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Kayak Water and Ice Safety

Wintertime creates a whole new terrain in which to kayak. The water and environment are transformed by cooler temps, especially if you get snow or ice. These elements can make lakes and rivers more challenging to navigate, but as long as you’re equipped with the proper winter kayak gear and safety techniques, it will be smooth sailing for you.

Kayak Safety Tips for Icy Conditions

Being out on the water takes extra preparation if your area has recently experienced snowy or icy weather. Whether you like going out on the lake during the winter or paddling along a river, you should take extra precautions before heading out on your trip in order to stay safe and enjoy your adventure. Here are some general best practices for cold water and ice safety to help you prepare:

  • Always wear your PFD. This goes for any time you’re on the water, but particularly in cold weather a PFD will help you conserve energy and easily stay afloat and positioned for re-entry if you take a spill.
  • Prepare to get wet. Whether it’s splashes from your paddle or the unanticipated dunk, you need to be prepared to confront freezing water temps. Layer up with insulating, moisture-wicking fabrics, and consider investing in a wetsuit as an additional outer layer to further protect the cold water from seeping in.
  • Protect your head and hands. This goes for all kayakers, but particularly if you’re angling and not moving around as much, the more heat you can retain the better.
  • Scout your entry and exit points. Depending on the weather, your usual entry and exit points could be iced in. Turbulent, shallow water tends to be less prone to freezing over, so check for rivers with a consistent current, or lakes that are fed by rivers in order to get in and out of the water safely.
  • Check before bearing down on ice. Winds and currents can cause sections of ice to break loose or float off sporadically, especially in large lakes. This can cause your path to narrow or become obscured despite your best scouting efforts. You can brace and bear down on the ice with your paddle to scuttle your kayak along in this situation, but make sure it’s white or clear in color–ice that’s black in appearance is typically weak and can cause you to capsize if you bear down on it and it gives way.
  • Paddle in pairs. With the heightened challenges winter kayaking brings, it is sometimes helpful to have someone else with you while you’re paddling in the cold. Not only are they a boost to morale, but they can also help out if anything goes wrong on the trip.
  • Let someone know your plan. Group kayaking isn’t for everyone. If you prefer paddling solo, make sure you check in with someone before you go so, they know where you’re headed and how long you should be.
  • Know your limits. With ice comes more chilling temps, and you can burn out if you aren’t prepared for the cold to sap your energy faster. Take this into consideration when planning the length of your trip, or make sure you bring some snacks and a hot drink with you to refuel with on your trip.

It can seem intimidating to kayak in winter weather, but don’t let that stop you from pursuing this sport year round. Prepare and plan as much as possible beforehand, rely on your experience and instincts out on the water, and you’ll have a fun and safe trip!

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