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4/07/2017 10:11 am  #1

Canoeing in very cold water

Every year in Algonquin Park or somewhere else, people always die in very cold water because of upsetting their canoe.  You have to be proactive (ready) in case you do in fact capsize.  This has happened to me before and I was very lucky that someone pulled me from the water and had a cottage on Rock Lake back in the late 1970s.  I had hyperthemia when in the not remember anyone pulling me out of the water, do not remember being taken to a cottage, etc.  I was basically unconscious.


Since then I have developed a plan in case this happens again.  One thing I have learned over the years is your number one priority if you capsize in very cold water is TO GET OUT OF THE WATER QUICKLY.  I cannot emphasize this too much.  After you get out of the very cold water, you have to get warm QUICKLY.

This is my proactive plan that I have been taking with me every time I go canoeing in Algonquin Park when the season starts each year.  I have on my body matches in a very tight container so they will not get wet, and I have something I could place on some wood in a campfire to start  it more quickly.  I usually take a small plastic bottle of white gas.  I also never canoe more than 40 yards from shore.  This is MY LIMIT as I believe I can get to shore QUICKLY and get out and start a fire to warm me up.  Don't worry about packsacks, etc. should you capsize in very cold water.  Your life is at stake here, so do not worry about personal possessions.  So this plan makes me PROACTIVE should I ever capsize in very cold water.

You might have different LIMITS than I do because you are probably a lot younger than me.  But again I have to stress very importantly, that whatever your LIMIT IS, it has to be that you are able to get out of the water within 5 minutes, then start a fire, and get warm.  Possibly someone will come and help you if they see you capsize.

If you capsize a LONG WAY from shore in very cold water, it is very likely you will get hypothermia before you can get out of the water.  Also, should others on shore see you capsize a long way from shore, now you face them with a decision to make whether to come out and help you, and putting THEIR lives at risk, or just watching you die slowly.  Trust me, you do not want OTHERS to answer this question you have just given them.  They will probably come out to help as I would but again their lives are now in jeopardy and even if they can help in some ways, if 5 minutes have gone by......... the ending of this event is NOT GOOD.

So be PROACTIVE and come up with a plan that suits your LIMIT should you capsize in very cold water.  If you do this, you will be able to continue on your trip, (albeit a bit wiser and very thankful you are still alive)  and  return to your car safely when your interior trip ends, and plan your next trip into THE GREATEST PARK IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.


4/07/2017 11:43 am  #2

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

As a paddler not as experienced as the majority of the individuals on here, I appreciate the advice as above.

This year will be the earliest I've ever been in the park (May 5th) and although I have never taken a dip in a canoe before; this is still a strong concern of mine.
I'm going in a group of 4 so there will be 2 canoes.  I have previously practiced canoe over canoe rescues, but haven't done so in a number of years.  The three others I'll be going with have not (to my knowledge).
I plan on making them watch a youtube video for at the very least the knowledge of how one is completed.
I am planning on taking with me a "Ditch Kit" which will come with me on all of our paddles (to-and-from campsite, or just fishing).  I plan on packing the following items in this "Ditch Kit": wool long-johns, wool socks, wool long sleeve top, fire-starting kit and an emergency blanket.
For our travels to and from site, I plan on sticking close to shore as boknows has suggested above.
However there will likely be times (because our primary focus is fishing) where we may be in the middle of the lake, etc...

Are there any other tips and suggestions with regards to safety that anyone can suggest.  Your experience and opinions are much appreciated.


4/07/2017 12:09 pm  #3

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Always wear your life jacket.  I have the automatic inflateable kind, which I love. Doesn't even feel like I'm wearing one.  


4/07/2017 12:27 pm  #4

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Here are some quick thoughts:

  • Traveling within 50 feet of shore is a good idea.
  • Stick to small Lakes and rivers. The Nipissing is an ideal spring trip.
  • Traveling early and late will help to beat the wind.
  • Try tp plan your route so that you can travel the Leeward side of the lake. For example, the east and south shore of Lavielle will typically be much rougher than the north and west shores (when the prevailing winds are up). 
  • Everyone likes the wind at their back but a strong following wind can be exremely dangerous. Much more dumps happen when the wind is behind you than when it is in your face.
  • Shallow Lakes can be more trouble than deep lakes when it comes to wind. K-Mog, Radiant and Dickson are good examples of shallow but large lakes that can have awful wind driven waves.
  • Carry an accessible ditch kit either on your person or directly beside/infront/behind you. Do a search for ditch kits for examples of what should be included.
  • If you are running rivers make sure there are no loose ropes in the boat.
  • If you are running rivers stick to the inside of corners where the current is slower. The outside can under-cut banks where sweepers and fallen trees are more prevalent
  • Travel in a group.
  • Don’t wear hip waders in the canoe (anchors).
  • Wear a drysuit. If you can't do that, wear a wet suit. Not gonna do that, wear a neoprene vest and neoprene pants. Nope not gonna do that either, wear wool.
  • Wear your PFD.


4/07/2017 12:30 pm  #5

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

I struggle with this issue every year, as I almost always do a trip shortly after ice out. Spring conditions can be incredibly deceiving as you're often out paddling on warm, beautiful days. It's very easy to forget the water is deadly cold when it's t-shirt weather. 

On my 2015 ice-out trip I dove into Burnt Island Lake (on purpose). I was in the water less than 20 seconds, and by the time I pulled myself out my body hurt. My hands weren't working terribly well anymore. It gave me a very real appreciation for just how little time I'd have in an emergency before it would be a life or death situation. 

Rule #1 should be obvious, but I see people not doing this all the bloody time: ALWAYS WEAR YOUR PFD WHEN ON THE WATER.My PFD always has in it:

Waterproof matches
A package of Wetfire
My SPOT device
In the shoulder seasons, a foil emergency blanket
Pocket knife
Bug spray
Lip balm

Some of that is just for convenience of course - I use the sunscreen and lip balm regularly. But everything in my PFD would also come in very handy if I found myself on shore without my kayak. 

Rule #2, Stay Near Shore.  I have a harder time following this rule I have to confess. I start out every shoulder season trip hugging the shoreline. But then, especially on beautiful days or when sticking near shore would greatly increase my travel distance, I tend to get sloppy on this one. I'm a very experienced paddler and have dumped my kayak exactly once when I didn't mean to (the first day I ever paddled it, in high waves on Lake Huron) but that's still no excuse. I have a daughter now, and I like to think that will keep my head on straight with this one. I heard somewhere about the "50/50 rule". 50 yards from shore in 50 degree water, 50% chance of survival. If I'm far from shore and I dump my kayak, my survival chances are dependent on being able to get back in the kayak, not trying to swim for it.

Which leads me to my Rule #3: Know how to get back in your boat. I spend a decent amount of time every season practicing ditching and recovery. Of course I've never practiced it in freezing cold water, but the time to start thinking about just how you'd get back into your craft isn't when you just fell into icy waters. 

Rule #4: Dress accordingly. Really everyone should be wearing dry suits in ice-out conditions, but almost nobody does (I know MartinG does, at least on his ice-out trip last year). I have a 'shorty' wetsuit I wear on ice-out trips, along with neoprene paddling gloves. The shorty wouldn't keep me warm or even comfortable if I ditch, but it would buy me time. The gloves mean my hands will function longer, so I can get myself to shore or back into my kayak. 


4/07/2017 12:49 pm  #6

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Excellent topic bo, And a lot of great advice here!

Ice out will be upon us soon, I wish everyone out there safe travels this spring!

Please don't get complacent on the 20 deg F days out there, the water is still cold!


4/07/2017 12:56 pm  #7

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

excellent info here.

And Agreed I think everyone should practice an open water recovery from time to time as well.


Last edited by ShawnD (4/07/2017 12:57 pm)

We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it.
 - George Washington Sears

4/07/2017 2:09 pm  #8

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Great advice, all.  

@Breed85 - early May fishing doesn't require getting to the middle of a lake.  The trout will be relatively shallow and often are closer to shore where the baitfish and other prey are located.


4/07/2017 3:32 pm  #9

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

A timely message, and something important to keep front of mind, thank you.

It's always better to be mindful of the risks around you and make conscious decisions with them in mind.


4/07/2017 5:22 pm  #10

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Folks - really glad this thread was started.  I had a plan to start exactly this on the w/e.  Staying close to shore is THE hardest part, but likely the the #1 piece of advice.  Advice I stray from all the time because just as Uppa said - on beautiful spring days it's hard to remember then water in the middle of the lake is a death trap.
Plain and simple - if you dump too far away from shore, you will die.

I swim every time during my spring trip - if you have the opportunity to jump in close to shore only do so if you don't have a heart condition.  Without the slightest bit of exaggeration, the cold water takes your breath away.  It's a crazy feeling.


4/08/2017 9:45 am  #11

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Regarding getting into your canoe if you capsize in very cold water when Algonquin Park opens this year.  It is virtually impossible because when you are in the very cold water, each 30 seconds or so your body is getting weak.  When you try to turn your canoe over, and I tried this when I capsized in Rock Lake in the late l970's, I could not do this.  My head would just go under the water and I was getting weak.  REMEMBER, SHOULD YOU DUMP AND YOU ARE WITHIN YOUR LIMIT FROM THE SHORELINE, GET OUT OF THE WATER AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.  THIS WILL HELP YOU SURVIVE.

Yes, as PaPaddler said....trout at the beginning of the season ARE NOT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAKE.  They are in shallow waters mostly in the early morning and/or late at night feeding on minnows, etc.  This will be your PRIME time in trying to catch trout.

Happy fishing, a fantastic interior trip , AND COME BACK SAFE!


Last edited by boknows (4/08/2017 9:46 am)

     Thread Starter

4/08/2017 3:05 pm  #12

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

I had few swims in ice cold water for short periods (under 1 minute). In my experience wearing warm underwear layer helps significantly. Once I was capable of going on for another hour after the dunk without changing clothes - it wasn't comfortable, but nothing to complain about.


4/08/2017 7:29 pm  #13

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Staying close to shore is so important! I'm sure opinions differ on this one, but I've decided that I'm better off fighting pounding waves on the windward shore than I am crossing long arms or bays along the leeward shore. The temptation is too great to cross them rather than stick to the shoreline. If I capsize, at least I'm being pushed to shore rather than away from it.


4/09/2017 1:11 pm  #14

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Couldn't agree more Shawn.

     Thread Starter

4/11/2017 9:46 am  #15

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

My number one rule when it comes to fishing is....

Go to the shoreline (or bay) where the wind is blowing to because the wind is ALSO blowing food for the fish to eat.  Best time though is late afternoon after the wind dies.  The FISH ARE WAITING FOR YOU­.

     Thread Starter

4/11/2017 10:08 am  #16

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

The fish are waiting for ME??? Yeesh. Another thing to be concerned about...

Thanks for sharing your experience @boknows. I can only imagine how lucky you were that someone found you in time.
It's good to remind each other of the dangers of tripping in the early spring. I've been guilty of crossing bodies of water where afterwards I thought to myself, that wasn't smart. All it takes is a wrong move and you're in the freezing waters too far from shore. I will be more conscious of my iceout route going forward.


4/12/2017 3:43 pm  #17

Re: Canoeing in very cold water

Yes RCSpartan, I was very lucky to survive.  But this experience did make me SMARTER and probably saved my life going forward.

     Thread Starter

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