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Chesapeake Kayak Adventures Message Board General Discussion Forum › Cold Water Gear Is Will Soon Be Required For The 2016 Season

Cold Water Gear Is Will Soon Be Required For The 2016 Season

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user 7308281
Group Organizer
Dayton, MD
Post #: 183
Three years ago we paddled into December without the need for Cold Water Gear. Last year (2013) we stared requiring Cold Water Gear the first weekend in November. I'm not exactly sure when the water temps will drop this year but here is what you need to know about cold water gear once it happens.

The kayaking community has tried over the years to come up with some cookie cutter rules that tell you at what point you need to wear what and some of them are pretty good generalizations but there are few if any of them that are true 100% of the time. There are many variables to consider but one reasonably good rule is that you need cold water attire when the water temps drop below 60 degrees. When water temps in the area hit 60 degrees or below, cold water attire will be required on all CKA paddles.

There are two things that happen prior to hypothermia setting in that kill people long before they ever have a chance to become hypothermic. The first is cold water shock and the second is cold water incapacitation. Cold water shock is instant and cold water incapacitation takes as little as two minutes.

The best thing that I've been able to find to make sense of it all is a video from the U.S. Coast Guard's "Cold Water Bootcamp" featuring Dr. Popsicle. Dr. Popsicle says Coast Guard statistics indicate that 40% of boating accidents that occur in water below a seemingly warm 59 degrees are fatal. Falling out of your kayak is a boating accident. The odds get worse as the water gets colder.

Here's a link to the video: U.S. Coast Guard Cold Water Boot Camp

When you're paddling always dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Always wear a PFD especially in cold water, even if you're an Olympic class swimmer. That cold water attire that I'm asking you to wear just might buy you the extra couple of minutes it takes to save your life.

user 7308281
Group Organizer
Dayton, MD
Post #: 184
So by now I hope you’re asking, what is appropriate cold water attire. I like to think of cold water attire as clothing that buys you or someone else the extra time necessary to rescue you and save your life should you fall in while paddling.

The first and most obvious item for appropriate cold water attire is a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). At water temperatures below 60 degrees some people have as little as two minutes before the “cold water incapacitation” described in the US Coast Guard video sets in and they lose their ability to swim. You should ALWAYS wear your PFD zipped up and fitting snugly but it’s even more important in cold water.

After the PFD we have a couple of options for the main component of cold water attire. Those options are either a wet suit or a dry suit. Both attempt to keep the cold water away from direct contact with your skin to prevent it from quickly draining heat from your body but they do it in different ways at different price points.

The most economical option is the wet suit. Wet suits are made of neoprene and act like a second skin which provides a layer of insulation between your skin and the cold water. They come in various styles and the thickness of the neoprene varies with thicker versions, measured in millimeters offering more protection. One of the most common wetsuits used by kayakers is known as a Farmer John or Long John that is 3 millimeters thick.

A Farmer John is basically a sleeveless full body wetsuit that allows you to layer it with various top garments offering different degrees of warmth depending on conditions and how hot your internal thermostat runs. The top can be anything from a long sleeve long underwear top to and actual neoprene top or similar proprietary fabrics like Hydroskin by NRS.

For a wetsuit to work, it needs to be skin tight. If your body isn’t the exact dimensions of the model they patterned the wetsuit after they can feel quite restricting. Getting them on and off can be challenging and many consider them uncomfortable. If you don’t have a perfect physique many people suggest buying a wetsuit one size larger than the size you normally wear for regular clothing. It may not be perfectly skin tight in some spots but it isn’t so tight that it feels like your breathing is constricted. Typical off the shelf Farmer John wet suit prices run in the $100 to $150 range. You will see a lot of people wearing models by NRS ( but there is a store in Hagerstown called Wetsuit Wearhouse that actually has a greater selection including short and tall sizes. They will even sew you a custom wetsuit to yur specific measurements if you’re a bit hard to fit. (

Depending on the style and thickness of the wetsuit and the water temperatures you will be paddling in, a wetsuit combined with a paddle jacket or dry top should allow you to extend your paddling season by perhaps 4 to 6 weeks in both the spring and the fall. When the wind and water temperatures along with water and weather conditions and the skill level of the paddler get to a point where more protection is required, you’ll find us switching to hikes at CKA. I for one have no desire to paddle when wind and water temps are really cold for the Baltimore Washington area.

The more expensive option for cold water attire is a dry suit. Dry suits are made of heavier gauge , waterproof but breathable fabrics like Gortex and have latex gaskets to seal out the water at the neck, wrists and ankles. Some dry suits include booties like kids pajamas instead of the latex gaskets at the ankles. You can vary the amount of warmth the dry suit provides by changing the layers you wear underneath it. They are generally more comfortable than wetsuits but many require unique body contortions to get them on and off successfully. By adding more layers underneath a dry suit you can buy yourself additional safey in a much larger range of wind and water temps.

Typical dry suit prices are in the $700.00 to $800.00 range although the best known and desired brand names are more like $1000.00 and you can find some as low as $500.00. Latex gaskets on dry suits need to be handled with care to avoid tearing and degrade with exposure to ultraviolet light. If a latex gasket fails it is possible to just replace the gasket as long as the rest of the suit is in good condition. If you develop a hole in the waterproof but breathable fabric it’s probably time to find a new dry suit.

Both dry suits and wetsuits leave your hands, feet and head exposed to the elements. In addition to a wetsuit or dry suit you’re going to need cold water specific garments like gloves, booties and head wear to keep you warm. If you’re body is warm but your hands, feet or heading are freezing, you’re not going to have a very comfortable paddling experience. I’m not going to try to cover the numerous variations and permutations of these garments but will say, don’t discount something for your head which is where we all lose most of our body heat. A neoprene balaclava is a great idea.

There are a bunch of different opinions as to when you really need to start wearing cold water attire. There isn’t any single parameter in my opinion which is a good measure but when the water temperatures drop below 60 degrees, APPROPRIATE COLD WATER ATTIRE will ALWAYS be required at CKA paddles. If you show up in anything less you will not be allowed to join the paddle regardless of your own opinion. Please don’t make me laugh by suggesting that you never fall out of your boat. Please remember that 4 out of 10 people who experience cold water immersion in water temps below 60 degrees due to a boating accident (like falling out of your boat) don’t live to tell about it.

I’ve quickly thrown this posting together due to the recent rather rapid drop in water temperatures. While different people have different opinions on the subject of cold water attire and it is certainly open to discussion, what is appropriate cold water attire at a CKA event is NOT open to discussion. To attend one of our paddles with a cold water attire requirement you must be wearing some combination of the items mentioned above.
Brian B
Woodbridge, VA
Post #: 67
In my 18 years of paddling, and 16 years as a professional kayaking instructor, this is one of the best descriptions I've read for this audience. I would like to add three points.

Dry suits have all the insulation properties of a shower curtain. They keep the water out, but they are not intended to be thermal in themselves. You must wear appropriate layers under them such as polypropylene ("technical") shirts/pants and pile layer(s).

I recommend you "swim your gear" meaning test to see if what you are wearing is sufficient by actually getting in the water with it and seeing if you can perform basic functions like a rescue. You can do this as an event on a date before a paddle, then have a warm vehicle and a change of clothes for afterwards. At least consider doing it at the end of a paddle in preparation for the next one.

Also bring spare clothes and some form of shelter in a drybag when you paddle. This is for an emergency dunking, but is also really handy during lunch stops. If you are paddling hard and sweat, you will cool rapidly during a lunch break, even in a Gore-Tex dry suit. I use pile layers, a paddle jacket, pile hat + gloves, and a Space Blanket. You probably already own a spare set of pile. If you add a watch cap, a windbreaker jacket, and a $2 emergency blanket, you have the basic kit.
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