Today some experienced local paddlers and kayak instructors got together on Canada's Ottawa River to do cold water rescue practice. I joined in. I was glad I did!
Whatever gear you are paddling in when the water is cold, it is a good idea to test your gear close to shore before you head out further. Some days, you choose your gear well. Other days, you wish you've dressed differently.
Everything I wore today performed well for me in the conditions I paddled and practiced in during cold water rescue practice. The water temp was probably 10 degrees Celsius or warmer, but I can't be sure. The thermometer we plunged into the Ottawa River was impossible to read. The air temperature was about 16 degrees Celsius at 2:00 in the afternoon, but there was a fair wind blowing in the bay and I felt chilled on land in dry fleece as I geared up.
I had to go by feel. How did I feel in the water with my gear. How much time will it give me to get back into my boat and be comfortable. I didn't plunge my unprotected head completely into the water today. I'll try that another time, with a neo hood.
The gear I wore today to practice cold water rescues worked for me. I can't tell you how happy that made me feel. I couldn't believe how buoyant I was in all my neo, paddle jacket and PFD! You may be in neoprene, a dry suit, or a T-shirt and shorts. What matters is what you wear, what works for you, how it performs for you, and how well you can perform in it. Then it matters to the others you are paddling with!
You can see in the photos, that I'm geared up. I was wearing a long sleeve neoprene top and long neo pants, a Merino wool layer underneath, a Gul paddle jacket over all that, a very well-fitting PFD of course with the straps on the shoulders and waist battened down securely but still comfortable, a neo skirt, neo socks and neo booties, and Gul 4mm Flexor Gloves. I don't have a drysuit yet.
I started slowly by walking out into the water to see how my body reacted and how my gear choice performed. Then, when I was comfortable with my gear in the water for a few minutes, I got into my Boreal Baffin unassisted from the water. Then I felt ready for rescue practice.
I know that if I'm in really cold water and get dumped over suddenly, I can still suffer from cold water shock and gasp reflex. But today I'm testing my gear after the spring water in the Ottawa River has warmed up a bit and the ice has completely thawed several weeks earlier. I don't ever want to intentionally throw myself into water that is 4 degrees Celsius or colder. And I'm thinking I may want to avoid paddling water that cold.
Cowboy Scramble into the Boreal Baffin - This boat rocks! I love it!
You should be comfortable and able to paddle with ease in your gear. You want to have fun right?
I did today. Another day could be different. I know that. And when I'm not in the mood to hit up all that gear, I grab my bike or my yoga mat!
Why do Some People Paddle Cold Water in T-shirts and Shorts?
There is nothing like being suited up properly for the spring cold water conditions in May on a warm, windy, sunny day in a beautiful bay on the Ottawa River in Ontario, Canada, with a crew of experienced paddlers and instructors, only to see several people heading out from shore in rec boats wearing shorts and T-shirts, but at least a PFD.
Wow! They have no clue what they are doing. And most times, they will head out and come back just fine. I'm happy for you who do - you're lucky. They put their feet into the water to launch and say, "Yikes, the water is cold!", and head out anyway.
Get gear. Test your gear in a safe way.
Learn about hypothermia.
- Visit Coldwater Bootcamp and watch the videos of real people and what happens to them in cold water.
- Visit Cold Water Survival by the United States Search and Rescue Task Force.
Learn how to get back into your boat. Practice. Have fun!
Don't Forget the Sunscreen
Despite all the great gear I wore today, I still forgot one thing! The waterproof sunscreen. I've got a nice little red sunburn on the only part of me that was looking at the sun for two hours. My nose!
Thanks to Local Paddlers and Instructors
Thanks to the great crew of local Ottawa paddlers and instructors who continue to share their experience with us and who put on today's practice! You rock!
Happy and safe paddling!
Have you tested your gear?