Chances are a good number of you found a new kayak under the tree this holiday season. If so, you are probably chomping at the bit for spring to arrive, so you can try out your new toy. But why wait? As long as there is open water you can still enjoy paddling – IF you are properly prepared.
WARNING – DO NOT ATTEMPT WINTER TIME PADDLING UNLESS YOU ARE AN EXPERIENCED KAYAKER. DUE TO THE POSSIBILITY OF TIPPING, NOVICE KAYAKERS NEED TO LEARN HOW TO PROPERLY USE THEIR CRAFT IN WARM WEATHER FIRST.
Winter kayaking is not only an excellent way to enjoy you new craft now, rather than 3 or 4 months down the road, it also allows you to experience a winter wonderland from a unique and exciting point of view. The key is being properly prepared. Winter boating, especially when paddling, can be dangerous for the unprepared or unskilled user.
First, you need to dress properly.
Kayaking often means getting wet and winter kayaking means wet and cold. Dress in layers and avoid heavy materials like cotton. Layers allow you to add or remove clothing as necessary and help trap heat. Cotton is very heavy when wet and offers poor insultation to weight ratio.
For extreme conditions or those when you expect to get wet consider wearing a dry layer or a layer which is water/wind proof. If your kayak will accept one, consider adding a skirt which will protect you from waves and retain heat inside the cockpit.
Do not forget your extremities. A warm hat, gloves and even a face mask can make the difference between a pleasant day afloat and frost bite. Of course you should always wear your personal floatation device.
Second, prepare medical kit.
Make sure your emergency kit is fully stocked AND properly equipped for winter conditions. In addition to you normal first aid or survival supplies make sure to aid energy bars, light weight emergency blanket, chemical handwarmers and a means of starting an emergency fire. Because of the added danger cold water presents make sure to include a hand bilge pump as well.
You should also pack a second emergency kit of dry clothes. This should include everything you will need to completely change clothing if you get swamped- head to toe, boots, underwear and everything in between.
Make sure it is stowed in a water proof bag so it will stay dry when everything else gets wet. If you do get soaked pull to shore, start a fire if necessary and change clothes quickly. The minor discomfort of temporary exposure will be far less dangerous than extended exposure in wet clothes.
Third, extra supplies on hand.
Make sure you have adequate supplies waiting in your vehicle as well. Having a second set of warm, dry clothes in your vehicle and a supply of high energy snacks/warm beverage waiting when you return can make all the difference.
If you get wet and the launch is close enough you can change and warm up in your vehicle rather than on the open shoreline. Even if you do not get wet chances are you will be sweaty, which will eventually have the same heat stealing effect.
Fourth, prepare a float plan.
Kayaking with a buddy is always preferred and safer, however, you should always prepare a float plan and leave it with a third party. The plan should list your trip details, including start/stop points and ETA as well as emergency communication numbers. Make sure to let this person know your plans if there is a delay and alternative routes is available.
Fifth, enjoy yourself.
The winter is unlike any other time and the sights available to you are unable to be viewed any other time of the year. If you’re prepared and willing to give it a try you will soon find yourself wondering why you ever though kayaking was a warm weather only sport.
For more information on winter kayaking check out this You Tube video.