When winter sets in and water turns ice cold, many kayakers store their kayaks and hang up their paddling gear until spring. Of course, it is quite hard for anyone to get motivated to go kayaking in cold water but with proper gear, winter kayaking can be enjoyable just like any other season.
However, this is one of the most dangerous seasons to go hitting the waters. You not only risk being hit by a shifting pack ice but also ice covering your kayak. Not only that. Your hands may get numb from the cold weather such that you are not able to paddle to the shore, so you end up being stuck in the middle of the ocean.
But all this can be prevented by following proper winter kayaking safety precautions. Therefore, before you ditch your ‘yak, take a look at what we have here. Who knows, you might end up paddling the entire season! So, let’s get busy.
1. Choose Your Location Wisely
…and with safety in mind. Kayaking down the stream to your favorite duck hunting spot may be a cakewalk during summer. But this location could pose myriad safety problems during winter and would be the last place you want to be paddling.
How easily can you get back to your kayak if it capsizes? How fast can you get to the dry land if something goes wrong in the middle of your paddling?
To be safe, avoid locations that are potentially dangerous. Those steep river bends and places far from the shore are risky and should be avoided at all costs.
2. Don’t Go Alone
Whether you will be kayaking in a nearby river or in the pacific, always bring a buddy along. Maybe you make these trips alone during summer but this time round it would be wise to ask your friend to come with you for your safety. A kayak flip that was just a small inconvenience in summer could be an immediate death sentence in winter.
Even the most skilled kayakers don’t go paddling alone at this time. The weather is harsh enough for anyone to assume that they would be safe out there. So just bring a friend or two.
3. Dress For The Day
Invest in the most appropriate clothing for this trip. You will be spending the best part of your day exposed to cold weather so that bikini or beach short you wore while kayaking last summer will be a fat NO.
You need to keep yourself warm and dry to survive this trip. Just because you think you won’t be required to swim, it doesn’t mean you should leave that dry suit behind. You might get wet from rain or splash, so be prepared with the right clothing and you will have an enjoyable outing.
Talking of right clothing, layering is kayakers’ best friend during winter starting with a warm inner layer and a waterproof outer layer that keeps you dry. Neoprene socks and neoprene water boots will also go a long way in keeping your feet warm.
How about your head? You need to cover it up too. A nice fleece toque will get the job done.
Don’t forget your paddling gloves too. Your hands will be doing the heavy lifting for you and if they get numb while in the middle of the ocean you might not be able to paddle back to the shore. So cover them up!
4. Bring Proper Safety Gear
The most important and easy-to-get piece of safety gear is your buddy. This might be the most neglected piece of “equipment” but tell you what, your chances of staying safe on this trip are much higher when you have someone to watch your back.
But this doesn’t mean that we are ruling out the rest of the items that keep you safe during the ride. Absolutely not! Things like a cell phone and a GPS are both great for communication and navigation.
You also need a first aid kit to treat wounds, cuts, and scrapes. Extra clothes will be a great idea too especially if your trip will be taking more than a day. Also bring an extra paddle and emergency blanket just in case…
But of what good will this safety gear be if it is all soaked with water? Well, the whole reason you need to invest in a dry bag! Put every essential item in the bag so that it can remain dry even if it rains or your kayak tips.
5. Stay Energized
Its cold weather and you are not sweating, so you don’t need to keep drinking water, right? Wrong! Just like kayaking in hot weather, you need to stay hydrated. Remember you will be using so much energy to paddle thus you need to keep your body hydrated and energized all the time. Now you understand why this is an important part of winter kayaking safety precautions, right? Great!
We are not done yet. Remember to bring lots of food and snacks too. These will give your paddling muscles the energy they need to navigate you through the waters. Well, you don’t need to store these in a cooler because the weather is already cold enough to keep them chilled. But if you are going to be here a little longer, you may want to keep the foods in the cooler.
6. Acquire The Right Skills
You didn’t come on this trip just because you kicked ass in kayaking championships last summer, did you? Well, you might have pulled a few impressive moves back then but this time the weather is totally different and you will be facing more challenges than you did in the championship. So before you hit the winter waters, you need to think how well you are prepared for what is in store for you.
How good are you in paddling on frozen water? Do you know how to get back to your kayak in the event you fall out of it? Okay, your chances of flipping over are much less compared to the summer season but the consequences are much worse because this time round the water is cold.
If you are paddling a sit-on-top kayak, master the skills for climbing back onto the kayak and if you are riding a sit inside one, master good bracing techniques to prevent you from tipping.
The best time to acquire these skills is during the warm season because the immersion doesn’t present great risks like in the cold weather. You can intentionally capsize the kayak and try to get back in it by yourself just to be sure you are set for this trip. You can also acquire training from kayak instructors or other educational services. What we are simply saying is that you should not attempt this trip if you don’t have confidence in your cold water paddling ability.
7. Paddle Smart
The last, yet important point to remember on winter kayaking safety precautions is your paddling approach. You don’t want to take risks that you do not need to. Before pushing that kayak to the waters, think safety first and take extra precautions.
Not many kayakers like paddling during the cold season so there might be only you, your partner and a few others. That means you and your buddy need to be confident in your paddling and be able to keep an eye on each other in case something goes wrong. You should also keep the following in mind:
- Always wear a safety life jacket. It doesn’t matter how good a kayaker you are. Even the best of the best sometimes are just not able to swim in cold water.
- Tell someone (other than your buddy) where you intend to go and when you expect to come back.
- Carry a few emergency contacts and make sure that these are people you can get hold of any time of day or night.
- If your trip will be taking a few days, watch weather forecasts to know which days are extremely cold and those that are a bit warm. This will help you know which clothes to pack and which not to.
- Whenever possible, choose a kayaking spot that is close to home. In case of bad weather, you can always walk/ride back.
- Always paddle close to the shore and where other paddlers can see you so you can easily swim to the dry land or get rescued should something go awry.
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Winter kayaking is not something you just wake up one morning and jump into. It’s something that needs appropriate preparation as there are just so many risks involved. If you feel like you are not confident in your paddle hitting the cold waters this year, keep these winter kayaking safety precautions in mind for when it is a little warmer. That way, you will be able to practice, obtain the right skills, and get ready early enough for the next cold season.
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