Late-season paddling-nothing beats it. The air is crisp, the landscape beautiful, and that yearly horde of photo-crazy sightseers is conveniently confined to shore. Of course, colder air eventually means colder water, and while the turn in weather is nothing to get alarmed about, it does require adjustments in your gear, clothing, and attitude.
Here are some tips and gear suggestions to get you out on the water in autumn.
Designed to prevent waves and spray from drenching you in your cockpit, the sprayskirt extends your paddling season by keeping you dry and warm. Always useful on any given day, the sprayskirt becomes a must-have as the water cools.
Going out for a quick jaunt? Take along a waterproof dry bag to carry an extra set of dry clothes and some food. Bring a small emergency blanket (space blanket) and a small shelter if you're headed out farther. The rule here is pack for the worst.
Though usually smaller than dry bags, dry boxes keep electronics and other sensitive items (like the essential peanut butter sandwich) from getting squashed. Whichever you opt for, just make sure it's secured in some manner to your boat.
Besides possibly saving your life, a PFD (personal flotation device) provides extra warmth and can be used to stow smaller safety items like a whistle or signal lights for instant access in an emergency. Remember, a life vest should fit correctly and be worn at all times.
Wetsuits come in a variety of types, including full-body Farmer Jane/John suits and individual tops, shorts, and pants. However, as the name suggests, a neoprene wetsuit does NOT keep you dry when immersed. Instead, the cold water is trapped inside your suit where it is warmed by your body heat-after one heck of an initial shock. It's kind of like a beer cozy, only instead of keep your beer cold, a wetsuit helps you stay warm.
When to wear a wetsuit? Usually, if the water and air temperatures are above 60°F, a wetsuit will be fine.
For the really cold-blooded people out there, a 3 mm Farmer John-style wetsuit should do the trick, in tandem with a rash-guard shirt and maybe a splash top to keep the wind and spray off. For those warm-blooded people who put out the BTUs like a Midwest power plant, thinner neoprene (about 0.5 mm) may suffice.
With waterproof fabric (often Gore-Tex) and rubber seals at the neck, wrists, and ankles, the drysuit keeps you dry. When water temperatures reach the 50s (or even the low 60s, depending on your tolerance for cold-water immersion), drysuits become mandatory. You should be prepared to wear synthetic insulating layers under your drysuit, so size accordingly. And if anything binds underneath, especially at the armpits, think about going up a size.
Splash jackets do just as the name implies: They keep you dry from surf spray and rain, but are not designed for immersion.
Summer is over, so lose the sandals. Go for full coverage. Sneakers or water shoes as the fall season starts, warmer neoprene booties later on. If that still isn't warm enough, wear thin wool socks under the neoprene.
Regardless of the season, there are a number of small, inexpensive pieces of gear you will be glad to have in certain situations. If you do capsize, you'll need a bilge pump to empty the water once your kayak is right side up again. Carry a whistle; it has a greater effective range than yelling, and even in nonemergency situations, it's an easy way to grab a partner's attention. A rope throw bag is an essential rescue tool that no open-water paddler should be without. Other important safety items include a strobe light, a paddle float, and for light-touring kayaks, bow flotation.
Your extremities are the first to feel the effects of colder air and water. Though not waterproof, neoprene gloves offer warmth to keep the circulation going. Pogies are another option. Made from a variety of fabrics, they protect the tops of your hands from wind and spray, while allowing you to maintain a bare-handed grip on your paddle.
Neoprene is the preferred choice for hats as well, though fleece works when you are in easy reach of shore.
At some point, most mere mortals choose to put their kayaks up for the winter. How you choose to store it for half a year can have quite an impact on the future performance of your kayak. Just laying it atop a couple sawhorses, for example, may leave large ungainly dents in a polyethylene hull. Opt for a strap system or cushioned J-hooks to cradle the kayak without causing damage. Also, to discourage mice and spiders from taking up winter residence in your kayak, invest in a cockpit cover.
Take a lesson at our Kayak School, and let us help you prepare for the cooler months. We can answer all your questions about gear and give you the skills to help one another in an emergency. You could start with our Strokes and Rescue course, which will teach you a number of strokes used to maneuver your kayak. Then we'll get into the water and teach you how to drain and reenter a boat. For more information, call 800-310-4504 or go to emsKayak.com.