Tips for paddling in BC in fall and winter

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If you live or visit BC’s Sunshine Coast throughout the year, there is no reason to pack away your kayak or stand-up paddleboard once Labour Day rolls around. As we mentioned in a previous post, we are fortunate enough to live in a part of the world in which we are not limited to paddling only in the summer. But to comfortably and safely enjoy our waters year-round, one does have to do a little planning and preparation. So here are some of our tips to get you out on the water from September through May:

1. Stay dry and stay warm

Keeping warm in chilly weather is essential not just for enjoyment, but also for safety and keeping dry is the best way to keep warm. There are many ways for you to protect yourself from the elements. Dry tops, dry pants or full drysuits are all options a paddler has to keep themselves dry. Good rain shells may be a reasonable option if you are staying close to the shore and have a change of clothing in case you go in the drink.

Additionally, if you are kayaking, you likely have the option of fitting your kayak sprayskirt. This will keep the cockpit area dry; however, you should ensure that you are familiar with release mechanisms of your sprayskirt and comfortable performing a wet exit whilst wearing one for your safety.

2. Insulate

Okay, so you’re dry, but that alone isn’t always enough to keep you warm. So what do you do? Well, as most west coasters already know, the key to comfort is layering. So what do you don underneath your dry top or rain shell? There are a variety of synthetic and wool options, as well as blends. You can choose lightweight base layers which essentially perform the role of performance long underwear. These should be breathable and flexible – they should not impede your range of motion. In only moderately cool temperatures you may find that this layer and your dry gear is enough to keep you comfortable as you’re paddling and expending energy.

On colder days or when you take a lunch or rest break, you may need some additional garments. Again, flexible synthetics or wools are your best options. When finding a fit, make sure you’re considering the other garments you’ll be wearing it with. Wool and many synthetics, like Polartec, provide some insulation even if they do get wet. Whatever you do, you want to remember that cotton is not your friend when you’re on or in the water. It actually manages to pull heat away from your body when it becomes wet, cooling you faster. This is why you will hear the mantra, “cotton kills” in various sporting communities. Cotton has its place, but that place isn’t on a kayak or paddleboard (or canoe), particularly not during a Canadian winter.

Don’t forget to protect your hands and feet. Often neoprene boots and gloves are the most practical way to keep your extremities warm and comfortable, considering that they may very well get wet.

3. Stay informed

We have to acknowledge that our weather can change fairly quickly. Even though it may look like a great day to hit the water when you look out the window, it is important to have a good idea of what to expect throughout the day. Will the winds pick up? Is there a storm blowing in? Is rain or snow on the way? Environment Canada is a great resource for this information and its website is the first place we look when we’re heading out on the water.

4. Communicate

Who knows that you are heading out in/on your watercraft? Does anyone know where you’re going? When you’re coming back? It’s smart to provide this information to someone whenever you head out on the water, regardless of time of year. This is even more critical if you’re heading out on your own.

Additionally, if you are exploring coastal waters, someone in your group ought to have a VHF radio. This will allow you to communicate with other boaters, should you require assistance or even the coast guard if further help is necessary or an emergency arises. Sticking close to shore in populated areas often means a cell phone will suffice, but you should be aware if that is not the case. Also, you may want to consider waterproofing your mobile phone, whether that is by storing it in a dry bag or by purchasing a smart case for it, to enjoy full usage while waterproofed.

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