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Wear & Bring
the northeast, dress for kayaking depends on water
temperature. Please note the current water temperature
(next paragraph), and read our Water Temperature Note, Warm and
Cold Water Outfitting, Cold Water Risks, and Life Vest Law
sections, all below.
As of January 8, 2018,
the water temperature in western Long Island Sound is 43
degrees, "cold." Please continue reading our
discussion about water temperature risks below. Our current
source for sea temperature data for western LI Sound is National
Oceanographic Data Center - NODC . I scroll down and use
the reading from Kings Point, NY or New Haven, CT.
Check the marine weather
forecast before paddling. I prefer the National Oceanic
& Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data for the New York
to Connecticut coast, at this link: marine
Know the tides. Tides running against the wind cause
choppy conditions. An outgoing tide, combined with offshore
wind makes return to shore more difficult, by a factor of
two-three, or more. Understand how moon phase affects tidal
heights. Know the time of sunset before you launch. I've
computed a 2018
Tide Calendar for South Norwalk, on mobile
geographics. Scroll down the page to input different dates
or sites. I use the Tides app on my iPhone. It automatically
displays tides for the closest location. Both info sources show
time of sunrise/set and tidal height information. For Sun or
Moon Rise/Set Table see this U.S.Naval Observatory site.
The water temperature of Long Island Sound is mild to warm from
June through October, with temperatures from the low-60's to
high-70's. During this time "warm water
outfitting" is appropriate for paddlers close to shore
and those travelling in groups of three or more kayaks.
From November through May, water in western Long Island Sound
ranges from 59 to 32 degrees, cold to frigid! During this time,
"cold water outfitting" is mandatory on Kayak
Adventure lessons and trips. We specialize in outfitting
appropriately for year-round kayaking. Detailed information
follows the discussion of water temperature risks.
Humans need a water temperature of about 72 degrees to maintain
thermal balance. If you lose your kayak and are immersed in
60-70 degree water in summer paddling gear, you may lose
consciousness in 2-7 hours. This is not long enough for someone
to find you alive if it is dark by the time help is contacted.
Check the hypothermia
chart on the boatsafe.com website for a table of
survival times for different water temperatures.
When sea temperatures dip below about
60 degrees, what you wear protects you from "cold shock" and
"gasp reflex," which can take your life within moments of
capsizing, if your head goes underwater (as it does when
you capsize a sit-inside kayak). Individual variation to cold
shock response is wide, and is affected by many factors. Cold
shock deaths are common in April to May, when warm air
temperatures lure unprepared paddlers onto the water.
Hypothermia is a serious threat year-round in the Northeast.
If alone and not dressed properly, you may have only
minutes before your hands become too numb for you to get back
in your kayak. The most serious consequences face solo paddlers
who lose their kayak upon capsizing. This outcome has a high
probability due to three factors:
- a third of paddlers kick the boat away from themselves when
they wet exit.
- sudden immersion into water takes most people by surprise,
and they are disoriented.
- wind can carry an empty kayak away much faster than any
person can swim.
Injuries that impede re-entry
(shoulder, wrist, hernia); medical conditions, such as asthma;
or physiological reactions, such as claustrophobia or panic,
could further reduce your survival time. In early summer, fall,
and throughout the winter, proper dress is the cornerstone of
survival strategy. If you paddle in Maine, Alaska and other
northern destinations, cold water is a year-round
Ms. Kayak's Cold Water
Guidelines: Never paddle alone. Dress for immersion (as if
you plan to fall into the water). Always wear your life vest
fully fastened and equipped with whistle, a waterproof means of
communication, and a Coast Guard approved strobe light. Never
paddle in sea conditions in which you have not practiced
self-rescue. Use a paddle leash. Bring extra layers of clothes,
a hot de-caffeinated beverage, and high-calorie snack to
prevent hypothermia. Don't use 'recreational' kayaks in cold
water. Sit-on-tops have two advantages over sit-in kayaks: your
head usually remains above water if you capsize (so you avoid
gasp reflex), and they are easier to get back onto, getting you
out of cold water and lowering your hypothermia
We recommend that you paddle in groups of at least three
kayaks, paddling in close formation to be ready to help each
other within seconds. All participants should be practiced
in rescue procedures.
"Warm" Water Outfitting (water temperature
above 60 degrees)
Kayaking is a water sport - assume you will get wet.
Use quick-dry nylon or polyester fabrics for your
shorts/trousers/capris and long-sleeved shirt. Please, no
cotton garments. Wear quick-dry underwear or a bathing suit
(women, wear a two-piece suit). Bring a fleece top and
waterproof windbreaker in case of rapid weather change, or to
keep warm after wet exit practice. Wear a hat with dark
under-brim to protect your eyes from glare off the water. Wear
sunglasses with retainer strap. Apply sun screen. If you are
going to become a regular paddler you may want to invest in
neoprene gloves and boots, and a waterproof paddling jacket. We
like neoprene shorts for excellent 'grip' to your kayak, for
easier eskimo rolls, and to keep warm when wet. We rent
neoprene shorts and Farmer Jane/John wetsuits for wet exit,
re-entry and eskimo rolling practice, or when the water is
still cool in June and October.
We recommend paddling gloves and
booties. Gloves keep your hands from sliding on the
paddle shaft, facilitating proper stroke technique. They can be
a critical re-entry aid, giving a sure grip on wet, slippery
surfaces. They prevent chafing and callouses, especially
important on longer trips. Neoprene booties, aqua-socks or
sneakers keep you from slipping on algae covered rocks, and
from getting cut, scraped and bruised when landing and
exploring. They provide excellent contact with footpegs for
maximum drive during the propulsion phase of your forward
stroke. Make sure your footwear has no straps, which can catch
on your footpegs and cause entrapment. Open footwear, such as
flip-flops and sandals, are not permitted for any of our
lessons or trips. (One man was found drowned when he practiced
rolling alone with sandals. Another man severed a toe in the
footbrace track when paddling with bare feet. These incidents
did NOT occur on Kayak Adventure outings!)
Other things to bring: Always bring water. For trips over
ninety minutes, we suggest a high energy snack and 8-10 ounces
of electrolyte-replacement beverage taken every 20-30
minutes. Each person's need for fluid will vary depending on
their weight, sweat rate, exercise intensity & duration,
how they are outfitted, and the weather and sea conditions.
Hydration before and after exercising is critical to optimal
performance and recovery. For an excellent discussion of this
topic, see this sports
Eyewear retainers are recommended. If you bring your cell
phone, a camera or electronic car keys, store them in a dry
bag, waterproof case or in double zip-lock baggies. Nota bene:
You should be able to use your means of communication while it
remains inside the waterproof container.
Here I am dressed in full gear for
a summer multi-day expedition, with Tilley hat, sunglasses, ACR
strobe light, Princeton Tec navigation light, Fox 40 whistle,
Stohlquist Life Vest with tow belt, nylon long-sleeved shirt,
NRS neoprene spray skirt and nylon shorts. Not in the photo are
my NRS Maverick gloves and NRS over-the-ankle zip Paddle
For night time paddling: Kayakers must display
a single white light, not flashing, from sunset until sunrise
while underway. We like an LED bulb on a compact, waterproof
light, such as the UST Marine See-Me Light 1.0 for PFD. Coast
Guard regulations require kayakers to have a night distress
signal. We recommend the ACR "C" Strobe, a compact, life vest
worn, flashing white light to be used only in emergencies.
Lithium batteries are required. The light and strobe must
display these words: "USCG approved."
"Cold" Water Outfitting (water temperature
Your body: Protect your torso by layering, using only
synthetic fabrics, never cotton. Start with quick-dry nylon
bikini or brief style undies. Then put on a long-sleeved
thermal underwear top and a 3mm Farmer Jane/ John wetsuit. Add
a medium weight insulating layer over arms & chest, either
crew or mock-tee style to avoid bulk at the neck. Last put on a
windproof, waterproof, breathable paddling jacket (with gaskets
or secure velcro closures at neck, waist, and wrists). On
winter days I use a thicker insulating layer and add paddling
pants with velcro closures at ankles. If you can afford it, go
for a drysuit or "Semi" drysuit, instead of a wetsuit. Since
drysuits are shell garments, they must be worn with adequate
insulation underneath. Fasten outer shell garments carefully to
protect yourself from cold shock and gasp reflex. We rent
Farmer John/Jane wetsuits for $15. Breathable, waterproof
paddling pants or jackets rent for $5 each. Our cold-water
rental package is $33, including wetsuit, jacket, pants,
gloves, boots and hood.
Your head: Cold-water paddlers should
have a neoprene hood to protect the head from cold shock in
case of accidental immersion. A snug-fitting fleece or wool hat
can be used if you improvise a chin strap. Otherwise, it will
fall off in a capsize. My favorite hood features a visor,
and perforated neoprene ear-flaps, which let you hear better
than other hoods. We rent these for $3. In May &
October, we suggest you wear a regular cap, but carry a
neoprene hood or fleece hat in your life vest pocket in case
you need to warm up quickly. During coldest months, we never go
out without a neck fleece.
Your feet: High-top, 5 to 6.5 mm neoprene
boots (with waterproof liner socks or dry-suit booties) are
warm and flexible. Knee-high mukluks with thick synthetic socks
keep your feet dry if you don't wade in water deeper than your
boot-tops. They must be worn under dry pants, as they will fall
off or fill with water if you capsize. We rent both styles.
Note: To insulate best, all neoprene wear should fit closely,
but with adequate "wiggle" room for toes.
In this winter photo I'm wearing a Kokatat Meridian
drysuit, Stohlquist life vest, neoprene hood, and NRS Toaster
Mitts with gore-tex pogies over my paddle shaft. My
kayak is a Current Designs Willow, and my paddle a 210 cm
AquaBound Spindrift Carbon.
Your hands: Neoprene paddling gloves with
goretex pogies on top are suggested for warmest hands. Our
favorite cold water gloves are 2-3 mm neoprene with a non-slip
palm (NRS or Stearns). For hands that chill fast, use 3 mm
neoprene mittens. For broad hands try the Stohlquist MAW. We
also like 5 mm Deep See Thermocline gloves with zip-back, which
are easy to put on, although they provide less grip. Rental of
any style winter gloves is $3. Goretex pogies over your gloves
keep the wind from cutting through wet neoprene. They are
expensive, but definitely worth the price for winter paddlers.
We rent them for $5.
Other gear: Bring your personal supply of
water and snacks.
If you are outfitting your own kayak, we recommend these items:
Paddle leash by North Water Rescue $29.95; Fox40 pea-less
whistle $6.95; ACR C-strobe $25; Brunton 58 kayak compass $65;
SOLAS tape strips for paddle and boat $10. A whistle and life
vest are Coast Guard required.
Everyone should carry: a cell phone and/or VHF
radio in waterproof case, compass, first-aid kit, hot beverage
in a thermos, snacks, extra warming layers, and duct tape.
LIFE VEST LAW - CT state boating
regulations require you to wear a life vest from October 1
through May 31, when the water is dangerously cold. New
York State Navigation Law requires life jacket wear from
November 1 through May 1 for vessels under 21 feet. MA
regulations require a life vest be worn from September 15
through May 15. It is not enough to "wear" the vest. It must be
fully fastened. A life vest that is unzipped will float off if
you capsize, trapping your arms and making it difficult to swim
and maneuver. I've personally seen two men lose their lifevests
while practicing wet exits. They had not tightened the side
On October 12, 2003 two college-age women died in Nantucket
Sound, Massachusetts. According to the Boston Globe,
they launched from the boat ramp at Harwichport, MA in two 8
foot plastic kayaks wearing t-shirts and bathing suits. When
they hadn't returned forty minutes later, two friends called
the local fire department and a search was started. Friends and
family said the women, 20 and 19 years old, were athletic and
strong swimmers. Mary, a junior at Brandeis College, had taken
a course in sea kayaking several years before. A helicopter
found the kayaks the next day at 10:34 am, tied together and
floating about a mile off the coast of Monomoy Island. The
Coast Guard found Mary's body four miles south of Monomoy
Island. Sara was never found.
Two young men fishing off a single kayak died in
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts on October 14, 2002 when their
kayak floated away and they tried to swim after it. They
succumbed to swimming failure in the cold water.
A 35 year old Yale graduate and strong athlete who paddled
regularly between East Haven and Branford lost his life on
November 8, 2002. His recreational kayak and a backpack washed
ashore November 9, but his body was not found until December 3.
There is no indication that he was wearing a life vest,
although he did have a sprayskirt. The water temperature was
between 53-61 degrees. The winds were 20 to 30 knots. Seas were
reported to be four feet or more. A small craft advisory was in
None of these paddlers were wearing life vests.
Copyright 2018, Michele M Sorensen. All rights