Location: Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. Photo credit: Richard Alexander


Hypothermia is a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature, usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.

Whether you are paddling on a pond, river, lake or the ocean, Newfoundland and Labrador waters rarely ever reach a temperature that would classified as warm.

To enjoy cold water paddling we need to avoid hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs simply when the challenge of wet, wind, and cold overwhelms the body’s ability to produce and to retain heat. Hypothermia can arise from a several minute unpredicted rescue in cold water; from days of rainy, cool conditions; or from weeks in a weakened, sickly state.

Paddling in Cold Climates

The first rule for paddling in cold climates is: dress for the water temperature. The route selection and clothing needs to protect us from at least two of the three primary exposures: cold temperature, windy conditions, wet insulation. 

  • Insulation materials: Synthetic clothing dries quickly and is relatively warm when wet. Cotton + wet + cold kills; it dries very slowly and evaporative cooling quickens heat loss when wet.
  • Layering: Wicking fabrics to keep dry layer next to the skin; polypropylene/polar fleece for insulation; windproof layer to trap warmth; waterproof layer to protect insulation.
  • Wetsuits (neoprene rubber suits) trap and insulate a layer of water next to the skin. Good for in the water and swimming, but cold when wet in the wind. Can be uncomfortable if dry for long periods. Different thicknesses of neoprene for different levels of warmth, one level of warmth per suit = different suits for different seasons.
  • Drysuits afford us a moisture barrier layer to keep our insulation dry and keep wind out. Add or reduce insulation under the dry suit for temperature control. Good for floating but not for swimming; comfortable in the boat for long paddles. Can be too hot, which increases danger of fluid loss and hyperthermia.
  • Extremities must be protected. Protect the head area – protect your thinking, including the throat area with wool/neoprene head gear. Loss of use of hands or feet could prevent us from effecting a rescue, preserving valuable gear, or removing ourselves from the cold. Consider pogies or functional gloves for hands, wet or dry boots for our feet. Consider wool or synthetic materials, and don’t forget your eye protection. If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet.
  • Emergency/spare clothes are critical equipment components to help change the cold challenge. Need to protect from temperature, moisture, and wind (and sun.) How and where do you pack them? How much do you carry?
  • What do you carry to lessen being wet, avoid the cold, and lessen the wind? To reduce the cold challenge, increase both heat production and heat retention?


Hypothermia Info and Videos

Cold Water Boot Camp – Canada Safe Boating Council https://csbc.ca/en/1-10-1-principle

Cold Water Boot Camp 1-10-1 Rule –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZtAM5ZTn4k

Cold Water Boor Camp the First 60 Seconds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P59LWqK-H5Y