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NORTH IOWA OUTDOORS: Safety Tips for Paddling in Cold Weather

Winter paddling can provide solitude, exercise and an opportunity to see amazing winter beauty. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends that paddlers wait for warmer weather to allow for warmer water and conditions.

“Many paddlers, especially those just starting out, don’t realize that although temperatures may be above average during some of the winter, 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.
  • Make sure the entire water trail route you are paddling is open on a river. Ice jams can form and water freeze up 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.
  • Always wear a life jacket.
  • 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.

The DNR reminds paddlers to abide by the physical distancing protocols recommended by the state to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Follow these recommendations to keep you and your family safe:

  • Keep at least six feet of distance between you and other boaters and avoid popular areas where people may congregate.
  • Stick with your immediate family, but keep groups to fewer than 10 people.
  • Only touch your own gear. After the trip, wipe down gear to disinfect surfaces.
  • Avoid sharing snacks/water.
  • Bring along hand sanitizer.
  • Plan your shuttle carefully. Stick with only your immediate family in your vehicle.

Explore the Iowa DNR’s interactive paddling map at www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Canoeing-Kayaking/Where-to-Paddle to help you plan your first paddling trip this year.

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