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Irish Sea Kayaking Association


! ! Winter Sea Kayaking


Irish Sea Kayaking Association

Hi Folks, Welcome to the latest edition of TnadT. This issue is focused on winter paddling. The yachts are up in dry docks, the lobster boats are tied up and the beaches are empty. The sea is a greater wilderness. Preparation is key and with regard to winter paddling, being suitably attired and prepared can allow you enjoy the sea as much as the other seasons, perhaps more. That said, the risks associated with sea kayaking do increase with

myself I would get a serious case of the DT’s if I stopped kayaking cold turkey. Besides I have often found kayaking during the winter to be the most enjoyable time of the year. The crisp clean air and the various sea conditions on offer can be most exhilarating. We are blessed in this country to have boundless kayaking locations, lakes and rivers and of course the sea.

winter paddling and cannot be offset by the latest drysuit. Colder water means shortened survival times, worse weather means higher risk of swimming, fewer people using the water to come to your aid, more hours of darkness and so on. Every aspect of your sea kayaking ‘game’ needs to be upped and your margins for safety need to be even greater. Cold water immersion is not well studied, given its significant risks for experiment participants. Thus advice you receive here must be considered as opinion, based perhaps, on experience, but largely not on proven fact. So judge the information for yourself. Thanks to Brian, Alan, Ali, Sue, Des and myself for contributing. Ali’s pics are the ones with the large ice cubes. Happy reading. Happy paddling. Tadhg

Sea Kayaking in the Winter Months by Brian McMahon The summer has come and gone and what a summer is was. Warm sunshine and even warmer waters made it one of the most enjoyable summers for sea kayaking in many years.

Fig. 1 Cliffs of Moher Co. Clare

Those long and hazy days are now a distant

I am twice blessed by being lucky enough to live in the west, County Clare to be exact. That

and happy memory. Winter has landed on our

gives me loads of kayaking options which are

doorsteps. For some that is the time to put

normally dictated by the weather and prevail-

their trusty kayak into storage until spring. For others it is business as usual. Speaking for

ing conditions. I have Lough Derg on my door-


step as well as the Shannon Estuary, which is a gem of a place to kayak and last but not

Irish Sea Kayaking Association

least the Atlantic. Even on the worst of days, there is always somewhere to go for a paddle.

time from you broadcasting a “mayday” and the arrival of the rescue services can as much

Common sense dictates where to go.

as an hour if not more. You cannot rely on the

There are hard and fast rules to follow especially if you are kayaking solo. No open crossings; hand railing is the name of the game here. Also the shore that you are following must be safe to get out if things turn nasty. Also no off shore winds or tidal streams, you can paddle safely as long as the prevailing conditions blow you to safety and not to Boston. I am also very lucky to have a number of sea kayakers in my area that are of the same mind and who try to get out at least once a week regardless of the weather. Paddling with trusted companions who will come to your assistance (once they have taken photographic evidence and have finished laughing) is of course preferable.

coastguard helicopter being available to come to your assistance. Rescue 115 in Shannon has had record “shouts” this year. The possibility that they have been “tasked” when you call is a strong one. So you need to allow for being in the water for more than an hour. So wear layers, have proper head cover, have gloves or pogies on. When your body temperature drops your hands and feet will start to lose feeling. Your ability to grip your boat, paddle will be severely diminished. Carry spare clothing and a storm shelter in your boat. If you get stranded, wind chill will drop your body temperature nearly as fast as if you were immersed in water. Carry hot drinks with you in a flask, or if you expect to stop carry the means to boil water for soup or tea. In the past ten years most of the fatalities that have befallen kayakers have resulted because of the cold and not drowning. Allow for the possibility that you may run out of daylight on your paddle. Carry a head torch with “red light” function, the red light prevents loss of night vision. If there is a possibility that you may lose the light on your paddle it is strongly advised that you paddle in an area that is familiar to you. This greatly reduces the risks.

Fig 2. Icy conditions in the west of Ireland.

Also, carry some light sticks, a map and compass. Also if possible carry a backup GPS.

So what do you need to keep you safe and comfortable during the colder months? Your first priority is to wear the right clothing. A drysuit is the preferred option. Your survival time in the water is trebled if you are wearing a drysuit with suitable layers underneath. The coast guard will freely admit that response


Make sure that you have the various safe get out points saved onto your GPS as waypoints. Check OSI maps and Google earth before you paddle mark safe landings on your map and programme the GPS with the coordinates as well. When winter paddling if you are not with a strong group it is much safer to paddle in

Irish Sea Kayaking Association

familiar areas where you know the get out points.

Brian McMahon (call sign Blue Nun) November 2013.

Kayak-y Christmas. by Sue Honan We wouldn’t be sea kayakers if we weren’t a little (well, quite a bit) obsessed with the kit we use and wear. Christmas is just around the headland and here are some ideas for your Christmas stocking. Just leave this page open Fig. 3 Allow for the fact that you may run out of daylight on your paddle

on your device of choice and leave it where Mr or Mrs Santa can see it and if they miss it, you can always treat yourself instead. 1. Vouchers: I just like these.

Another point to consider is if you are paddling

Available from suppliers listed.

on a lake or a river the water temperature can be as much as 5 to 7 degrees colder than the sea. You also have less buoyancy due to lack of salt in the water. You must always allow for the fact that you may end up swimming. Even

DeepBlue: The Old Firestation George’s Place

the best roll can fail in cold water. The colder

Dun Laoghaire

the water the more likely you will suffer cold


water shock when you capsize. The initial 086 8205627

gasp reflex will kick in and all those roll set ups will go out the window.


If you end up swimming tuck into a foetal posi-

30 Canal Walk

tion and preserve your core. If possible get


your core out of the water as soon as possible,

Dublin 12 Ireland

climb up on back deck and wait for rescue. Above all use your common sense, check the weather before you launch and allow yourself plenty of light to get home. If you are properly

Phone+353-(0)16205666 Email:

prepared and you are properly equipped, there

The Great Outdoors water-sports store 3 Clarendon Street,

is no reason why you can’t keep paddling all year round.

Dublin 2, Ireland. 01 679 4293


Irish Sea Kayaking Association

River Deep Mountain High River Deep Mountain High 11 Patrick St Limerick Co. Limerick Ireland Tel. (061) 400 944 Unit 10 The Cornstore Middle St


Galway Co. Galway Ireland Tel. (091) 563 938

NRS Thick Skin thermal base layer

Pogies, Gloves and Mitts

Kokatat surfskin balaclava Warm and toasty, soft and flexible

Figure Tropos Kayak Mitts


Irish Sea Kayaking Association

As you read these words, I want you to stop, close your eyes and try to visualise the room you are in. Then try to visualise the same room without plastic. Yes it’s everywhere your clothes, your computer, window frames, phone, cups, bottles even your paddle and kayak. We live in a world of plastic there is no getting away from it. Plastics have been around only since 1933 when Polyethylene was invented. In the 1940s and 50s new forms of plastics were invented

Figure Neo kayak Mitt Short

such as Polystyrene, Polyvinylchloride (PVC) , Polypropylene ND Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Today global production of plastics is estimated at 220 million tonnes/year and, as plastics are mainly made from petrochemicals this uses up about 4% of annual global oil production, quite some staggering numbers. So plastics have numerous and beneficial uses in the modern world and are used in industry and manufacturing from high-tech to low tech from medical devices to food packag-

Figure NRS Pogies

ing. However, there is a downside to this global use of plastics – as many plastic products have a short useful life especially so for plastic packaging that is single use only.

Marine Pollution by Alan Horner I can proudly say that within Irish sea kayaking today there is generally a positive and respectful attitude to the ocean and sea shore environment with wide spread use of environmentally friendly practices such as the well- known “Leave No Trace” principles. As Sea Kayakers in Ireland we are both visitors and guardians to the ocean/sea shore environment but we have to realise that the Ma-

Fig. 1 Unfortunately relatively little plastic is

rine environment is under pressure from human activities both at sea and on land. In this

recycled with an estimated recycling rate of

first issue of “Tidelines” I focus on plastic marine pollution.


7% worldwide and 21 % within the EU.

Irish Sea Kayaking Association

So much of our used plastic packaging goes to landfill where it will take thousands of years to

tural run-off, discharge of nutrients and pesti-

degrade, however as you can see from the

cides and untreated sewage including plastics)

picture below a good proportion of our dis-

account for approximately 80% of marine pol-

carded plastic is entering the Marine environ-

lution, globally.

ment. In 2009, researchers from Nihon University in Chiba, Japan, found that plastic in warm ocean water can degrade in as little as a year. This

Land-based sources (such as agricul-

Agricultural practices, coastal tourism, port and harbour developments, damming of rivers, urban development and construction,

doesn't sound so bad until you realize those

mining, fisheries, aquaculture, and manufac-

small bits of plastic are toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer (BPA

turing, among others, are all sources of marine

and PS oligomer disrupt the function of hor-


mones in animals and affect reproduction). These end up in the guts of animals or wash

pollution threatening coastal and marine habi-

Plastics help to reduce our carbon foot-

up on shorelines, where humans are most likely to come into direct contact with the tox-

print. They provide improved insulation, lighter


medical devices, etc. but appropriate disposal

packaging, are found in phones, computers, is often not addressed. Seven of the EU Member States plus Norway and Switzerland recover more than 80% of their used plastics. These countries adopt an integrated waste and resource management strategy to address each waste stream with the best options. However, waste and disposal remain an issue in most of the world.

Fig. 2 Plastics & Polystyrene washed up after

The United Nations Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square

Storm, Hook Head Co. Wexford

mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floatTake a closer look next time you go digging in the sand on a beach near you, you may also find hundreds of tiny plastic beads washed onto the shoreline.

ing plastic. Once discarded, plastics are weathered and eroded into very small fragments known as micro-plastics. These together with plastic

Here are some facts and figures on Ma-

pellets are already found in most beaches around the world.

rine Pollution from UNESCO;

Oceanic currents concentrate plastic materials and other litter in certain areas of the 7!

Irish Sea Kayaking Association

ocean. The largest garbage patch is in the North Pacific Gyre.

This website is also helpful.

The North Pacific Gyre contains the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This occupies a

Micro Plastics

relatively stationary area that is twice the size of Texas. Waste material from across the North Pacific Ocean, including coastal waters off North America and Japan, collects here.

Did you know that in the past decade, more and more personal care products sold around the world contain microplastic particle abrasives employed as an exfoliator? This plastic is actually de-

The Five Ocean Gyres.

signed to be washed down the drain! Plastic debris gathers at the centre of ocean gyres. Gyres are huge, slow moving whirlpools of current that rotate in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. The water at the centre of the gyre moves more slowly than the water at the edge causing marine debris to collect in the centre. The North Pacific Gyre is the largest, and there are smaller Gyres in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

Fig.4 Some cosmetic products contain micro plastics.

Micro-plastics from washing machine wastewater are polluting our beaches. Plastic fragments less than 1mm in size, known as ‘micro- plastics’ are polluting marine habitats. The tiny plastic particles from laundry wastewater are being washed into the marine environment, according to recent research. Fig. 3 Map of the five ocean Gyres.

Microfibres from polyester clothing (Fleece, Synthetic Thermals etc.) are entering the waste water system. They are so small they

For additional information please visit the web-

pass through water filtration systems and are

site of the not for profit organisation called

piped into the ocean.The plastic, from syn- which gives some excellent

thetic clothes cleaned in domestic washing machines, is a significant source of contamina-

background information on the plastic marine pollution.


tion and, unless measures are taken to ad-

Irish Sea Kayaking Association

dress the problem, growing coastal populations will only exacerbate the situation. The accumulation of micro plastics in marine environments has raised health and safety concerns. They can contain potentially harmful ingredients that go into the bodies of marine creatures and may be transferred to people through consumption of fish. The effects of plastic marine pollution Plastic debris in the oceans causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals but photos are more powerful than words.

Fig. 7 An Albatross Chick from the Midway Islands, Pacific Ocean, dead from eating plastics

To learn more please visit : out and Despair or Action? Of course, we can despair at the colossal scale of plastic pollution and its effects; can we help at all? Fig. 5 Plastic Bags – To a Turtle floating plastic

Plastics are so ingrained in our modern society

bags look like a tasty jellyfish

that we would be hard pressed to do without them anymore. It is our failure to dispose of


plastics properly at their end of life that is causing most problems in the marine environment. Therefore, using less and disposing of plastic safely is the most effective way we can lessen their impact on the environment. A few steps we can take at a local level to reduce plastic consumption and dispose of it responsibly. Cut down or cut out single use plastics (Disposables)

Fig. 6 Seal Caught in Marine debris Source:

1 Choose products that use packaging from sustainable sources like cardboard instead 2 Choose Fast Food & Takeaway outlets that don’t using Plastic Packaging 9!

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3 Avoid food products that come only in disposable plastic 4 Choose a re-fillable - re-usable metal water bottle 5

Increase your recycling

6 Use the local recycling facility and separate out the recyclables into their segregation codes 7 Buy products in recyclable or minimised packaging 8 Don’t forget that recyclable plastic eventually reaches end of useful life and will end up in landfill 9 Prevent Micro-Plastics getting into our waste water 10 Ladies avoid using exfoliators that contain micro plastic beads 11 Switch to natural fibre clothing and reduce the use/wear of Polyester clothing

For information on what is happening at National and EU Level please click on the following link e-litterwaste-what-the-eu-northern-ireland-andrepublic-of-ireland-are-doing-and-not-doing-ab out-it/

Winter Paddling by Sue Honan

Positive action by kayakers. 1 Bring a bag of plastic waste home from the shoreline each time you paddle and recycle it or dispose of it in landfill 2 Take part in shoreline clean ups in your local area 3 Make sure your kayaking kit is secure and doesn’t fall overboard 4 Secure Hats, Gloves, water bottles and other On-Deck stuff 5 Don’t use polystyrene as buoyancy for your Canoe or kayak On a wider scale, it will take political action on a national and EU level to introduce restrictions on packaging waste, encourage more recycling and encourage the use of biodegradable “plastic packaging” made from Cellulose.


In the USA, a rapid's class goes up one point if the water temperature is below 10oC and for sea kayakers cold makes the trip more challenging even when the sea is calm. Obviously one of the main reasons people don’t paddle over winter is how cold it can be. No one likes being cold and wet, even in summer. So, with this in mind, in this issue we take a look at how to be safe when winter paddling. Ali Donald provides hints and tips on dealing with cold (and the heat), Brian McMahon writes on paddling throughout the winter months in the west of Ireland, and we offer some ideas on equipment and safety for paddling in the cold.

Irish Sea Kayaking Association

Benefits of winter paddling For many sea kayakers the shorter days in autumn herald the end of their paddling year, kit packed away when the hour goes back and and r/ireland/26 many surf websites also provide sea temperature information.

not seen again until spring. Yet sea kayaking in

Mean sea temperatures for buoy M2 Irish Sea

winter has much to offer. It sharpens our skills, it maintains and improves paddling fitness for

2001 – 2011 (oC)

next season, and allows us to get the most out


of our longer, summertime paddles without the


















The waters around our coasts are remarkably



warm, about 7° to 8°C warmer than the average global sea temperature at these latitudes



thanks to the warm North Atlantic Drift, the



‘where is all my stuff?, my muscles ache, ooh this sea is a bit chilly’ phase. In winter, we see wildlife in a different mood – survival modefeeding intently trying to gain condition for the long journey to their summer breeding grounds. The abandoned nests dotted along the cliffs emphasises the fragility of life on the edge.

How cold is ‘cold’?

main ocean current affecting Ireland. Even so, the sea temperature can be cold enough to kill.


Cold- water paddling conditions exist when the sea temperature is below 15oC, which in Irish


waters can be throughout the year. This year had another exceptionally cold winter, in January 2013, sea ice occurred in Kinvara Co. Galway; sea ice begins to form when the water temperature is -1.9oC.

Coping with cold conditions - Dress for immersion In cold water, your body loses heat due to the

How do we know how cold the sea is? The

movement of water across your skin. This rap-

Marine Institute has data buoys around the

idly draws heat away from your body, cooling

Irish coast which show sea temperatures. Fig.

you down. When you dress for immersion, your clothing decreases or removes water cir-

1 shows the location of marine data buoys in Irish waters, Table 1 shows mean sea tem-

culation over the skin, keeping you warmer for

peratures at buoy M2 Irish Sea. You can check

longer and delaying hypothermia. Keeping

the water temperatures in your patch of sea by

warm is vital as you may be in the water for an

looking at the buoy reports at 11!

Irish Sea Kayaking Association

hour or more once the emergency services are contacted.

Looking at this advice, I’d say a fair number of Irish sea kayakers are probably under dressed

What does this mean for our clothing? It

for the conditions more often than they think.

means wear a dry suit, or wet suit with dry cag (or a dry cag with dry pants), thermal base layers with a ‘onesie/wooly bear’ (or other thermal layers), thermal socks inside dry suit feet. If using a wetsuit wear neoprene booties over Goretex socks, have a neoprene spray deck, gloves and hat. Many kayakers will already have the main components of this list so it’s a matter a adding one or two key pieces. Now this might seem like too much and before last season, I would have agreed with you, until I went paddling in Anglesey in March. It snowed and blew and I wore every layer of clothing I owned under my dry suit plus ther-

Water Temp

Keep Dry Keeping dry is key to keeping warm and while you might see a dry suit only for ‘serious’ paddling, they are worth considering. Dry suits are now much cheaper and if you intend to paddle throughout the winter are worth the investment because at the end of the day a dry suit will keep you dry and therefore warmer. As an alternative look for cags and trousers with latex seals as they let less water in. Soft neoprene necks get wet and wick water into your base

Risk of Hypothermia

Appropriate clothing


Clothing for the weather

12 - 15°C


Wetsuit or dry suit

7 -12°C


Dry suit recommended

below 7°C


Dry suit strongly recommended Source: American Canoe As-


and over

sociation mal balaclava and hat. I fell in once and although I got back into my boat quickly, I felt

layers cooling the body down. Some paddlers even in winter do not wear wetsuits or dry suits

deeply cold for a good while afterwards and

and in heavy rain or big seas get soaked

was glad of the quality and the amount of

through, exposing themselves (and their

clothing I wore.

friends) to hypothermia situations before they even have the chance to fall in. Lunch stops are another place where the cold bites, if you find yourself shivering, you need more layers,


Irish Sea Kayaking Association

so always bring spare clothes and a shelter, even if nine times out of ten they don’t leave

At the same time as the gasp reflex occurs, the blood vessels in the skin constrict and in-

the hatch.

crease the blood flow back to the heart. This,

Be able to regulate your temperature – Use your head. So there you are, ‘suited up’ to cope with the cold, ready to go and after ten minutes, boy it’s hot and you want to take it all off. The thing is dressing for immersion is fine if you are in the

together with an increased heart rate and hydrostatic squeeze from the water, raises the blood pressure dramatically. This dangerous combination can lead to death from cardiac arrest or stroke in susceptible individuals. Pogies and Gloves

water. When paddling, how to cool down is likely to be the issue and the only way to do

While most sea kayakers are aware of hypo-

this is with your head and neck. Use a combi-

stiffening of hands and arms if you fall in. In

nation of beanie and neck gaiter; keep a thermal balaclava handy and a hood on your cag or dry suit. With all this flexibility of headwear, keeping cool or warm should not be a problem. Half of your body heat is lost through your head and once in the water, a wet head contributes to rapid onset of hypothermia. A hat is essential not only regulate body temperature to also to avoid the body’s reflex of ‘shock inhalation’ of cold water, which can be fatal if you fall in.

thermia, what is more important is the rapid water below 10oC, a capsized kayaker may completely lose the use of their hands after less than 10 minutes in the water. Therefore, wear clothing that will help extend the time before your hands and arms go numb. Pogies allow a direct grip on the paddle shaft and your hands will dry faster if they get wet. If you capsize, you will need to take your hands out of the pogies and risk losing the ability to grip the boat, deck lines or paddle. Some pogies have tight or floppy openings - don’t be temptedlook for pogies that you can slide your hands easily in and out of, without using the other

Cold shock inhalation Cold-water shock is a major factor in boating fatalities. It happens when someone is suddenly immersed in cold water. The water does not have to be freezing; cold-water shock often occurs in water temperatures above 10°C. The body’s first response to cold-water shock is usually an involuntary gasp (torso reflex).

hand or your teeth. Gloves will protect you better in colder weather, especially if you are in the water but you may find that gloves cause cramp in your wrists and forearms. Palm-less mitts are a compromise of sorts. Toastie Toes

Hyperventilation (rapid breathing) and breathlessness follow. The person may feel claustro-

To prevent water entering at the ankles and

phobic, panicked and confused. Cold water

cooling your feet, buy booties that zip over

greatly reduces the victim’s ability to hold his breath, control breathing and impairs the ability

your ankle. Use Goretex socks inside neo-

to swim.

dry suit wear thermal socks within your dry suit


prene booties to keep warmer and if suing a

Irish Sea Kayaking Association

feet. Make sure you can fit your feet under your deck when buying footwear.


Skills for cold paddling.

has paddled in Sweden several times and has

If you are new to winter paddling, you have to start somewhere. Dress for immersion and paddle with more experienced people until you are confident in your skills. Winter seas are often rougher so having solid brace strokes will also help keep you safe. Always paddle in places appropriate to the conditions and know the location of escape points if you need to get off the water in a hurry. People immersed in cold water lose body heat four to five times faster than when in air of the same temperature. In winter, therefore, you don’t want to be out of your kayak hanging around waiting to be rescued so use winter pool sessions to perfect your roll and practise assisted re- entries and self -rescues. Time yourself when practising rescues in the sea and aim to be back in your kayak as quickly as possible. If you find yourself waiting around in the water, adopt the HELP position (Heat Escape Lessening Position).

Mick Carroll (East Coast Sea kayaking Club) several tips for paddling in ice conditions, he tells me “Falling into freezing water is not an option so you paddle very carefully. I wore the same paddling gear as we wear in Ireland as very often the air temperature is not too cold (not lower than -5oC) with a lot of sunshine and no wind. While the water temperature is below freezing with your spray deck on you can feel very comfortable. This type of weather is very beautiful to paddle in with super calm water, bright warm sunshine and snow covered islands everywhere and the only sound the dip of your paddle. Clip your tow line on PFD to keep from freezing to deck. Put a flexible piece of tubing over the release handle of spray deck to ensure it does not stick to itself or the deck or tape it into a straight line. If you are walking on the ice to reach the water’s edge you need a pair of ice picks if you fall through in order to haul yourself out as hands alone won't work but the cheap little ice picks that all Swedish ice lane skaters carry work well.” Ali Donald on keeping warm (and cool) in Greenland; Ali was on the North of Disko- Galway to Greenland team that kayaked 250km along the east coast of Greenland in 2013. He has paddled in extreme environments across the world such as New Zealand, Chile and Norway. I asked him for his thoughts on paddling in cold conditions, he says “The wind chill makes paddling in Ireland as challenging as anywhere in the world and my

Fig. 2 Heat Escape Lessening Position.

approach is to keep my body’s core warm. On Source:

the water, my cockpit was insulated with sleeping mat foam but my clothing was no different 14!

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to what I’d wear in Ireland in winter – headwear, quality thermal base layers with wicking ating/Lifejackets/Survive-in-cold-water.asp

ability and a dry suit. I found a fleece gillet jacket useful over my thermals as it kept my

arms free while adding warmth to my body.


Apart from the water temperature (which was 2oC), paddling in Greenland was warmer than

in Ireland in winter because we had no wind chill to deal with. Our biggest problem was what to do when out of the boats when we stopped to cook hot meals for lunch –then we got really cold. We needed to be well prepared for getting out and had a full change of windproof clothing.

/training/Web%20Documents/RYA%20Training /Instructors/Shorebased/Cold%20shock%20an d%20hypothermia.pdf -water-immersion.aspx

Risks of Cold Water paddling.

I prefer to stay dry at all costs and didn’t wear

by Tadhg de Barra

neoprene mukluks on my feet. I wore two pairs of ski socks inside my dry suit with my usual

The risks of immersion are the same no matter

boots. I don’t usually like to wear anything on my hands but used pogies for the first 10-15 minutes while I warmed up and then left them off. What did make a huge difference to my com-

what the water temperature. We’re land based mammals and there’s no getting around that. That said, colder temperatures certainly expose our incompatibility with water in a more prompt manner. Hypothermia is the one we

fort was having a small square of thermarest

know all about, but its a long way off. Golden and Hervey in 1981 described four stages of

on my glass seat. A square of camping mat

immersion risk;

foam would probably do a similar job.

1 Initial Response 0-3 mins

My Peak UK dry suit had an adjustable neck seal which I opened if I needed to cool down Together with my hat I always had a fleece lined balaclava within reach and used that and dry suit hood to control my temperature.”

2 Short Term Response 3-30mins 3 Long Term Response >30 mins 4 Post Immersion Response These stages basically track the progression of cooling caused by water. Initial is rapid cooling of the skin and its associated physiological

You can check out Ali’s unique adventure at

changes. Short Term is cooling of the peripheral musculature and its consequences. Long term is core cooling.

The wheel has turned a full circle; in the 19th ater.php

Century, drowning was thought to be the hazard, in the 20th, people believed hypothermia was, now drowning is again considered the main hazard. It is physically impossible for


Irish Sea Kayaking Association

an adult to loose heat so fast as to cool the core, ie to cause hypothermia within thirty

Prevention; Obviously reducing your chances of immersion

minutes. Thus the newspaper headline “Death

is the first safety measure. Minimizing skin ex-

from Hypothermia in minutes” is wrong.

posure, particularly the face which has many cold receptors, so hoods, dry suits, gloves and

Initial Response (aka Cold Shock) These physiological responses are worse in

as much skin protection as is practicable is in order. Consider your options regarding pfd,

colder water up to at 10 degrees but don't get

inflated lifejacket and inflatable jacket. Cold

much worse at lower temperatures. The sud-

shock may interfere your ones physical ability

den lowering of skin temperature on immersion

promptly inflate a lifejacket upon entry into the

into cold water is one of the most profound and overwhelming physical stimuli one can en-

water. One should try bring breathing under control, and allow time for the body to become

counter. The body's responses are two, in

acclimated. Being overweight offers no protec-

breathing and in circulation, collectively known

tion against cold shock whatsoever. Over-

as “cold shock.” And the colder the water, the

weight individuals are more likely to have car-

greater the sense of shock. It probably causes most deaths in water less that 15 degrees. The

diovascular disease and thus more susceptible to cardiac arrhythmias. Being physically fit

face is particularly sensitive. Regarding breath-

does help one cope with the breathing and cir-

ing, there is an initial close-to-capacity gasp

culatory challenges of cold shock. Failing to

which fills the lungs (hopefully with air but pos-

cope with cold shock results in death by

sibly with water) which is the followed by fast and shallow breaths. This rapid ventilation on


top of a fully inflated lung creates sensations of

By far the best way to manage cold shock is

suffocation and panic. The hyperventilation

by acclimation. Yes, practice in controlled con-

can result in dizziness, confusion and dimin-

ditions getting wet skin in cold water. Experi-

ished coordination. Your breath holding time should be around one minute normally but will

ments have shown that as few as five two minute immersions in cold water can reduce

fall to ten seconds upon immersion. It is diffi-

can reduce cold shock by as much as 50%,

cult too coordinate these fast short breaths

and this habituation can remain for up to a

with waves slapping in your face. A person has

year. Such habituation explains why many

a significant chance of aspirating water and drowning during those first few seconds until

people can swim in light togs all year round in cold water. With regard to kayakers, it is obvi-

breathing is brought under control. Regarding

ously important that should you plan winter

circulation, there occurs a sudden increase in

paddling, you also need to practice winter roll-

blood flow in the core, raising blood pressure

ing and rescues. Consider becoming a winter

and stress hormones dramatically. These changes can produce irregular heart rhythms

swimmer. Also pertinent it that asthmatics for whom the respiratory consequences of cold

in susceptible individuals- be they older and

shock can be severe might consider using a

unfit or young and fit, in some causing cardiac

preventative inhaler prior to paddling.



Irish Sea Kayaking Association

Short Term Responses. (3-30 mins) Primarily affected here are your limbs. They

Some kayakers prefer to use an inflatable life jacket rather than pfd. Assuming, you have

become cold. Vasoconstriction reduces blood

correctly inflated it, the buoyancy is distributed

flow. Muscles loose power and nerve conduc-

over the front of the torso while the dependent

tion is impaired affecting coordination, proprio-

legs act as a sea anchor. Wind and waves will

ception and sensation. Most pertinent for kayakers is that one quickly looses the ability to

apply a turning effect causing the face to turn toward the oncoming waves increasing the

swim effectively, to roll and to self rescue, to

chances of aspiration.

light flares, to press VHF buttons and to acti-

Make sure your safety equipment if easily ac-

vate EPIRBs. With regard to swimming your

cessible and it’s activation can be performed

way to safety, one experiment was revelatory. Ten fit competent fully clothed swimmers were

with cold numb fingers. Appreciate that you will quickly loose your ability to use your hands,

able to complete a ten minute swim in 25 de-

therefore should perform any essential survival

grees. Only three out of the ten succeeded to

actions that require manual dexterity soon af-

complete the same swim in water of 5 degrees

ter immersion. Pogies will obviously not keep

with failures between two and seven minutes. It appears that swim failure during the first few

your hands warm when in the water. Gloves will. While VHFs have large buttons, mobile

minutes of immersion is caused by increased

phones do not. Don't hide these pieces of

respiratory rate- a good swimmer inhales once

equipment inside multiple dry bags inside

every one or one and a half swim cycles.

tightly sealed hatches. You may not even have

When respiratory rate increases, it becomes difficult to coordinate swim stroke with breath-

the strength or coordination to open them.

ing and chances of aspirating water increases.

Thus the major risk in Initial and Short term

The person assumes a more head up position

response failure if drowning. The lethal dose of

in the water which increases drag necessitat-

seawater in humans is about 22mls per kg.

ing even greater effort. As blood flow to the joints diminishes, energy supply shifts to an-

Thus a 70kg person needs only about one and half liters into their typical six liter lungs to die.

aerobic metabolism causing aching pain in the

Even quarter of a liter can lead to lung prob-

joints. At the end of this process of worsening

lems which if not managed acutely can later

lactic acidosis, reduced respiration and re-

result in death (near drowning). A person may

duced muscle control, one can be unable to lift one arms clear of the surface nor control

aspirate such volumes through wave splashing against the face, thus total submersion is not

breathing and so cannot shout for help. The

necessary to produce drowning. Salt water is

swimmer then drowns.

more destructive to lung tissue than fresh water and kills with a slightly different mecha-


nism, but ultimately both kill by asphyxia. Continued aspiration of water after submersion

Regarding kayakers, the most important les-

usually results in death in under two minutes.

son here is that just because you are a good

Those suspected of aspirating some water

swimmer, don't over estimate your abilities in

even if alert and fully rational should always be

cold water.

medically examined, they may be at risk of near drowning and need medical intervention


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to protect their lungs in the following hours. There are two circumstances which may re-

violently, this time indicating that core body temperature is under threat. Shivering, ie rapid

duce ones chances of drowning; one is a

contractions of antagonistic muscles burns en-

primitive physiological reflex called the “Diving

ergy to create internal heat. (About 80% of all

response� and the second is an observed

energy we consume goes toward heat genera-

rapid cooling in very cold water which reduces brain metabolism and thus may improve sur-

tion rather than movement.) The intensity of shivering is diminished in people with a low

vivability. I wouldn't hang my hat on either of

blood sugar- such as those who have had a

those responses getting you out of trouble.

long day of paddling already completed. It may not even occur at all in such circumstances. A

Long Term Responses.

similar situation arises after alcohol consumption where the liver struggles to maintain sugar

Here we finally discuss hypothermia. Hope-

levels. Shivering may fail to occur and such

fully, the winter kayaker will have been suitably

persons may perceive less discomfort from the

attired- dry/ wet suited, head cover, pfd, hand

cold. When temperature of the body falls be-

and feet cover. In spite of the great capacity of cold water to extract heat from the warm body,

low 30 degrees, shivering will cease as muscles become spastic. The body withdraws into

hypothermia is unlikely to kill within thirty min-

a foetal like position. Skin colour is not a reli-

utes of immersion for a fit clothed head-out-of-

able indicator of hypothermia. While initially

water adult even in water as cold as 5 de-

pale, blood vessel muscles may paralyse then

grees. It is appropriate to acknowledge here that some of our knowledge of hypothermia

relax allowing highly oxygenated blood into the skin, causing a red-brick colour. As hypother-

derives from the notorious experiments carried

mia progresses cerebral activity diminishes.

out on Concentration Camp prisoners in Da-

Consciousness is lost around core tempera-

chau by the Nazis. Overtly, the hypothermia

ture of 30 degrees. Keeping the unconscious

victim is shivering and if conscious, speech is slurred. They tend to be uncoordinated, un-

victim's airway clear of water is obviously paramount. Below 28 degrees, the heart may

communicative and introverted and show a

spontaneously arrest. Arrest during thus stage

general slowing of physical and mental activity.

can result from rough handling so handle the

It can increase errors of judgement, reduced

victim with care. With respect to kayaking, the

perception, poor leadership and dropping vital equipment. In profound hypothermia, the pa-

presence or absence of shivering or discolouration of the skin should not be regarded as a

tient will be unconscious and unresponsive to

reliable indicator of hypothermia.

painful stimuli. Shivering is an unreliable sign. It can occur immediately on immersion due to

Body cooling during water immersion can oc-

various physiological responses and in that instance, does not indicate a lowered core

cur five times more quickly than it does in air of the same temperatures. In no circumstances

temperature. It will usually resolve as skin

are you better off in water than out of it so re-

temperature falls to match that of the water.

maining in or at least on the kayak even if up-

With continued immersion lasting around fif-

turned and draped across is better than re-

teen minutes, shivering resumes from intermittent initially to continuous, sometimes quite

maining in the water.


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On balance, current thinking is that exercising in cold water will cause the victim to loose heat

quickly available. It does not provide much protection beyond an initial three or four hours

faster. Certainly, heat will be generated by

of immersion, which is tight if one is waiting for

burning energy to provide movement. How-

rescue from an outside source. The neoprene

ever, exercise causes increased blood flow in

drysuit appears to be where sea kayaking

the limbs which transfers heat to the water. The movement of water across the skin also

clothing needs to go, however the many issues regarding sweat and body temperature man-

compresses the clothing and causes loss

agement un-immersed need to be addressed.

through convection. Arm movement is more detrimental than leg in this regard. Thus cur-

The standard sea kayaking drysuits keep body

rent advice for water under 25 degrees is to minimise movement in the water, particularly of

warm by keeping the clothing over the body dry. A layer of dry warm air is preserved beside

the arms, if possible when maintaining the

the skin.

water-to-mouth distance. In 1975, Hayward et all proposed the classical HELP (Heat Escape

But that insulation reduces if the clothing be-

Lessening Position) position in the water, basically a foetal position. Hayward based this po-

neath becomes wet. Water ingress includes sweating due to effort of paddling (somewhat

sition on the supposition that the groin and ax-

offset by a regularly rinsed Gore-tex fabric),

illae are areas of high heat loss. They have

leakage past zips, past wrist and neck seals.

since shown to be of lesser importance. Stabil-

After any time in the water, urination within the

ity issues make the HELP position impractical in open water, though it may have some appli-

suit is an inevitable occurrence due to decreased peripheral volume and central return.

cation in lake or dead calm water. Again, Hay-

Performance in open sea with greater move-

ward's Huddle position for groups, though ad-

ment, the possibility of tearing and shearing

vantageous in terms of morale and rescue,

and stretching of seals is likely to be far worse.

forces some in the huddle into a downwind position, greatly exposing their airway to wave

The bellows effect associated with limb movement enhances air loss. Even simple lab

splash, which again limits its usefulness in

based experiments have frequently generated

open water. Criticisms aside, there as yet are

average water leakages of half to one liter into

no better suggestions as to what postures

drysuits. Wetting by this volume reduced insu-

ought to be maintained in open water.

lation by 30 to 40%. Water ingress also decreases buoyancy which reduces the mouth to

Regarding, the wetsuit, the neoprene traps a

water distance. With immersion, the water

boundary layer of air and water near the skin

pressure surrounding the body increases,

which prevents heat loss through convection

which compresses the clothing beneath, dis-

and conduction. Sizing is therefore important as a loose suit will allow water to circulate.

placing air and further reducing insulationwhich explains why clothes have a lower clo

Regarding the kayaker's much loved drysuit, it

value in water (an immersion clo). Lying on the

is would be fair to describe it as quite deficient

back in the sea- as many inflated lifejackets

in all but the most limited circumstances in

force us to do- pushes our back down into the

open water. It is useful for short periods of immersion where self or assisted rescue is

water, which exposes our back and neck to conductive heat loss.


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Researchers have guesstimated survival times

urine or sea water leakage is going to get into my drysuit despite my best efforts if I end up in

in controlled lab conditions for a thin adult

the water for any period of time. Hopefully the

male in various clothing assemblies in calm

neoprene will reduce the subsequent conduc-

water at 12 degrees; Ordinary clothes; 65

tive and convective heat loss. It also acknowl-

mins, Uninsulated drysuit over ordinary clothes; 4 hours, Full 5mm wetsuit, 10 hours

edges the compression effect of hydrostatic pressure on the lower torso; the neoprene is

and Insulated 5mm neoprene drysuit; 15

less compressible around my feet, legs and


back, thus should reduce the resultant conductive heat loss in these areas. I tend to thermo-

Because of water leakage and conduction loss in a real sea environment, heat loss can be as

regulate using my head, donning and doffing a neoprene 5mm hoody which remains around

much as 33 to 100% greater than laboratory

my neck, according to how hot I feel inside the

measurements. This in part explains the “sur-

above set up. I wear a standard pfd, perhaps

prisingly poor performance of immersion suits

better for the initial and short term immersion

and drysuits” reported in some fatal accident enquiries.

responses though I am well aware of its long term deficits. It does not provide enough buoyancy to maintain a good surface-to-mouth dis-

One should not be given a false sense of se-

tance nor enough to keep my head high and

curity by a drysuit. It is probably good enough

out of the water. I prefer gloves to pogies rea-

for group paddling but not for much else. It should offer at least, a couple of hours of sur-

sons outlined above. There is no specific data to support my particular set up.

vival and is certainly far better than a cag/ paddling pants combination which is compara-

This article was not intended to disparage

ble to ordinary clothes. The cag/ paddling

some of the excellent gear mentioned in other

pants combo implies an absolute dependence on either a bombproof roll or on your peers to

articles. It is intended for you to critically appraise your gear and help you paddle safely

rescue you in a very short space of time, fol-

within its limitations.

lowed by a certain ability to paddle hard enough for long enough such as to generate enough heat to evaporate sea water from clothing or get to dry clothes. Solo paddling in

What to wear in winter – more ideas from Des Keaney

a remote location in Winter greater than a

by Sue Honan

couple of hours from rescue even if wearing a drysuit is taking a chance.

When you want to know what kit is wearable and durable, I always think that the profes-

My own choice is to use a Farmer John style neoprene wetsuit and neoprene socks over standard thermals beneath under a Goretex dry suit. Over the arms and upper torso, I wear a thicker non-compressible thermals. This setup acknowledges two facts; that water, be it


sional guys and gals sea kayaking in all weathers are the ones to watch. Therefore, I asked Des Keaney of Deep Blue Sea Kayaking about his clothing preferences. Here is what he has to say… “The one piece of kit I wouldn’t be without in winter time is my Kokatat Expedition dry suit. It

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completely transformed my winter paddling. I could do rescue practice and then go to the

repair recently, expecting to be told that they weren’t worth fixing. Instead, I got two brand

pub in the same clothes as I’d been wearing

new suits in the post. The Gore-Tex, which has

on the water.

a lifetime guarantee, was delaminating. The

I’d previously had a Kogg suit which, while it

only cost to me was the postage to California.

kept the water out, it also kept the condensation in with that the result that I was wet and

You have to dress for immersion in winter. However, the question is ‘for how long?’ There

warm instead of wet and cold as previously.

are some great YouTube clips on how well dif-

The Gore-Tex in the Kokatat Expedition dry

ferent gear works, have a look. I think you

suit completely changed all that. It’s wildly ex-

need to be still operational after 20 minutes

pensive at €1100 but as someone who paddles a lot in autumn, winter and spring, it’s well

and able to warm up without too much trouble when you get out of the water.

worth it for me.

After the body, I like a warm head. For this, I use either a Kokatat Surfskin balaclava (€30) or one from Reed Chillcheater (€22). The Kokatat is heavier. The nice thing about these is that you can pull them down around your neck when not in use.

The best piece of safety gear I have is a storm cag. These are ‘cover all’ cags, which can be popped onto a cold kayaker covering everything. They have a hood, sealable cuffs, pockets that allow access to your buoyancy aid while the bottom edge has bungee cord to go around the cockpit rim. They’re also great for winter lunch times. Kokatat do two: one in Tropos for €195 and a Gore-Tex version for around €300. The Gore-Tex is super as a shore jacket if you want to be really comfortIf you have a body that doesn’t generate a lot of heat/sweat/condensation, you don’t need Goretex. Kokatat also do their own breathable material (Hydrus) and it’s a good bit cheaper. For example, the Meridian dry suit in Gore-Tex is €1000 but the Hydrus is €700. The Swift Entry dry suit in Hydrus is €475. These are probably the most expensive suits on the market but the quality and customer service is amazing. I sent two suits back for 21!

able on expedition but otherwise the less expensive one does fine.

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My last concession to winter is pogies – mitts that go around both your hand and the paddles shaft. I don’t suffer much from cold hands but I’m really glad to have the protection when paddling into wind and sea. Wet hands lose heat much more quickly and anything that keeps the water off is good. I like the short Kokatat Mitts (€30) as I can get my hand in and out of the sleeve easily. Yak offers similar mitts (€27) and Kokatat do one in material (Tropos) with a fleece lining (€35). The latter two have elasticated cuffs for more protection. Finally, if you’re looking for something cool for Christmas, why not try an Aeropress coffeemaker? At €28.95 it’s the ultimate present for any outdoor coffee lover.”


“Mr. Thoreau and I walked up the bank of the river; and, at a certain point, he shouted for his boat. Forthwith, a young man paddled it across the river, and Mr. Thoreau and I voyaged further up the stream, which soon became more beautiful than any picture, with its dark and quiet sheet of water, half shaded, half sunny between high and wooded banks... Mr. Thoreau managed the boat so perfectly, either with two paddles or with one, that it seemed instinct with his own will, and to require no physical effort to guide it. He said that, when some Indians had visited Concord a few years since, he found that he had acquired, without a teacher, their precise method of propelling and steering a canoe.” Nathanial Hawthorne on Henry David Thoreau’s prowess in a canoe.

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Irish Sea Kayaking Association