Paddling Safety 101: Dress To Stay Dry—And Alive

This article was produced under a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

When it comes to paddling, it’s critical to know that no matter how calm and docile any body of water, conditions can change in a moment. Being prepared with the right equipment, plan, and simple safety practices can literally be the difference between life and death.

And this all starts with a fundamental rule to keep in mind: When launching any paddling trip, your outerwear choices need to follow the probability that if things can go wrong, they will. That means: If you’re going to be on the water, you need to be prepared to be in the water. Wearing clothes and layers that will dry fast and stay insulated when wet can be framed simply: Dress to stay dry.

The right clothes are part of the right equipment that keeps you paddling safe. Beyond a safe boat, board, or fishing kayak, and the necessary life jacket, the next most critical piece of gear is your clothing. Again, assume you could end up in the water, separated from your craft, and prepare for it—especially when paddling in cold water, where hypothermia can set in quickly. Dress to stay dry in well-insulating layers, and relying on a wetsuit or a drysuit—dictated by the temperature of the water, not the air. Drop the denim and dress for immersion every time you paddle.

After all, the best offense is good defense. If you foresee an errant swim and plan accordingly, you’ll ensure a paddling trip that’s memorable for the right reasons.

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