Friday, 20 October 2006 06:26

Dress for the Water - Can you swim for 45 minutes?

Off season paddling, for me, it is the best time of the year. I teach all summer so I don’t get much time to get out and do some paddling for myself so I look forward to the off season when teaching slows down and my own recreational paddling goes way up.

That is good because for me, the fall is the best time of the year to paddle as the storms roll in bringing with them wind and waves. The offside to it is that fall brings cooler air thus cooler water.

You have probably read 1003 articles on how to dress for the weather all with info saying, "dress for the water, not the air" and other stuff along that line. I was recently talking to a friend of mine who was reading an article about dressing for the cold by Atlantic Kayak Tours. The article brings out a really interesting point. When choosing clothing for water, you should plan with the idea that you might need to swim in the water for 45 minutes and still be functional when you get back in your boat.

Thinking about that, it really changed my perspective. Things became a lot more personal. The offshore buoy today is reading the water temperature at 8 degrees C. How long could I swim in that water before getting really cold or losing dexterity? I have a dry suit and lots of long underwear and fleece so I would be OK but 45 minutes is a long time when you think about it!

This got me to my next question, when would I be in a situation where I would actually be swimming for 45 min? I paddle 90% of the time along the shore, I also mainly paddle in an urban environment so I am not out in the "wilderness" very often. Then I realized something and it seems quite obvious, if something goes wrong and you have trouble getting back in your boat; by the time help gets there with the best response, you are easily looking at least 45 min or more likely an hour.

Yesterday the US Coast Guard rescued two kayakers who were out paddling a mile off the coast of Pescadero Point, California. Something happened and they needed help. According to the article, the chopper left at 8:18am but didn’t find them until an hour later at 9:20.

The next time you are out paddling, ask yourself, "If I needed help now, how long would it realistically take for somebody to get here?" Are you able to give your exact position right away? If not, how long would it take for a boat or helicopter to get out there and find you? It all adds up really quickly even in the best weather conditions.

When you are teaching and the conversation around clothing comes up, make sure you plant the idea of the 45 minute rule. It will help your beginner students put clothing/water and realistic rescue response times into perspective so hopefully they will make wise choices when they are out on their own.
David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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