With temperatures approaching the 70s over much of Iowa, river users and paddlers are reminded that while the air temperature feels warm, the water is still ice-water cold and the threat for hypothermia and cold water shock is very high.
“This is the time of year when paddlers get the spring fidgets and we want to remind them to dress for the water, not the air,” said Todd Robertson, river programs outreach coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “The general rule is that if the water and air temperatures do not equal 120 degrees, you are risk for hyperthermia.”
Dry suits or wetsuits are recommended for all paddling until the water temperatures hit a safe level, which is usually in late April or early May. If paddling on a lake, a dry suit is highly recommended as it keeps you dry if you dump your boat into the water. A wetsuit on the other hand, only buys you time to get to shore and into dry clothing, he said.
If paddling in cold water conditions, Robertson offered these simple safety tips:
- Do NOT paddle alone. Use the buddy system preferably with a few other people who have cold water experience.
- Take a dry bag with plenty of dry clothing.
- File a float plan, even if it’s just telling friends and family where you are paddling and when you can be expected back.
- Don’t wear cotton as it absorbs cold water. Make sure to use a proper layering system underneath or on top of your wetsuit/dry suit.
- Always wear your lifejacket. A properly fitted lifejacket will keep you above the water surface. Hypothermia causes the loss of coordination and movement becomes limited. A lifejacket is necessary to stay afloat.
Paddling in early spring has its rewards, but it can also bring danger if not properly prepared.
Cold water paddling information from the American Canoe Association: