Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chapter 15: Saved by a Drysuit

I can't stress enough the importance of wearing a drysuit when paddling in cooler water temperatures. I wear mine pretty much any time the water is less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, when the air temperatures are cold as well, or when I know I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the water getting wet like when teaching rolling or playing in the surf.

I think it is pretty obvious that the two men in this incident had no business being out paddling in this environment with the level of inexperience that they both had. George Gronseth pulls no punches when he recounts all the mistakes that were made by this pair of novices. These two racked up many more mistakes in this story than most of the chapters in this book that end in fatalities, and yet. . . they both survived. Why? Saul was lucky enough to make it to shore, but Larry survived several hours in the water and a cold night marooned on an island thanks to the drysuit he was wearing.

A drysuit is no substitute for developing the kayaking skills, knowledge, and experience needed for paddling in a marine (or Great Lakes) environment. However, skills, knowledge, and experience may not be enough if you end up getting dumped into cold water. A drysuit may seem like a very expensive piece of gear, but it can be really cheap life insurance in the event of an unexpected capsize and swim. I've taken an extended swim in an arctic river and gone swimming in the surf in January on Lake Michigan. I know the value of a drysuit from personal experience.

I'm sharing a couple more YouTube videos that I found showing the difference that wearing a drysuit can make when immersed in very cold water. Do you disagree? Have you ever worn a drysuit? Do you have any personal experiences to share?



  1. What underlayers do you wear under the drysuit in varying conditions? Full drysuit or just top when practicing rolls or surfing?

    The warm air, cold water combo is common for winters, in the North Carolina piedmont.

  2. I always wear synthetic layers under my drysuit. I like Patagonia Capilene tops and bottoms of varying weights depending on the water and air temps. I also have a variety of other clothing pieces from Immersion Research, REI, Kokatat, NRS, and others. On warm days, I wear a single layer of tops and bottoms. In winter, I may be wearing as much as two layers on the bottom and three layers on top. Most people I paddle with go with the single layer and vary the thickness of the clothing pieces more often than adding extra layers. I tend to get chilled very easily and rarely overheat.

  3. I forgot to answer the second part of your question. While I own a dry top as well as several full drysuits, I rarely wear my drytop. It seems to me that I see more of my whitewater kayaking friends using the drytops as they are likely to be able to get out of the water sooner in the event of a wet exit. My sea kayaking friends all tend to wear the full suit rather than just the dry top.