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Kayaking in Cold Water: Tips for Staying Safe

Cold-water safety: what to consider when kayaking in late fall or early spring

Trying to get out one last time in the late fall or can't wait to hit the water on those warmer early spring days. Kayaking can be a year round activity but there are a few things to consider when venturing out on cold water.

Cold-water safety

Water doesn't have to be extremely cold to cause hypothermia. Any water that's colder than normal body temperature causes heat loss. The following tips may increase your survival time in cold water if you accidentally fall in:

  • Wear a life jacket. If you plan to ride in a watercraft, wear a life jacket. A life jacket can help you stay alive longer in cold water by enabling you to float without using energy and by providing some insulation. Keep a whistle attached to your life jacket to signal for help.

  • Get out of the water if possible. Get out of the water as much as possible, such as climbing onto a capsized boat or grabbing onto a floating object.

  • Don't attempt to swim unless you're close to safety. Unless a boat, another person or a life jacket is close by, stay put. Swimming will use up energy and may shorten survival time.

  • Position your body to minimize heat loss. Use a body position known as the heat escape lessening posture (HELP) to reduce heat loss while you wait for assistance. Hold your knees to your chest to protect the trunk of your body. If you're wearing a life jacket that turns your face down in this position, bring your legs tightly together, your arms to your sides and your head back.

  • Huddle with others. Don't paddle alone. If you've fallen into cold water with other people, keep warm by facing each other in a tight circle.

  • Don't remove your clothing. While you're in the water, don't remove clothing because it helps to insulate you from the water. Buckle, button and zip up your clothes. Cover your head if possible. Remove clothing only after you're safely out of the water and can take measures to get dry and warm. Bring a change of clothes in a dry bag.

Kayaking can be a year-round activity, but it's essential to take extra precautions when paddling in cold water. Hypothermia is a real danger, even in water that doesn't seem excessively cold. By following these simple tips, such as wearing a life jacket, adopting the HELP posture, and huddling with others, you can increase your chances of survival if you accidentally fall into cold water. Remember to dress appropriately, bring a whistle, and a change of clothes in a dry bag. With these safety measures in place, you can enjoy the beauty and serenity of kayaking, even during the colder months.


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