Water temperature for kayaks

After a long winter in Chicago, I am getting itchy to take my Pungo 120s out onto the Chicago River. Should I wait for the water temperature to warm up a bit? Lake Michigan is currently 35F. I assume the river’s about the same. I wasn’t sure if very cold water harms plastic mold kayaks in any way. Thanks for your advice!

Cold water will not harm the Pungo…however no matter how stable a Pungo is on flat water, you best be wearing a dry suit with some thermal layer to protect you if paddling in 35F water. Dress for the water, not the air.


As long as the water is liquid, the boat will be fine. If the boat itself was -20°F or colder, I would not drop it in the parking lot.

As kaykhank said, dress for the water temperature. In this case it doesn’t get much more deadly. Dry suit, thermal protection underneath, gloves, hood, etc. Don’t paddle solo if you can avoid it.

Moulton Avery from the National Center for Cold Water Safety is repeating a free live Zoom presentation on Cold Water Safety on March 18th at 7:00 EST sponsored by the Chesapeake Paddlers Assn.

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I’ve had one experience being tossed into 41° water dressed in bathing suit and t-shirt. The air was 70° and I only had to swim 20’ to land.
You do not want to do that unless properly dressed.

This is my favorite video. The guy with no protection at all is a friggin champ to make it 16 minutes in 36* water! That there is some will to live. Dont know if I could do that.

Note, although they make it 10-15 minutes, your hands are worthless after 2-5. That means if you flip you have about 120 seconds to save youself, assuming you dont cold gasp in a bunch of water.

Most of our answers will be along the lines of “cold water, especially in the spring time when the air is warm and water is still very cold is extremely, extremely dangerous. Although you see many people out during this time, the difference between life and death is much closer than most people realize”

Whatever you chose to do, I strongly suggest you flip your boat at the put-in with a warm car waiting and a partner with a rope attached to you. See how long you can tolerate the water and try swimming with your boat 100’ to simulate a near shore recovery. You will learn a lot. I promise

Water will kill you FAST.

I think it was JackL who wrote that he kayaked with a group in Alaska. The guide had the group put their hands in the water for a minute or two to understand what they were dealing with. That misery teaches way better than words.


A cold water class I took with Atlantic Kayak had people put their hand in a bucket of ice water and see how long they were willing to keep it there and see how their manual dexterity was affected.


You are not thinking about the right issue. The boat is fine. You would not be if you ended up swimming per above advice.

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YOur boat can take it, but you can’t.