Saturday, May 8, 2010

Chapter 8: Long Swims

Are you prepared to spend a long time in the water when you go kayaking? Richard Hudson had no intentions of spending any time in the water as he was finishing up his 1,700-mile trip down the Yukon River in 1986. He had just 40 miles to go to get to Nome where he planned to end the trip when he got hit broadside by a breaking wave and was knocked over. He managed to brace back up but got knocked over again before deciding to wet exit.

Richard was pretty well prepared with gear and had quite a bit of paddling experience, but still found himself swimming in 45-degree water in a remote location. Without getting into what he might have done differently to avoid finding himself in this situation, I think the important question we all need to ask ourselves is "How would I handle having to swim in 45-degree (or just cold) water if I was unable to re-enter my kayak?" (And believe me, there are plenty of reasons why even the most skilled paddler might find him/herself in the water unable to get back into a kayak.)

Have you gone swimming in the clothing that you paddle in? What were you wearing? How long were you in the water? How cold was the water?

If you don't know what to wear, I suggest you read my blog posts on "Dressing for Paddling - Parts 1, 2, & 3" on my website,

If you haven't taken the time to test out your cold water paddling gear by taking an intentional swim, now is a good time (at least here in the upper Midwest). The water is still pretty cold, but the air temperature is a little more moderate. Take your swim near shore and time how long you can stay in the water before you start to get too cold. Make sure you have a warm building or car to go into when you're done. It would also be a good idea to have someone standing by on shore to keep an eye on you just in case. Let's hear your results.



  1. I have done many wet exits/rolls in dry tops and pants, which always let water in despite the name. two winters ago, practicing low brace turns in 45º water I found myself upside down in my boat - the low brace turn, when done poorly can submerge your paddle, next thing you know your upside down. I set up for my roll, and it didn't go. I did my bomber storm roll, and it didn't go. I ended up wet exiting and doing a paddle float re-entry. I blame the failed rolls on extremely cold water, making me rush my roll, and lifting my head. The following fall I bought the Kokatat Gore tex meridian dry suit and I love it. The single most expensive piece of clothing I have ever bought, and worth every penny.

  2. I would have to agree with your comments. One other possible reason for your failed rolls could be cold water in your ears. I found this to be a problem for me several years ago when I was learning to roll. I experience a slight disorientation in cold water that goes away if I keep the water out of my ear canals. I wear a very warm neoprene hood and have started using ear plugs.