Why does hypothermia occur?
Hypothermia typically occurs when your body loses heat much faster than it produces. That means it can occur without the body being submerged in water. Actually, a few splashes of water on the body can trigger hypothermia even if the temperature outside the body is relatively warm. The reason is that a number of variables, including water and air temperature, exposure, wind speed or a combination of any of these factors, play a role in hypothermia. But most often, only a combination of cold water and cool air can lead to hypothermia. That’s why when the water and air temperature adds up to 120 degrees it is prudent to take precautionary measures against hypothermia by basically keeping yourself dry and warm.
So what steps should you take to prevent hypothermia?
1. Wear proper apparel
That seems a simple measure but many paddlers tend to ignore it. When you are paddling in cold weather, make sure to always wear clothing suited to the conditions. From gloves for the hands, face wear to minimize facial exposure to clothing layers for mild days and dry suits for severe cold, you should get out there in proper attire. Remember that even a light shower or a few splashes after a boat wake can dramatically affect you.
However, you should avoid sweaters and attire made of cotton or materials that are not water resistant. Instead, go for clothing tailored for paddling in cold weather. Taking a spare set of clothes in your dry bag also can be valuable in an emergency. You can pack them in a compression sack and keep them inside the hull or in some corner of your boat if space is a problem.
2. Go out in a sit-inside kayak fitted with a skirt
If you can get a sit-inside kayak for your venture, use it during this cold season. In fact, using a sit-inside kayak with a kayak skirt will guarantee utmost protection of your lower body from outside elements. So even if you intend to go fishing, just outfit a sit-inside kayak for fishing by making a few modifications such as adding deck bags, rod holders and other gear. While you can use a standard recreational sit-inside kayak, make sure to practice getting out of your boat before you set out in water, just in case you tip over. The practice should be done in a controlled environment.
3. Do not get your hands and legs wet
Apart from using the skirts and gloves, keep the paddle in a position that will not leave you soaked and wet. Using paddle drip rings can prevent water from flowing down your hands any time you remove the gloves and skirts. When choosing gloves, go for ones that are waterproof so you can guarantee optimal dryness. Also keep your paddle low and make sure to optimize your paddling technique so you do not splash as you paddle.
4. Do not allow water in the kayak
If you are going out on a sit-on-top kayak, use scupper plugs to plug the scupper holes in your kayak, particularly around the seat. If your feet are protected in a sit-on-top kayak, ensure the scupper plugs nearest to your feet are open. That will allow any water entering the cockpit to drain. Also bring a bilge pump so you can remove any water that gets into your kayak accidentally.
5. Carry an emergency kit
Carrying an emergency kit is prudent just in case you do get wet. The kit can be the same one you usually have in your vehicle. It should include a fire starter kit, signal kit, whistle, headlamp, backup paddle, emergency blanket, extra water, paddle float and an extra pair of clothes.
Cold water paddling can be a superb but challenging experience. And usually to enjoy kayaking, you have to avoid hypothermia — which occurs when wind and cold overwhelm the body’s capacity to generate and retain heat. Use the above tips to avoid hypothermia, but remember that good judgment and common sense are the most critical skills you’ll need to apply during cold water paddling. For more kayaking tips and information on kayak rentals, visit the “Captain Mike’s Kayak Academy” site.
- Austin Kayak. (2017). Kayaking Tips – How To Stay Dry When Paddling. Retrieved from https://www.austinkayak.com/blog/2017/10/kayaking-tips-how-to-stay-dry-when-paddling/