Safe way to do cold water kayaking

Antarctic kayaking - Author: Barry Thomas - CC BY 2.0
Antarctic kayaking - Author: Barry Thomas - CC BY 2.0

Some people just love adventurous outdoor activities, and there are many ways to partake in outdoor sports to get an adrenaline rush. For some people, hiking is their outdoor activity of choice and for others, it can be running. But for those who are more adventurous, kayaking can be a fantastic outdoor activity to try. Cold water kayaking is an especially adventurous experience for those thrill seekers.

Kayaking in cold water has the joys of kayaking in the warmer months but adds a little twist. Cold water kayaking can often involve paddling on a semi-frozen lake or river. It is a truly refreshing and unique way in which someone who loves adventure can explore an area and really immerse themselves in a fun and cool outdoor sport.

This is an amazing activity for those who love the water and find that they’re at a loose end during the winter months when many outdoor water activities are nearly impossible. With the right safety products and the necessary precautions, it is still possible to venture outside in the winter season for a paddle on the water. There are certainly some hazards that you need to look out for when planning a cold water kayaking expedition.

Don’t go alone

Always kayak with a buddy for safety
Always kayak with a buddy for safety

For one, anybody who is thinking about going cold water kayaking should really think twice about going alone. It is much safer to take a friend out on the water with you so that you can paddle together and look out for one another in case any sort of emergency occurs.

Drowning and hypothermia

If you’re thinking about going cold water kayaking you should also be aware of the potential dangers of hypothermia and drowning. The most significant hazard when cold water kayaking is going to be the cold. The cold air temperatures coupled with the cold water can create dangerous conditions very quickly, even when you factor in the exercise that you are getting from paddling.

It is possible to avoid hypothermia and drowning, as often it can take a while for a person to succumb to the elements. Normally, if you can remain with your head above water for several hours, you have a chance of survival.  If you’re stranded in cold water, however, then there is a far greater chance that you will succumb to the elements and even die. When the risk of hypothermia and drowning are combined, it creates an incredibly dangerous environment.

When the body is immersed in extremely cold water, this quickly leads to a severe loss of movement, limited mental function, exhaustion, and, for some, unconsciousness.

There is a common saying among sailors which states that, typically, if a person is immersed in fifty degrees Fahrenheit water for fifty minutes, then this individual has about a fifty percent chance of survival. There is recent research which states that this old adage might, unfortunately, be overly optimistic, and it is definitely not the case for paddlers who would need to help themselves throughout the rescue. You should be sure to be careful when in this kind of water and have good safety gear as well as other emergency supplies to help in an emergency.


Kayaking adventure – Author: DAGUILUZ – CC BY-SA 3.0
Kayaking adventure – Author: DAGUILUZ – CC BY-SA 3.0

Anybody who is going to partake in cold water kayaking should be sure to invest in proper cold water clothing. You should be sure to dress for immersion – prepared to stay as warm as you can in the event of some sort of emergency. In order to do this, follow the idea that layering is your best friend. The first layer should typically be a tight-fitting, moisture-wicking undergarment with a heavier, more insulating garment over it. In this way, body heat may be retained, and a further waterproofing top layer can prevent water from reaching the skin.


As a precaution against the possibility of immersion in the water, a drysuit ia always a good option for the cold water kayaker to be wearing. This is a full-length jumpsuit made of a waterproof fabric that is breathable and has integrated seals at the wrists, neck, and ankles. The suit can ensures that it’s wearer remains totally dry, and therefore warm. Also, be sure to wear something that covers the head as well. It is recommended that you invest in a synthetic knit cap that fully covers the head. There are also heavy socks that can be worn underneath the typical wetsuit booties.

The kayak

Kayaking adventures – Author: – CC BY 2.0
Kayaking adventures – Author: – CC BY 2.0

When you are thinking of what type of kayak to use while participating in cold water kayaking, it is important that you think of the elements and the environment that you are going to be in. You can use composite, polyethylene, and skin-on-frame kayaks. However, if you believe that you will be scraping against a lot of ice or that you will need to drag your boat across heavy snow then it is probably best to invest in a durable plastic kayak. It is also important that you have some sort of flotation device in the kayak in case you happen to capsize. Be sure to have a little waterproof bag attached to your person that contains all of your necessary emergency supplies.


Beyond all the points outlined above, proper technique is also very important. In truly cold winter months it can be hard to find open waters that are not frozen. Many times it is best to look to places where a river or large stream empties into a lake because this is flowing water will often remain open while other areas will be frozen. Be sure that once you find a place to start paddling you do not apply too much weight to the blade because that can cause it to break due to being overstrained. Be on the lookout for big chunks of ice; they can cause a lot of damage because they can be very heavy and sharp.

Kayaking south of Oqaatsut – Author: GerhardBe – CC BY-SA 4.0
Kayaking south of Oqaatsut – Author: GerhardBe – CC BY-SA 4.0

Kayaking in cold weather is definitely something that can be a really fun adventure, but it is essential to make sure ahead of time that you are adequately prepared to be out in the open and cold waters.

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fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival