Winter kayaking can be an amazing experience for those who love being on the water. Whether you are an experienced kayaker who has never been out in winter or you’re entirely new to the sport, there are few things more fun than paddling through the icy, snowy landscape on the water. However, if you’re going to be on the water in winter then it’s important to keep in mind that winter kayaking also carries its own unique set of hazards that need to be carefully considered before getting on the water.
Staying safe while kayaking in winter means that you’re prepared and specifically that you have an understanding of the unique dangers of winter for kayakers, have the right gear, have chosen a winter-safe kayaking route, and have done at least a little training in preparation for your trip. Now, all of this is still accessible to beginners looking to winter kayak for the first time, but it’s essential that you understand the basics of winter kayaking safety before hitting the cold water.
In this blog post, we will explore the dangers of winter kayaking and offer tips and advice for staying safe on the water. No matter your kayaking experience level, we hope that this information will help you to enjoy a safe and rewarding winter kayaking experience!
What Weather Constitutes Winter Kayaking? It’s Warmer Than You Think!
When you think of winter, you often think of ice encrusted water surrounded by snowy river banks. And, while that does constitute winter – a much warmer scene also counts as winter kayaking. Generally, kayaking below 70°F (or 21°C) is considered cold weather kayaking. This is because water at this temperature can cause a submerged body to go into cold shock or even hypothermia if not treated promptly.
So, your “winter kayaking” may really be just fall kayaking, where you’re floating by green grass and trees with slightly changing leaves. And, since you wouldn’t normally think of this as winter kayaking, it’s important that you’re prepared when you hit water that may be close to this 70°F benchmark.
6 Dangers of Winter Kayaking
Winter kayaking can be great, but there’s a lot of potential dangers that can exist in winter. Examples of this include cold water immersion, hypothermia, or icy conditions and each of these should be carefully considered when winter kayaking. Let’s discuss each one of these dangers in more details so you can be better prepared with what to look out for when prepping for your next kayaking trip.
- Cold Water Immersion: When you fall into cold water, your body loses heat 25 times faster than it does in air of the same temperature. This can lead to rapid heat loss and hypothermia, which can be deadly if not treated promptly.
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops below normal levels, leading to symptoms such as shivering, fatigue, and confusion. In severe cases, hypothermia can be life-threatening.
- Icy conditions: Ice can form on waterways, making it difficult to navigate and increasing the risk of capsizing or tipping over. It is important to be aware of the ice conditions on your route and to avoid ice if you aren’t confident in your ice-kayaking abilities.
- Capsizing or tipping over: Winter kayaking can be more treacherous due to the icy conditions, and often poor winter weather. In these conditions it is more important to maintain control of your kayak to avoid tipping over into the cold water.
- Cold-related injuries: Cold weather can also lead to other injuries, such as frostbite or chilblains. Neither of these are fun, and in severe cases can even become life threatening or cause permanent injury. To prevent this, you need to properly protect your skin from the cold and to be aware of the signs of these conditions so you can get off the water and seek warmer conditions quickly.
- Going Remote: Winter kayaking often takes place in remote locations, making it difficult to get help in an emergency if something goes wrong. It is important to have a plan in place for emergencies and to let someone know your route and expected return time.
How to Prepare for a Winter Kayaking Trip
If you’re going to go kayaking in the winter it is important to be properly prepared in order to stay safe on the water. From choosing the right equipment and clothing to planning your route and practicing your skills, there are a number of steps that you can take to ensure a successful and safe winter kayaking trip.
5 Pieces of Essential Winter Kayaking Gear
- Wet suit or dry suit: A wet suit or dry suit is essential for winter kayaking, as it helps to insulate your body and keep you warm in the event of being immersed in cold water. A wet suit is made of neoprene and allows a small amount of water to enter the suit, which is then heated by your body and provides additional insulation. A dry suit is made of a waterproof and breathable material and keeps you completely dry, but is generally more expensive and requires additional layers for insulation. Generally you can get away with a wet suit if the air temperature isn’t super cold, but if you’re in doubt a dry suit is always a good option in cold water or weather.
- Cold weather clothing: In addition to a wet suit or dry suit, it is also important to wear warm clothing when winter kayaking. This means wearing layers such as thermal underwear, fleece, and a waterproof outer layer (like a rain jacket). It is also a good idea to wear a hat, gloves, and a neck gaiter to protect your head, hands, and neck from the cold.
- Paddle: A paddle is an essential piece of gear for any kayaking trip, and it is important to choose one that is suitable for winter water conditions. In winter, a paddle with a longer and wider blade can be better at cutting through the water, as it provides more surface area hitting against the water and generates more power with each stroke. This may be helpful if there is ice on the water or if you expect to be in rough water conditions.
- First aid kit: It is always a good idea to carry a first aid kit when kayaking, and this is especially true in the winter when the risks are greater. A basic first aid kit should include items such as bandages, gauze, antiseptic wipes, and pain medication. You may also want to consider adding items like hot hands to your winter first aid kit to help in cases of prolonged winter weather exposure.
- Communication device: In the event of an emergency, it is important to have a way to communicate with someone in case you need help. This can include a cell phone or satellite phone, or a personal locator beacon (PLB). It is also always a best practice to let someone know your route and expected return time before setting out on your winter kayaking trip.
How to Plan Your Winter Kayaking Route
Choosing a proper route that is suitable for winter conditions (whether icy or not) is an important aspect of preparing for a winter kayaking trip. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing your route, including the weather, the water conditions, and the level of difficulty.
One of the first things to consider when choosing a route for winter kayaking is the weather. It is important to check the forecast before setting out and to choose a route that is suitable for the conditions. This may mean avoiding areas with high winds or heavy precipitation, or choosing a sheltered route that is protected from the elements.
The water conditions are also an important factor to consider when choosing a route for winter kayaking. It is important to be aware of the current and the tides, as well as any hazards such as rocks, logs, or other debris that may be present in the water. You may not always know this before hand, but a little research of the area may help you find this out before hitting the water. It is also a good idea to choose a route that avoids rough water or strong currents, as these can be more challenging to navigate.
The level of difficulty is third factor to consider when choosing a route for winter kayaking. If you have limited experience it will be best to choose a route that is relatively flat and easy to navigate. On the other hand, if you are an experienced kayaker looking for a more challenging route, you may want to consider something with more elevation changes or a longer distance. Don’t overestimate your ability in winter. If in doubt, always go with the easier route.
Overall, it is important to choose a route that is suitable for your skill level and the conditions. By planning ahead and being aware of the potential hazards, you can enjoy a safe and rewarding winter kayaking experience.
How to Train for Winter Kayaking
Building up your endurance and strength by training before embarking on a winter kayaking trip can be helpful for a number of reasons. First and foremost, kayaking can be physically demanding, and this is even more true in cold weather when your body is working harder to stay warm. By building up your endurance and strength, you will be better able to handle the physical demands of winter kayaking and will be less likely to become fatigued or injured.
In addition to the physical benefits, winter kayak training can also help to improve your overall kayaking skills and increase your confidence on the water. By practicing your strokes and techniques in a controlled environment, you can become more comfortable when on the water, which will make you better equipped to handle the challenges of winter kayaking.
Where can you do this type of training? Some cities have a local kayaking training spots or classes for beginners to get more experience. A quick google search can help you find these. But, if your city doesn’t have a specific class nearby, you can always hit the water in warmer weather and practice your stokes and what to do if your kayak capsizes so you’re prepared come winter.
Overall, training and practice are important for anyone considering a winter kayaking trip, regardless of their skill level. By building up your endurance, strength, and kayaking skills, you can increase your chances of having a safe and enjoyable winter kayaking experience.
7 Best Tips for Winter Kayaking Safety
Now that we’ve discussed the potential dangers, let’s go over how to stay safe. From wearing the right clothing and equipment to being mindful of the water conditions and hazards in winter, there are a number of steps that you can take to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter kayaking trip. Let’s look at 7 of my best tips for staying safe when winter kayaking.
- Wear a wet suit or dry suit: A wet suit or dry suit is essential for winter kayaking, as it helps to insulate your body and keep you warm in the event of cold water immersion. Be sure to always wear one of them if water conditions are below 70°F (or 21°C).
- Dress in layers: In addition to a wet suit or dry suit, it is important to wear warm clothing when winter kayaking. The proper clothing while kayaking includes layers such as thermal underwear, fleece, and a waterproof outer layer, usually worn over your wet or dry suit. Just make sure that you avoid cotton, as it traps cold water and doesn’t dry quickly or easily (which is potentially dangerous in winter conditions).
- Stay close to shore: In the event of an emergency, it is important to be able to get to shore quickly. Try to stay close to the shoreline and avoid straying too far from land. This is especially true if you’re new to winter kayaking.
- Avoid thin ice: Ice can be a hazard when winter kayaking, and it is important to avoid chunks of ice. This is because anytime you’re paddling through completely frozen waters with a layer of thin ice it can damage your kayak unless you’re really careful and leave you taking on water. If you are unsure of the ice conditions, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid paddling in icy water altogether.
- Use caution when approaching obstacles or hazards: Winter kayaking often comes with additional hazards such as rocks, logs, or other debris. It is important to use caution when approaching these obstacles in the water and to avoid making sudden movements or changes in direction that could cause you to capsize.
- Maintain control of your kayak: It is important to maintain control of your kayak at all times, especially in winter when the conditions may be more treacherous. Be sure to paddle with a steady and controlled stroke, and avoid making sudden or erratic movements.
- Carry a first aid kit and communication device: In the event of an emergency, it is important to have a first aid kit and a communication device on hand. A cell phone or satellite phone, or a personal locator beacon (PLB), can be useful in case you need to call for help. It is also a good idea to let someone know your route and expected return time before you set out on your winter kayaking trip.
In conclusion, winter kayaking can be a thrilling and rewarding experience, but it is important to be aware of the potential dangers and to take the necessary precautions to stay safe on the water. By wearing the right clothing and equipment, choosing a route that is suitable for the conditions, and being mindful of the hazards and risks, you can enjoy an excellent and safe winter kayaking experience. Always remember to be prepared, use caution, and always take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter kayaking trip.
For other tips like these, check out our kayaking tips page so you can be even more confident getting on (and off) the water.
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