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Safety tips for paddling in cold weather

  • 11/22/2022 11:37:00 AM
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Winter paddling can provide solitude, exercise and an opportunity to see amazing winter beauty. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends that paddlers be prepared to paddle in cold weather. 

Ice has started to form in many parts of the state. Know the conditions before you head out on the water. 

“Many paddlers, especially those just starting out, don’t realize how cold the water really is. The water is still dangerously cold and cold water shock and hypothermia can set in quickly,” said Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs Water Trails Coordinator.

“Dress for the water temperature, not the air and expect to go into the water,” Robertson said. “A wet or dry suit and a life jacket are crucial to remain safe.”

Review these simple safety tips before you head out on the water this winter.

  • Don’t paddle alone.  Especially in winter, use a buddy system.
  • Always wear a life jacket.
  • Make sure the entire water trail route and water body you are paddling is open on both rivers and lakes. Ice jams can form and water freeze as temperatures drop throughout the day.
  • Stay away from wood/branch piles and debris, usually found on the outside of river bends, that can pull you underwater and hold you there with little chance of escape.
  • Paddle with a group who is experienced in cold water paddling.
  • Wear a dry suit or wet suit, along with layers, to help avoid hypothermia or cold water shock. Do not wear cotton. Dress for the water temperature, not the air.
  •  Bring along a dry bag with a set of extra clothes you can change into if you get wet, a first-aid kit and a protected cell phone or weather radio.
  • Let a friend or loved one know where you are going and when you are expected to return. It will be easier to find you if you need help.

Explore the Iowa DNR’s interactive paddling map at to help you plan your trip or outing.