Stupid question time , ice paddling?

As title says stupid question but I am a covid newbie so here goes, if I decided to paddle in the winter in NJ , how to I deal with ice? Now I do not expect to encounter ice where I usually paddle ( Delaware Bay) but if I took a lake or river is there a guideline how to paddle in ice, would one want to??? Pros and Cons. I will dress for the part , I am asking how to do it and why do it? TIA

Ice is solid… Unclear why you would want to paddle on it unless you are talking chunks.

If you are talking ice formed up near shore, break it up.

:hammer_and_pick: may help.

Just be prepared that ice may be where it formerly wasn’t while out paddling. Particularly on moving water during spring breakup. Once we had to find an alternate takeout after the put in was filled in with giant ice blocks that had flowed down while we were paddling

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I was out in the bay
a some areas by marsh and had slushy areas. I paddled in the length of the kayak. Not a good feeling I felt stuck in it. It was calm I couldn’t imagine if there were even small waves. There was only one way out that was backwards. I easily could have been in not that much deeper and had a real hard time freeing up.

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I would imagine that in salt the freshwater marshes would freeze first.

I paddle year-round and deal with ice every year. On our Michigan river the ice can be a mess or it can be non-existent. Usually only the edges freeze up, and as the water level drops the slabs hang up on the shore and tilt down to the water, which makes getting in and out very problematic. Its only a couple of feet deep but I don’t want to step into ice water.

The river flows thru a wide marshy area upstream where it occasionally freezes all the way across long before the rest of the river freezes. When its only a quarter inch or so its pretty easy to ice break to the other side just by sliding over it; the weight breaks it up. It helps to have a paddle with a metal edge as you have to chip holes to get grip. Put gorilla tape on the bow at the waterline if you are going to ice break, otherwise it notches your hull.

During melt the lake ice turns to candle. Its very easy to paddle thru even when its 4 inches thick. Very cool sounds and on a sunny day like paddling thru a crystal chandelier. At the local rapids you can play dodge-em floes.

I don’t paddle when its below freezing, too many nasty issues with that. Another downside is I cause thousands of ducks and geese to take flight, can’t be good for them because of the calories they have to burn to get away from me.

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It can be very hard to paddle through even skim ice… We have done it but used a hatchet to get to open water. It took 45 minutes to go 200 feet. And the channel we made froze up in the hour we were out and had to break through again ( though it was not as tough). Sebago Lake Maine.

Beware tidal areas. Ice shelves can be tough to get over.

It is pretty to paddle though just at freezeup. The ice crystals form leaf like patterns and are not hard to paddle through. The hard part was exiting ice encased boats… They are slippery and the tie down experience on the car was not fun… Cold hands.

Several years ago, three friends and I paddled out of a small harbor on Cape Cod at low tide. There was a lot of ice along the shorelines and an on-shore wind.

Hours later when we came back, the rising tide had floated the ice and the wind had blown it into the harbor. We couldn’t get within 100 yards of shore and I decided to see it if was possible to paddle through it.


In a word, the answer was NO. I managed to get in a little way, but couldn’t really make any progress. The ice shredded the edges of my cedar GP and made horrendous scraping sounds on the hull, but did no damage. I was able to get out, but had I not or had I capsized for some reason, it could have gotten really ugly. In retrospect, it was one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done in a kayak

Fortunately, we were able to find some open shoreline about a mile down the coast and hauled out on somebody’s lawn. He was also a kayaker and allowed us to leave our boats and gear while we slogged back to the harbor in our dry suits to retrieve our cars.

My advice is to just stay away from ice. it’s not worth the risk.


One hazard to be aware of is getting your bow up on an ice shelf. It can happen without even you being aware, and will act as pivot point for the boat. You can find yourself flipped before you know it.


It doesn’t take much ice, either. During a cold water workshop in a mostly frozen harbor, we found that ~3/8" of sea ice was all it took to make it impossible to break with a kayak. Running your bow up on it was definitely NOT a good idea!


All of the above. While you can use your kayak as an ice breaker for baby ice (thin, freshly formed), it’s a lot harder to push through than you might think, and if the nose of the boat gets perched on a shelf it couldn’t break through, it puts you on an unfortunate balance point without the ability to use your paddle to brace as effectively as you can normally. A minute or two of that to get to the shore can be an adventure, more than that is enough to make you wish you’d picked a different day.


Another concern on rivers is current flowing UNDER an ice shelf. You need to have a level of boat control to be able to land and get out if necessary. We lost a paddler a few years ago on Michigan’s Rogue River when he flipped and was pushed under a river wide ice shelf.

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This is exactly what happened to us, you ventured further into the mess then I did!

I think it was the winter of 2005 in Boston, MA. It was a sunny but breezy day, and the high temperature had crept above freezing for a couple of days. I had noticed that the Neponset River looked pretty open, and planned to paddle a loop connected by a little canal. I paddled this loop regularly as a stop on the way home from work, had cold water immersion gear, and a solid roll that I regularly practiced year-round. A friend of mine decided that the weather looked nice, and wanted to come along. We got to a section about a third of a mile from the takeout where it was still frozen all the way across. But it was thin in the center, and kind of fun making my way through it. My friend was an occasion paddler, so not someone who develops true ability to keep a boat underneath of himself. More someone who depends upon the boat to hold him upright.
So here’s what happened. The ice can be at a point where it’s fairly easy to spear your paddle straight through the thin ice, but it’s not so easy to recover the blade back up through the ice once you pull yourself past it. He set himself off-balance trying to lift the blade back up through the ice, and only luck could have him recover from that, as he didn’t practice recovering from being out of balance. And even if he had, ice was now interfering with free movement of his paddle. Over he went. I was up ahead of him, heard the splashing, and turned around to see him working his way to the shore. He put his elbows up onto the ice a couple of times, and the ice broke under the weight. By the time I got reversed and to his boat, needing to break through ice to do it, he had managed to get himself on top of the ice and slid to the shore. I slid his kayak up onto the ice and to the shore. He said he needed a rest. He had no change of clothes, and he was not wearing cold water immersion gear. I told him that he could not rest. He had to go full bore, everything he had, in an effort to get to the takeout and his car. I told him he didn’t have long. He was surprised and confused by my sense of urgency, but went along with it. We got him in, and I kept on him to paddle hard for the last third mile to the takeout. I sent him straight up to his car to crank the heat on high.
He said his arms and hands and legs and feet were numb and tingly for 3 days. He had never looked into cold water exposure until after this, and then thanked me for not allowing him to sit down for a rest on the shore. Everything had turned out alright, and lessons learned, I guess more the hard way.
But imagine he pushes out of the kayak underneath the ice, and he moves just a little to get to open water, but he moves the wrong way. Or the current keeps him under. How much current would it really take? Imagine me catching a glimpse of him and spearing my paddle through to assist him, and getting pulled under along with him. And then there’s the consideration that some people wouldn’t make it past a gasp reflex upon capsize.
Upon capsize, it was just as likely to go all wrong as to turn out alright. And your paddle catching beneath the ice upon attempted recovery of your blade is more than enough to throw off even experienced kayakers. In the crucial instant where muscle memory converts your stroke into a brace without thinking about it, that normal motion doesn’t work because your blade is caught up in ice.
Paddling through thin ice is fun, but it is risky.


I ONLY went out a few times when it was supposedly 32-34°F sunny day not bad but soon as sun starts to drop 3:30 PM Long Island water was freezing on deck. Usually like 36°+. Wind was 20 mph maybe bit more.

I prefer Ice paddling in the spring when the air temp is warmer and the ice is breaking up.

While the conditions on Lake Michigan were very calm, the ice was still moving in large sheets along the shore.

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Pretty, but ice belongs in cold drinks.

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Just don’t do it. As a newbie, you would be better served hooking up with a paddling club and doing pool practice around assisted/self rescues, bracing and rolling. In the course of that, you may have new skills and new paddling partners. Heck, just going to the gym and getting rid of the COVID 15 (lbs) and being in better physical shape for next paddling season would be better.

Winter paddling is really not for the solo newbie paddler, never mind messing with ice. If already have skills and knowledge, then winter is fine. But, winter conditions ain’t the time to develop skills and get knowledge. Too many horror stories about the unsuspecting. It’s good thing for you ask. “Why do it?” There is no compelling reason to do it. Much more for not, the primary being preservation of your life.


CapeFear, why would you even paddle in winter with someone who isn’t properly dressed for immersion? That put both of you at risk and you would have been doing him a favor by saying “NO”.


We paddled once, early spring, quiet river, with ice. Had a blast. Stupidest thing to date that we’ve done in a boat. We even put the boats up on floes. Idiots…