Even cold weather can’t keep some diehard paddlers from taking to the water during the fall and winter months. If you’re one of them, you need to be extra careful, as lower air and water temperatures present special dangers. Here are some tips to help keep you safe and warm if you brave the “off season” waves.

  • Always paddle with a buddy and be sure to let friends and family know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. You should do this no matter the time of year, but it’s especially important when less people will be on the water to help in case of an emergency.
  • Wear manmade fabrics like polyester rather than cotton. Cotton gets wet and stays wet, losing its insulating ability and actually causing chill. Polyester wicks moisture away from the skin, keeping you drier and warmer. The same is true for under layers as well as outer layers.
  • Don’t just take a life jacket — wear it. Falls overboard happen, and more than half of all boating fatalities due to drowning occur because of the effects of being immersed in cold water. Thick clothes worn for protection against cold air temperatures can become heavy in water and make it difficult for those wearing them to stay afloat.
  • Consider wearing a neoprene wetsuit or dry suit. These can dramatically increase your chances of survival if you unexpectedly end up in the drink. Plus, they add insulation and warmth without being too bulky.
  • Know how to survive in cold water. If you do fall in, get out quickly. If you can’t get out, conserve your body heat by holding your knees to your chest and clasping your arms around your legs. This will protect your core. Don’t remove your clothes and cover your head. Call for help but don’t flail your arms, as this will tire you out and cause your body to lose heat faster.
  • Plan for “what if.” Trust us, you’ll be happy you brought back-up warmth if the worst happens. Pack a dry bag with a change of clothes, thick towel or blanket, pocket warmers, and other items that can quickly heat your body. It could mean the difference between a survival story and a tragic tale.

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine.