When the winter season sets in and the water turn ice-cold, you don’t have to store your kayak and hang your paddling gear until spring. Winter kayaking is enjoyable too, as long as you plan your route carefully, dress appropriately, bring the right gear, and put safety first.
However, winter is one of the most dangerous seasons to venture into the water. You not only risk being hit by shifting 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 back to shore.
Don’t let all this discourage you from the adventure though, as these risks can be mitigated by preparing properly and observing the necessary safety precautions. In this article, you will learn all about winter kayaking safety precautions to follow.
1. Plan and Prepare Carefully
Winter is not the time for spontaneity. Kayaking in the winter is way riskier than kayaking during the warm seasons. For this reason, safe winter kayaking takes careful planning. It’s incredibly important to choose a route you’re familiar with and one with plenty of safe landing options and stay close to shore. Avoid potentially dangerous locations such as steep river bends and venturing too far from the shore. If the weather takes a turn for the worst, you need to be able to get back to shore fast.
2. Dress for Immersion
The number one concern when paddling in cold weather is cold water shock. The risk of a kayak capsize is always there and sudden immersion in cold water can quickly lead to hypothermia. For this reason, a wetsuit or a dry suit is a must-have when kayaking in winter.
3. Wear Warm Layers
Speaking of the right clothing, layering is a kayakers’ best friend during winter paddling excursions. To stay toasty warm, you should wear warm layers underneath your wetsuit or drysuit. We recommend fleece under layers, as fleece is comfortable and can stand up to the rigors of paddling. For comfort and protection from the elements, don a moisture-wicking base layer, and waterproof pants and jacket.
4. Keep Your Extremities Warm
Your hands, feet, and head are the most susceptible to freezing when kayaking in the winter. Keeping these parts warm and cozy is essential for safe and enjoyable winter kayaking experiences. Invest in a fleece toque or balaclava for your head and neoprene water socks and boots for your feet. Don’t forget your paddling gloves too. Your hands will be doing the heavy lifting for you and you might not be able to paddle back to shore if they get numb.
5. Stay Warm on Breaks
As you’re paddling, you will find it easy to stay warm as your body will generate heat. When you take a break from paddling, though, you become extremely vulnerable to the cold. Throwing on a warm jacket or wrapping yourself in a thermal blanket when you’re not paddling is an important part of winter kayaking safety precautions. Doing this will trap your body’s warmth and keep you toasty when you’re not active.
6. Bring Proper Safety Gear
First and foremost, you should have your personal flotation device at all times. You should also have a spare paddle, a repair kit, a first aid kit to treat wounds, cuts, and scrapes, an emergency blanket, a GPS device, and an emergency radio handy. Put these essential items in a dry bag to ensure they remain dry and secure.
7. Pack Some Creature Comforts
Hot water in a thermos, a stove for preparing hot beverages and warming food, an extra change of warm clothing in the car. All these can go a long way in making your ice kayaking adventure comfortable and enjoyable. Remember to bring lots of food and snacks too. These will give your muscles the energy they need to paddle in freezing conditions.
8. Kayak With A Buddy
While the minimal boat traffic is one of the appeals of winter kayaking, it’s a good idea to kayak in pairs or as a group and keep an eye on each other. Even the most skilled kayakers don’t go paddling alone in winter. If your kayak tips over, being rescued by a buddy is faster than self-rescue, and the faster rescue can be the difference between life and death.
9. Know Kayak Reentry
A kayak flip is always a possibility but the consequences are much worse in the winter. A kayak flip that was just a small inconvenience in the summer could be an immediate death sentence in the winter. This is why it’s imperative to know how to re-enter your kayak from the water. Should your kayak capsize, you must get out of the freezing water as quickly as possible to avoid hypothermia. The best time to practice and master kayak self-rescue maneuvers is during the warm season.
10. Tell Someone Where You’re Going and When You Will Be Back
Last but certainly not least in our winter kayaking safety precautions, always share your plan with a friend or family member. Inform them about where you intend to go and when they should expect you back. This way, someone will know if you fail to return home in due time and initiate rescue efforts.
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There is no bad weather for kayaking. Only the wrong gear and poor preparation. As other people worry about how to store kayaks in winter, you can be getting ready to experience a different kind of adventure paddling in the winter.
However, kayaking in the winter has many risks and this is why careful preparation is vital. By following the above winter kayaking safety precautions, you can enjoy winter kayak adventures without compromising your safety.
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