Curious what others think about wetsuits for kayaking in cold water (about 50 degrees) with beginners. Wear one? Don’t wear one? Does the danger of getting too hot exceed the danger of hypothermia should one capsize? I’m of the school of thought that you should always prepare for the worst, but have recently been questioned on this particular topic. If it’s a hot day (80s)is it dumb to wear a wetsuit or just good practice? What are your thoughts?

on the water you are paddling and the swimming skills of the beginner kayaker. If you are putzing along the shore of a calm inland lake, you’re wearing a PFD and are with others experienced in rescue, seems like overkill. If you’re in the ocean, big water any distance from shore, or any fast moving water where the possibility is real that you may be spending significant time in the water, then yes, use one. But I’d jump in and get it wet first. Nothing more uncomfortable than a dry wetsuit.

If the water is 50 degrees…
and someone wears a wetsuit, it’d better fit really snugly or else the flood-through will still chill.

I’ve worn a full wetsuit with water temps in mid50s and air temps in the low 80s. It’s OK but I have to keep dousing or rolling to cool off. Probably not great for a beginner to do–just in case they can’t get themselves back into the boat quickly enough. And did I mention it was hot?

A Gore-tex drysuit with a light wicking underlayer would be more comfortable and safer.

Central California Coast
What you describe is exact conditions on the Central and Northern California Coast. Lots of people wear wetsuits when it is 80 degrees. You just roll or spash your self or more likely are playing in the waves.

Wetsuits work fine. If you are on a flat lake and it’s 80 degrees out you are still going to sweat and get all clammy in a dry suit.

Beginners shouldn’t wear one

– Last Updated: Jul-28-08 2:25 PM EST –

in warm weather. They'll have enough problems with the boat and paddle. Because it is summertime I assume you are talking about paddling in warm weather. As anyone who has worn one, the body heats up extremely fast and constant dousing to cool off will be too much for beginners. 80 degrees is too hot to be wearing a wetsuit especially with the sun glaring. The PFD will keep them afloat. The thermal shock may get some but talking to them will calm them down until they get back in the boat. I swim rescue a lot in 48 degree water and it isn't that bad for me but it is for some. If a beginner goes in the water I go in with them and talk them through the rescue. It seems to have a more calming effect than talking to them from a dry seat. My remarks to them in the beginning is "No one swims with out me".

Paddlin' on

I use a Farmer John with a neo jacket
that way, I can keep cooler and still be protected from 50 degree water.

As Seadart said

– Last Updated: Jul-28-08 6:14 PM EST –

This is the type of conditions we often get in NorCal. The ocean water is cold, coming down from Alaska. But air temps can be warm.

With air temp of 80F, and water temps are below 60 (pretty much the water temps we always have in the ocean), I would wear a wetsuit (3mm farmer john). Water temps in the high 60s (like we find in the Bay or in sloughs in summer), probably a hydroskin type top (.5 mm neoprene). Above 70, maybe neither (assuming I wasn't planning on getting wet/rolling/etc.)

I am not sure how it would be different with a beginner. The assumption people seem to be using is to make the newbie more comfortable in the air temps by not wearing a wetsuit, but this is also giving them more risk. If the water temps are 50 or below, the amount of time you have to safely get someone without wetsuit or similar out of the water is probably measured in minutes. But we are talking about a newbie, who hasn't bee trained about how to get back in quickly.

Wait a dang minute!!!

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Profile says you are an "advanced" paddler so why the question? And yes that's a ridiculous question from an "advanced" paddler. That's a "newbie" question.


just looking for input
Yep, advanced flatwater (warm water) canoeist recently taken to sea kayaking.

As is evident in the responses to my question the answer is not cut and dry. I know there are good reasons to answer either way- and even that may depend on the day and paddler. I’m just curious to see what others’ answers and justifications are.

An “advanced” paddler recently gave me a cut and dry answer that I don’t agree with which has left me questioning.

Farmer John/Jane?
They don’t get nearly as hot as a full suit.

There is no one answer. Part of it depends on your own resistance to swimming in cold water. You can increase your resistance if you swim in cold water a lot.

You need to do some swimming and decide for yourself

Dress for it period. Beginner and accomplished paddler alike. Swimming in 50 degree water will sap your energy quickly. You need the protection of a wet suit and a quick re-entry.

Water temps of 50 degrees mean

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that in the spring up here on the Canadian border the water is finally starting to warm up.

In April and May on large Adirondack lakes and on the St. Lawrence River, air temps may be well over 70 degees Fahrenheit and the water temps may still be well below 40 degrees.

After the water warms up to 50 degrees, I shed the Gortex dry suit and start to play with various combinations/layers of neo, including a Farmer John wet suit.

From late October into December, it's back into a dry suit related more to the overall weather conditions rather than the water temps.

As to the advanced vs. beginner issue. While the hard core may be on the cold shower program to help dampen effects of sudden cold water immersion, the body's physiological response remains the same independent of perceived paddling skill level.

And I figure, the beginner needs everything going for them as regards clothing.

Note: Your local paddling conditions will vary and thus will your take on cold water issue vary. And I suggest reading Coast Guard charts on cold water immersion and survival.

swim first then paddle
I’ve found that different condition affect different folks very differently. I really think there is a lot to be said for swimming first and then paddling whenever the water is colder than 72.

I’ve met folks who can swim a long while in 50 degree water with just a neoprene cap. Others loose the function of their hands in minutes at those temperatures.

I would wear it if you thought the water would be too cold that they couldn’t swim to shore. For example. When I paddle the river, I don’t wear one, it’s hot outside, it’d would be miserable to wear one, when I paddle crossing distances I do, 50 is super cold. But you don’t have to wear a 5/3 or 4/3, even a 2mm top would really help.

I normally wear a farmer john with a drytop in colder weather. I think a drysuit would be better but I dont own one. In w/w the wetsuit offers some protection from rocks for swimmers and can be picked up on the cheap.

Another thing to consider is no matter how advanced a paddler is if your with newbies you should be prepared to be swimming in the same water they are.

Depends …
You’ll need to weigh not only the likelihood of a capsize, but the accompanying risk involved. For example, all else being equal (air temp, water temp, boat), you may decide to suit up a bit more thoroughly when going out alone farther offshore, than you might if going out on the same lake but with a partner and nearer to shore.

In general, it’s best to err on the side of safety, and there are many factors to consider. And remember that it’s easier to pour cool water down inside your steamy wetsuit than it is to ‘warm up’ inadequate clothing.

Here’s an excellent resource for choosing a clothing ensemble for different conditions:


And don’t forget to check in Paddling.net’s own Guidelines section:


In the end, after you’ve collected everyone’s tips, suggestions, and wild speculations, you’ll need to decide for yourself.

Good Luck!



this post is an example
This message thread is an example why I wouldn’t skimp on safety precautions with a beginner: