Sunday, April 4, 2010

Dressed to kill

Cooling off in frigid waters

Marie left a post on our NewsGroup with a question about what kind of thermal protection to wear at this time of the season when air temperature may be warm but the water is still cold. Even with water temperatures are in the 1 - 2 C degree range I don't think there's a one size fits all answer.

Everyone knows the saying "Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature". I don't think its that simple as there are a number of factors to consider before dolling up to get on the water.

Yes, dress for water temperature if you expect to be in the water a long time which could happen if you paddle solo or if you and the rest of your party don't know how to do an efficient rescue.

If you trust your paddle buddies to get you back in your boat promptly you could dress a bit lighter on a warm day just to avoid the sudden cold shock.

The amount of personal insulation you carry will also bear on the layering you pick. Someone with a higher body fat content will not feel the cold as much as say, Jack Sprat.

Metabolic rate has an impact on how fast you heat up when exercising. Some people build up heat quickly when exercising and built up heat will give extra time in the water before the effects of cold water are felt.

Consider the sea state and your own skill levels to assess the risk of going in the drink.

The first thing I decide on with the cold waters as we have here is whether to wear a neoprene skull cap and neoprene mitts or gloves. It doesn't matter how many layers you have on under your drysuit if you succumb to cold shock and the gasp reflex and drown before surfacing or your hands get so cold you can't use them to get back in your boat.

The right amount of thermal protection is what works for you and you have to try that out by trial and error. Dress, paddle, get in the water. Check out how it feels under different circumstances.

Above all else, err on the side of caution. I'd rather be a bit hot and uncomfortable in the boat paddling than find out when I'm in the water I'm under-dressed.

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