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Winter Paddling Provides Thrills

  • 1/5/2016 9:29:00 AM
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Iowa paddlers and other water recreationists have been treated to above average temperatures and open water since November.  While ice anglers have been grumbling, some paddlers have taken enjoyed the extended paddling season the mild winter has brought.  Most rivers are ice free and running high from the December rains.

While winter paddling can provide solitude, exercise and an opportunity to see amazing winter beauty, it also must be done with safety in mind.

 “Many paddlers, especially those just starting out, fail to realize that although temperatures may be above average during some of the winter, the water is still dangerously cold and you must be prepared,” said Todd Robertson, certified paddling instructor at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

“Dress for the water temperature, not the air and expect to go into the water. A wet or dry suit is a must and dress in layers so you can remove closes if you overheat. Having the right gear and understanding the stages of hypothermia is crucial for remaining safe. And always, always wear your life jacket.

“Having good boat control skills and understanding how to navigate around hazards are skills needed any time of the year, but especially in winter when the water becomes cold and deadly,” Robertson said.


Safety Tips for Paddling in Cold Weather

  •       Always wear a life jacket.  Not only does the lifejacket keep your head above water, it helps to keep your core organs warmer.
  •       Dress for the water temperature, not the air.  Expect to go into the water.  A wet suit or dry suit is a must. Dress in layers so you can peel a layer off if you get overheated.
  •       Consider seeking formal instruction to improve boat control skills before heading out in cold water.
  •       Stay away from strainers, wood/branch piles that can pull a paddler under. These are usually found on outside river bends where the current is going. These are deadly hazards and must be avoided.
  •       Don’t paddle alone.  Especially in winter, use a buddy system. Go with a small group if possible and identify who has the most experience and then evaluate your group.
  •       Bring along a dry bag with extra clothing. Another priority: always have a set or two of dry clothing that you can change into should you get wet. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible.
  •       File a float plan. It’s as simple as letting others know where you are paddling and when you are expected back. 


For more information, visit the DNR’s paddling safety website at