Here are a few winter paddling tips that come to mind …
Dress to swim.
If you are dressed to swim, you are dressed to aid in a rescue.
Use a dry suit OR dry top + dry pants on cold days (or on cold water days).
No cotton! Use only synthetic fabrics (or wool).
Insulation layers as needed. (This works for me. You may require something different)
Depending on weather conditions, I usually wear any combination 2 to 4 layers beneath my dry suit. Base layer (against skin) is always thin wicking layer. On really cold days, my choice is 1 or 2 thin wicking layers, 1 medium to heavy weight poly, 1 heavy weight fleece (I think of the fleece as a “sponge” to wick/hold perspiration away from skin).
Pogi wearers, where are your gloves?
Q: What happens if you lose your paddle & pogies and your buddy gives you his breakdown on a snowy windy day? A: Your hands freeze!
Another scenario … Q: What happens on a cold and windy day when your buddy is broached in the middle of a river and needs some rope work? A: Your hands freeze! POGI WEARERS, ALWAYS BRING GLOVES in your dry bag.
A good practice is to take 1 extra article of clothing in your dry bag: a hat, a poly top, gloves, etc. Usually this will be loaned to one of your paddling buddies.
Is there any chance of paddling in sub freezing temperatures?
- RESCUE PFD wearers, DO NOT WEAR your quick release HARNESS & TETHER. Simply put, your quick release harness will not work when frozen. If you need to tow a boat, use a ‘flip-line’ loosely looped on your DOWNSTREAM If you run into trouble, you can easily shed the flip line (provided you don’t do something silly, like where a non-locking carabineer on you PFD strap;).
- Wear are your car keys? Are they in your frozen closed PFD? (yes, this happened to me). Plan ahead!
- Is your whistle made of metal? Hey, I have an idea … stick your tongue on that freezing cold flagpole and see what happens!
- Are the shuttle roads passable … before paddling? What about AFTER paddling? Know the weather forecast.
- (not so evil) Mary mentioned this … A throw rope frozen into an icy lump does not ‘reach’ very far. Carry your (dried) throw rope in a dry bag to keep it from getting wet & freezing. It will take a little longer to get to, but it will be usable as a throw rope.
- John mentioned this … ear plugs! Severe ear damage can result with repeated exposure to cold water. Ear plugs are a simple and effective way to avoid paddling related ear problems.
Know the weather & water forecast for the AREA WHERE YOU PLAN TO PADDLE. It will help your decision in dressing properly or possibly tip you off if paddling is not a good idea on a particular day.
- Will temperature rise/fall?
- How much wind?
- Sky cover, sunny/cloudy?
- Precipitation, how much, rain/SNOW?
- Water levels and direction, rising/falling?