As winter sets in and water starts to turn solid, many paddlers will be hanging up their paddling gear until spring. For others, the cold is just another challenge to overcome before getting on the water.
I believe that winter time kayaking can actually be very enjoyable but it does pose some risks that you don’t usually face other times of the year. Before you put the ‘yak into hibernation, take a look at these ideas and tips for winter kayaking and maybe you’ll end up paddling a little more this year.
Start With the Skills
You need to be confident in your paddling ability before your first wintertime outing. The most important thing all winter paddlers need to know is what to do if you fall out of their kayak. The chances of falling out of your kayak during winter is not increased compared to any other time of the year, but the consequences of it are much worse because of the cold.
For sit on top paddlers, this means being confident in your ability to climb back onto your kayak. For sit inside paddlers, this means having good bracing technique to keep from tipping and a reliable roll in case the worst happens. Ideally, you should be practicing these skills during the warmer times of the year when immersion doesn’t pose such a great risk by intentionally jumping overboard, capsizing or rolling. However, if you aren’t 100% confident in your ability, seek out local instructors and educational resources. We have quite a few helpful books and DVDs to get you started.
Invest In Good Winter Gear
Winter kayaking gear should serve one purpose: to keep you warm and dry. This means a new set of winter paddling clothes plus emergency gear.
Clothing for Winter Kayaking
You winter paddling clothing will probably look completely different than the clothes you’re wearing on summer outings. You need to be dressing for immersion and also for staying warm in the chilly winter air. Remember, just because you don’t think you’ll be going for a swim doesn’t mean you won’t be at risk of getting wet from splash or rain. Be prepared and you’ll set yourself up for a more enjoyable outing.
What exactly you need to wear for a wintertime paddle depends on a number of factors like water temperature, personal comfort, water conditions and the type of water you’re paddling on. Remember that layers are a winter paddlers best friend, starting with a waterproof outer layer and warm inner layers.
Emergency Preparedness Gear
Having some emergency gear is always a good idea when going kayaking. It’s even more important during the winter. How extensive you prepare is up to you, but consider bringing along the following items:
- Extra set of warm clothing in a dry bag
- Emergency paddle
- Rescue stirrup
- Emergency blanket
- Bothy shelter
- First aid kit
- Communication tools
Give our Rescue & Safety gear a look for more ideas on what to bring along so you can be as prepared as you want.
Paddle Smart & Think Safety First
The final thing to remember about winter kayaking is to approach it with the right attitude. Don’t take risks you don’t need to and take extra precautions before you go. Paddling during the winter means there will be fewer people on the water, so you need to be able to rely on yourself and your paddling partner should something go awry. Keep these tips in mind:
- Paddle with at least one partner
- Make sure someone on dry land knows when you’re going out
- Watch weather forecasts for bad weather and unexpected warm days
- Pick spots that are close to home – you don’t want to take a long road trip somewhere and then feel like you have to paddle should bad weather arise
- While you’re on the water, try to stay near the shoreline to minimize the distance you need to swim should it come to it
- Always, ALWAYS, wear your Life Jacket
Winter paddling shouldn’t be something you just jump into but it is something you can take on with the appropriate preparation. If you don’t think you’re ready for it this year, keep this article in mind for when it gets warmer and start practicing and getting ready early for the next winter.
As always, if you think I missed something or just have something to add, leave a comment below!