Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cold weather kayaking - being prepared for a swim.

Winter time paddling brings along additional risks that should be taken seriously.  Winter trips mean paddling in cold weather, on cold water, and most times miles away from help.  If you're going out on the water you need to be prepared for the inevitable - taking the spill.  Not being prepared can cost you your life.  Don't plan on being'll bite you in the a$$.

There are enough articles out there on winter clothing, wearing proper attire, dressing in layers, etc.  So I'm not going to cover what's already available.  Rather, what happens after you end up in the drink.  Either from a spill out of your kayak or maybe loss of balance while wading in a river.  However you end up in the water, the situation just became serious, and could become an emergency if not handled properly.

Don't plan on paddling out if you take a good spill.  You'll quickly lose the ability to make good decisions, your balance will be jeopardized, basic motor skills will be compromised...simple functions like gripping a paddle may become impossible.  Be aware the body shuts down when its cold, wet, and borderline hypothermic.  As blood leaves the extremities, your ability to stand or walk will become difficult.  This can all happen in minutes.

Lets not make it complicated.  The basic need is to get warm and can be accomplished with a change of clothes and the ability to make a fire.  I pack a dry bag with a pair of ski bibs, thermal top and bottoms, gloves, hoodie, socks/liner, and jacket.  I place those items in first.

Followed by a first aid kit, fire starter/matches, and fire log on top.  These are the 1st items I might need.  I use a clear dry bag so I can visually inspect everything before I get started.  The dry bag goes in the hull of my kayak...and it doesn't come out very often.  It's a small pack b/c I keep my trips shorter in the winter for obvious safety reasons.

A fire is a sure way to improve the situation and get the brain back on task

If you end up cold and wet.  Stay calm and think through your situation.  If you're not far from the take out....maybe just a change of clothes will do.  If you're further and afraid you might end up wet again...strip off the wet, put on the dry, and build a fire to dry your wet clothes.  Every situation is unique, so you'll have to keep your wits and make a decision.  You'll be amazed how quickly fear turns to terror when you're alone, cold, and wet...getting warm is key...don't become a statistic!

This is not an all-inclusive list by any means.  There are some other obvious safety tips, like going with a buddy, making a float plan, carrying a cell phone, etc...but these all rely on others helping you.  Be prepared to take care of yourself, at least in the beginning.  The above is what I feel comfortable with assessing my own skills and paddling locations.  You need to make your own assessment and plan accordingly.  Be safe.


  1. Wow, you just woke me up with this one Drew. I'm not a cold weather fisherman any more but it's a good idea to carry these supplies with you regardless. Thanks.

    1. You're absolutely correct. This could easily be substituted for road trips (beer runs). I keep another mess of "stuff" in my truck. Between my kayak and my truck...I can set up a small disaster relief operation that could rival the Red Cross.

  2. Hi, Drew. This is an excellent post with some life saving tips. Hope a bunch of readers check this out! I don't get in a rowing position as much as I used too. But, after (30) years of fly fishing from a float tube or kickboat of some style, I can assure you that all of this information is a time tested fact..............................

    1. Mel, Thanks for the confirmation. I try to keep it light on here most days but some topics are too serious. I hope people read it and practice it!!