5 Winter Kayaking Tips You Need to Know

two athletic man

Staying warm and safe in your kayak during the winter months can be crucial. As a beginner, you may not know of any dangers involved in taking your kayak out on the water in freezing conditions , which is why I’ve put together this guide on wintering kayaking tips that are designed to keep you safe, comfortable, and warm the next time you’re out on the water.

As the temperatures drop, you’ll want to put away your paddle board and bring out your whitewater kayak for a safer paddling experience. This type of kayak should be perfect for cold weather travel and can help keep you comfortable and warm as long as you know what to wear kayaking and plan a reasonable route.

Mapping Your Destination

Kayaking in the winter can be exciting and offers a totally different type of experience than kayaking in warmer weather does. However, it also comes with a different set of risks. You may also need to change your paddling techniques, bring along different types of gear, and play it safe by avoiding staying out on the water as long as you normally would in hot weather.

Because in the wintertime your margin for error is significantly smaller, you’ll want to choose a route that you are familiar with, and one that features plenty of safe landing options. Always carefully analyze the weather forecast. Take advantage of NOAA which offers are great graphical forecast online and includes other important information such as ice coverage, wind direction and speed, and other critical metrics.

Wear the Right Clothes

two people kayaking

Whether you’re kayaking in the spring or wintertime, you’ll need to wear a good life jacket, one that’s comfortable provides a snug fit, and is easy to put on, take off, and adjust.

Wearing kayaking gloves will also be important at this time since doing so can keep your hands free from injuries and blisters, but they’ll also keep them warm and dry. Additionally, many pairs of kayaking gloves come equipped with a type of tread on the palm which can help to improve your grip on the paddle.

Good kayaking shoes are also a must since you don’t want to step in below-freezing water barefoot. These shoes will keep your feet dry and warm and can also protect the soles of your feet and your toes from injuries sustained from sharp rocks, glass, and other types of debris that are commonly found in riverbeds.

To stay warm for a day out in the water purchase a dry suit. Many experienced kayakers prefer a two-piece dry suit because they’re considered more versatile and easier to put on and take off. A dry suit is very different from a wetsuit. While the wetsuit traps a thin layer of water next to the skin that’s warmed by your body heat, the drysuit will keep you totally dry, preventing water from entering the interior of the suit with the use of gaskets at the entry points. These suits tend to be a little on the pricey side, but they’re a must-have piece of kayaking gear for the winter.

To learn more, click here to read my guide on the differences between wetsuits and drysuits.

Monitor Kayak Conditions

Aside from watching for some of the usual things that you normally would during the other seasons when you’re kayaking, such as waves, weather, and wind, when you kayak during the wintertime you need to also keep an eye out for ice build-up.

Ice tends to build up rapidly from drips and splashes from a paddle. Check to make sure everything that you keep on deck such as a paddle float or bilge pump doesn’t quickly freeze to your kayak. Your deck bungee cords will definitely freeze, and as they do they will become useless losing their elasticity.

The grab handle and spray skirt can also become encased in ice, quickly freezing to the kayak, making it impossible to remove. Grab handles that become frozen to the deck can make it difficult to perform a wet exit if you need to. During this time, constantly check on each of these items, breaking the ice off of them as needed in order to keep them working and flexible.

Pack ice moves with the wind and current. This can block access to the shore and open water. While it’s still possible to paddle, it can make it very difficult to do so, to say the least. Additionally, the shoreline will also be icy so be prepared to slip. At times, the shoreline can become covered with tall shelves of ice that will make it difficult to land your vessel, causing you to scramble over the ice in order to come ashore.

Be Smart and Play it Safe

man paddling

Winter kayaking should be approached with the right attitude. Avoid taking risks that you don’t need to and make sure you take extra precautions before you head out. When you paddle in the winter it means there will be fewer people out on the water, so you’ll need to be able to rely on your paddling skills and yourself should something go wrong.

Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Paddle with at least one person
  • While you’re out on the water, try to stay close to the shoreline as possible in order to minimize your distance, in the event you need to swim should the kayak capsize
  • Choose a spot that’s close to home and avoid taking a long road trip during this time
  • Pay close attention to weather forecasts
  • Make sure there’s someone on dry land that knows exactly where you’re going
  • Always wear your life jacket

Paddling in the winter shouldn’t be something a beginner takes on alone. If you’re new to this watersport then you’ll need to practice the basics before you take on this challenging type of kayaking. This is because you can end up being a danger to your partner as well, since they will be responsible for saving you in the event you cause a capsize and you both topple into the water. You don’t have to be as experienced as your paddling partner, However,  you should know the basics of kayaking, such as how to flip a kayak back over, and how to handle choppy water conditions. To learn more, click here to read my article on kayaking tips for beginners.

Final Thoughts

These wintering kayaking tips are designed to keep you warm and safe as you try a new adventure. Kayakers who normally only take their boat out during warmer weather conditions can tell you that doing so in the wintertime is a totally different experience. But with this new experience, you’ll also have to take additional safety precautions in order to remain safe. During this time, there’s also the danger of hypothermia, so you should know the common signs such as the shivers, changes in mental status, and lethargy, and watch for these signs in your paddling partners and yourself. Because of colder temperatures, paddling in the wintertime is risky. If you do decide to go, make sure you have the skills to handle these types of conditions and always go paddling with a friend. Make sure you dress properly and you’re prepared for the worst and have a plan in place in the event of an emergency. You should only consider paddling in the winter on days that are not above your skill level. Always approach paddling during this time with a risk management plan since there’s little room for error when the temperatures drop, and the air is freezing.