively new kayaker, I’m always wondering what I don’t know about what I don’t know. I mostly paddle alone so I am pretty conservative about choosing the conditions - flat water, nearby shorelines, etc. But I’m anxious to know how soon it’s safe to get going in the spring. My local outfitter uses the 100 degree differential (add water temp and air temp, result should be >100). But if I’m cautious and in conditions where I am very very unlikely to capsize, should I still follow this guideline?

Thanks, veterans!

NO the 100 degree business is bogus
You need to dress to be able to swim safely to shore in the water at whatever temperature it is. If water is colder than 60 F you need some kind of immersion protection, a good wet suit for the water temps or a drysuit if the water is colder. Most people here will tell you to get a drysuit for water temps < 50 F. There are alternatives.

The air temp is 60 and the water temp 40 (equal to 100 degrees), which is a typical spring condition and If you go in the water without proper immersion clothing wet suit, dry suit etc. you are not going to last long in that water. Dress for the water temperature. It is always easier to cool off than to warm up.

Look at water temps
Wait for them to be at least over 50, look for 60 degrees if you don’t have some pretty robust wetsuit type layers with a decent wind-blocking top. Then worry about whether the air temps are in line.

That said, within that 51 to 61 degree range there is a lot of personal variation. The other thing that that you should be doing is, upon have acquired some layers, go out and wade into the water with them staying shallow and sit down. See how long you can be comfortable. Duck your head into the water and see how that works out (safely and slowly) while you are sitting there. That’ll give you a reasonably good way of telling what is going on. And if you are pushing down near the lower end, try and have someone with you the first time in case you have an unexpected response to the cold.

You ideally shouldn’t be paddling in any conditions and layers that wouldn’t allow you to sit in the water for long enough to execute a rescue.

as she said
Here is a link to information on hypothermia: http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/coastal_communities/hypothermia

The number listed is time to exhaustion. Keep in mind, that you would have to either reach the shore or reenter your kayak before it sets in. Fingers will start loosing control much faster, it would be reasonable to divide TTE by a factor of 2-3 to get an estimate of your functional time in the water.

Try finding
a paddling partner, there IS safety in numbers :slight_smile:

Would agree that the 100 degree sum
method can’t be safe where a long swim may be needed. I think it was developed for whitewater back in the 70s, where winter paddling was on easier, narrower whitewater rivers where we could expect to get people out of the water and wrapped up fairly quickly.

Three sayings…
…I have heard concerning safety in cold water.

  1. 50 - 50 - 50 rule for someone not dressed for immersion - A 50 yr old can swim about 50 yards in 50 degree water.

  2. ‘Less than three - there should never be’ - Derek Hutchinson quote regarding paddling safety in numbers.

  3. Lastly - There are old kayakers and bold kayakers - but no old/bold kayakers. (ok - I changed that one using another saying)

    You get the idea. Even IF dressed properly for immersion, its not wise to paddle alone when the water is cold. However, most of us know our capabilities in cold water so we tend to take a certain amount of risk.


last sentence is the reality
Know your abilities, know where you can get out and take a dip in the cold water before you depart. I paddle alone all the time in cold water (who else would have me?), always in a dry or wetsuit, always close to shore and in calm conditions only.

…in “early” Spring…
Dress to do some swimming.

Dress to Swim
Everybody has a different tolerance for cold. If you think you will be OK in less than 60 degree water you might want to try it in a safe location, like near the warmed up car with dry clothes and hot drinks handy.

Unforunately warm air cold water days are common in spring. In New England we see a few drownings each spring when someone underestimates the danger of cold water.

Be safe.


own judgement
For me I go out as soon as there is open water, even if there are parts still frozen.

I always wear some neoprene wet suit stuff.

I have a rec boat & a touring boat.

If I’m on flat water close to shore etc I am more apt to dress as if I were in a canoe.

As kid there was not all this OMG I’m going out on the water I must buy wet suits, dry suits etc. I don’t even know if they were invented then.

I would take the various advice and then just use your own judgement.

my advice would be to hug the shore if you think things are a bit iffy.

disclaimer …of course, that doesn’t mean it’s good advice,…

I have never seen that chart on hypothermia, but I would agree with the poster that said you better divide the time by three.

I have spent 25 years on the pacific ocean, as a commercial fisherman and I have pulled a couple people out of the water that were wearing survival suits, 1/4 inch neoprene with feet and mitts built in and a neck seals, they were in the water less than two hours at a water temp of 51 and I don’t think they could have lasted much longer. Niether person had the strenght to climb a ladder into the boat by them self.

Any one in a kayak needs to take it very serious about dressing for the water temp, in cold water you lose the ablitity to use your hands arms and legs in a hurry.

Any one that does not take this serious, I would say get a thermomenter and set the water temp in your shower at 50 degrees and see how long you can stand up in it.


Start here …
Lots of very good information.






First Warm Sunny Day
The first warm day we had I was out there and every warm day thereafter. I’m a fair weather paddler. I try to go out an hour or more before the sun sets. It is so still and peaceful. Wouldn’t matter to me what the water temp was as I don’t get wet (hopefully). Enjoy.

Thanks to everyone who posted. You gave me just what I was looking for.