Winter paddling advice for the redneck

newbie paddler, please.

I read the “Battle of the Bulge” article in this week’s newsletter. It was talking about things to do when the water is frozen. Ended up with this:

If fortune really smiles, and if you have the right gear and like-minded companions, you may even get a chance to do some midwinter paddling. Be warned, however: Solo paddling simply isn’t an option in winter. And both you and your companions must be experienced boaters. No exceptions. Winter paddling isn’t for novices, even in groups. Hypothermia is just one of many dangers waiting to ensnare the unwary. So if you’re tempted by open water in winter, be sure you go prepared. If you go at all, that is. What you don’t know can kill you. It’s far better to be bored than dead. Winter’s grip on the waters won’t last forever.

That gave me lots of questions.

I’m in NC. I’ve sailed sailboats of all kinds for about 30 years. Took up paddling last August. Part of recovery from a severe injury. My wife and I paddled this weekend in 68 degree air, probably about 50 to 55 degree water. This weekend promises similar. I wore a t-shrt and a pfd. Had a nice two hour paddle and covered about five or six miles in flat water.

We go out together, so we aren’t soloing. I respect cold waqter. Turtled a dinghy once and nealy died of hypothermia. So I kn ow how to be careful. We paddle flatwater and stay pretty close to shore. Have gloves and a sweatshirt in the drybag. Have sprayskirts. What else do we need to continue to enjoy a day when the air temp is over 55 degrees between now and April or May. We’ll have a lot of those. Water probably won’t get below 45 to 50 at its coldest.

Not A “RedNeck…”

– Last Updated: Jan-02-08 8:26 PM EST –

but my thought is that you should invest at least in a wetsuit (3 mm) for that 50 and under water temps. Also, worthwhile to learn how to get back into your kayak. You already experienced what it was like to turn "turtle" with your dinghy. It ain't any good to be out there with a partner who is equally unable to get back and/or assist in getting some one back into a boat.

Personally, I paddle alone 80-90% of the time. In my first year, I made a commitment to learning self assisted rescues and then rolling and didn't even consider going out that winter. Instead, did pool sessions to continue working self rescues and rolls. After getting these down (and tested in mild surf and ww in warmer temps) and purchasing immersion gear (yes, drysuit), I started to do winter paddling. Again mostly on my own on the second year. Not recommending this but the reality is that if your partner doesn't have the skills, s/he becomes the liability in winter conditions. And, on another level, I find that I just prefer not to bother trying to coordinate with another paddler. I find it enough a hassle that it is not worth it to me. When I can just pick and go, I tend to go out more.

The funny thing with cool/cold water is that individuals react differently to it. Some folks can tolerate a lot. Some will end sucking it in as soon as their head gets dunked, especially if they haven't build acclimation. Acclimation means getting wet everytime going out. I've seen "good rollers" bail quickly when they not used to being immersed in colder water. They just assume that they can roll, even though they haven't acclimated themselves to that initial shock. The shock induces a quick panic for those not used to cold water.


Skills rule!

– Last Updated: Jan-02-08 9:27 PM EST –

That said, do NOT get wet...I paddle year round..Granted, in the SOUTH (Northern Alabama), but in the winter, at 35 degrees, 2:30 in the Morning, middle of the Barge Channel, ALONE, is NOT the place to practice or even ATTEMPT a roll....


Pool noodles and a little PVC pipe...a strap and a foam block from a cartop drilling, they just strap to the boat.

originally, they were for stability for sailing, but as a safety precaution on night paddles alone, worth their weight in Flotation Foam.

You need a better-stocked drybag!

– Last Updated: Jan-02-08 9:49 PM EST –

If you really ARE close enough to shore to get out and still be fairly functional after a capsize, you need more extra clothes than a pair of gloves and a sweatshirt. A complete change of clothing should be in your drybag, plus more layers than you think you need.

Next, ditch ALL the cotton clothing. In the weather conditions you describe, if you were dunked for a few minutes while wearing polypro (or something similar) longjohn tops and bottoms, and wool outer clothing (or comparable synthetics, but wool is still the best), you would be able to warm up and stay comfortable just by pulling on a rain suit to block the wind, even though you'd still be soaking wet. Cotton clothes won't let you get away with that. Even pulling dry cotton clothing over your wet body will result in extreme chilling that goes on and on, expecially since you already got cold during your dunking.

Finally, "paddling near shore" is a relative thing. In small rivers, you probably are near enough shore to get out quickly. On lakes, I find it hard to stay close enough to shore to really be safe without good immersion clothing. This is a situation where lots of people would wear a wetsuit.

Why have two of these posts cited

Wetsuits are not for kayakers or canoeists, who have to twist their trunks and move their limbs.

Drysuits. Breathable drysuits with adjustable layers of undergarments. I had a custom-fitted wetsuit once, and it was dreadful. I’ll never go back.

I use a dry suit too

– Last Updated: Jan-03-08 12:03 AM EST –

I've never even used a wet suit. Seems like a lot of people go that route though, probably often because of the price. I was lucky enough to find a military surplus dry suit for $100 to get by with until the day comes when I decide to get a really good one for paddling. Anyway, I'm hesitant to suggest to someone who's just starting out that they should spend $800 or more to be safe AND comfortable, because I don't think anyone in that situation would take that advice. Anyone who gets pretty serious about cold-weather paddling is likely to opt for a dry suit eventually, so it's a very good topic to bring up. I think I'd roast in a dry suit at the temperatures the original poster says he'll be paddling, and since I'm an open boater, I don't "roll to cool off". Comfortable or not, there sure are a lot of people who prefer a wetsuit when the air temperature is mild.

The South…
A lot of it has to do with geographics…I have no trouble saying I’d use a drysuit if I paddled in the PNW or NE.

NC here
I live in eastern NC, about an hour from the coast. I fish the Swansboro are, if any of you are familiar with that. I put a depth finder on my yak, and the water temp readings have been from about 43 deg, up to about 48 degs. The last i got was about 2 weeks ago when we were still having some very unseasonable warm weather.

My temp reading may be incorrect. I haven’t asked anyone yet if they’re getting the same readings. The readings sound a bit too cold to me, but I’ve never asked anyone before, and have never fish this late in the year before this year.

NC redneck
Living out in the country all my life in NC, I have been around enough redncks, a lot of it has rubbed off. So far, I have been using some chest waders, with a strap tied at the top very snugly. I fish in protested salt water areas, but I have been in waves that wwere about 3 ft high (winds were up). That is usually not the case there, and the water is mostly smooth.

Same Ole, Same Ole…

– Last Updated: Jan-03-08 5:58 AM EST –

surfers are all about paddling and torso rotation. Can't surf (well) without either. Furthermore, surfers deal with cold water much more intimately. They are in it.


If I ever rolled
it would not be on purpose.

Redneck Yacht Club.
I live in upstate NY and the temps you cite as cold would be the height of our springtime (March-April)whitewater season. (I’d absoulutely LOVE a whole winter like that of NC!) It’s ZERO air temp up here right now.

I also just came back from holiday paddling in both Central/Northern Florida and the Carolinas.

Near Jacksonville, although air temp was mostly in the mid-high 70’s, the surf temp was about 60.

I opted to use a “shorty” wetsuit (very inexpensive)and this worked out real fine.

As I moved midway up the east coast and the water became more like 50-55, I switched to wearing my drysuit (without an underlining fleece, just rash guard and bathing shorts). This also proved adequate and quite comfortable. Now that I’m back in the belly of the beast of the Northeast, I will go with full immersion drygear, hood, hot socks, etc. (All this, after ice-out, of course). Hope this helps.

what do you need
maybe direct experience falling out of your kayak far from shore or near shore. After that you’ll have all the answers you need as to what to carry.

The dinghy was a useful experience about cold water but it doesn’t transfer specific skills relating to rescue in kayaks. Which is why you’d have the cold water issues.

Actually, dry suits are widely used in
northern areas. I don’t know of any paddling area where dry suits are avoided in favor of wet suits, and I don’t know why anyone would want to wear a rubbery garment that fights every move. It didn’t work for me.

You Keep Repeating It And…
it may be “true” for you. But, it certainly is not a universal truth.

Look at these vids:

How many drysuits do you see. How many paddlers do you think paddle and perform with that much torso rotation? Are you really going to say the wetsuits were inhibiting these folks? As world class competitors, why would these folks even hamper themselves if wetsuits are really that restrictive?

There are good reasons for drysuits as there are for wetsuits. I have two very expensive drysuits that I don’t used in favor of wetsuits – year round. I have my reasons but wouldn’t presumed this to be valid or of concern to most folks here. That’s why I generally encourage a drysuit, unless someone really can’t afford one. In this case, a good fitting wetsuit is a good alternative.