Layering for Cold Water Boating
from NRS online
Year-round boating is the ideal for many of us. For most
areas of the country, this means we will be boating at least part of the
year in cold-water conditions. Boating is a water sport Ė letís face it,
getting wet happens and water is approximately 25-times more efficient than
air at drawing heat away from your body. This means once you get wet, your
body is more prone to excessive heat loss. This condition, known as
hypothermia, causes more cold-water boating deaths each year than drowning.
Check out Cold Water
Protection & Hypothermia for more information on the effects of cold
water heat loss.
The key to protecting yourself from that heat loss is the
simple concept of wearing multiple layers that will retain your body heat
when you get wet. Layering lets you add or remove pieces as the dayís
conditions change, helping your body maintain a safe, comfortable
temperature. Typically there are three main components of an efficient
layering system Ė the base layers, insulating layers and the outer layers.
|The Base Layer
Start with a moisture-wicking layer next to the skin. Synthetic fabrics
such as polyester, nylon and polypropylene donít absorb water and move
moisture from your skin to outer layers. Merino wool wicks moisture and
is comfortable against the skin, unlike traditional wool. Do not wear
cotton, it's comfortable when dry but absorbs water and dries slowly,
losing its insulating value when wet. Check out our line of
Base Layer apparel, notably the NRS HydroSilk Rash Guard, NRS
Wavelite and Ibex Merino.
Over the base layer you want one or more garments to hold in your body heat.
These can be synthetic or wool fabric pieces of varying weight and thickness
or a neoprene garment, or any combination of these pieces. The synthetic and
wool fabrics are breathable, light-weight, and afford good freedom of
movement. The synthetic fibers wonít absorb moisture, but rather allow the
water to radiate away from your body, keeping you more comfortable as you
generate heat while paddling. Merino wool, on the other hand, absorbs up to
30% of its weight in water while still maintaining its insulating value.
This characteristic of wool helps it keep you warm when conditions are cold
and cool when itís warm. Check out the range of insulating layering options
in the Base
Layer section of nrsweb.com.
Another consideration for wool is that itís a natural
fiber that is renewable. Merino has the advantage over traditional wool of
being a very fine fiber that does not prickle or itch when worn against the
skin. And, it doesnít hold odor, no stink! Any of the Ibex wool garments
found in the Base Layer section can work well in your layering system.
Neoprene is a closed cell rubber material that is an
excellent insulator. It also offers impact protection as well as extra body
flotation. Thicker neoprene will be warmer but more restrictive to your body
movements. If warmth is your main concern, youíll be well covered in our
and Womenís wetsuits . Thinner neoprene will stretch much more easily,
but wonít be quite as warm. If your priority is mobility, check out our
a line of thin (0.5-mm) neoprene garments that give considerable warmth with
the comfort and mobility of thinner layers. All NRS neoprene garments are
made with a glue layer between the inner nylon fabric and the neoprene foam
that contains tiny particles of titanium metal. These shiny metal particles
reflect back your bodyís heat and significantly increase warmth.
||Wind and waterproof outer garments rounds out your body core
protection system. An outer layer made with a fabric featuring a
breathable coating or laminate is definitely preferable. This will allow
perspiration moisture to pass out of the garment, keeping the inner
layers drier and significantly increasing your comfort and warmth
Outer layers come in many shapes and sizes, but there are
three main types: splash wear, dry wear and semi-dry wear.
wear is simply any waterproof outer layer that is designed to keep
your under layers dry if you get splashed or rained on. If youíre using
neoprene as your insulation layer, wearing a waterproof garment over it
will cut down on evaporative cooling from the wet outer fabric of the
wetsuit. If you go for a swim in splash wear, your inner layers will get
To keep water out during immersion, you need dry wear garments that have
latex gaskets at the openings.
Drysuits are the ultimate option for immersion protection. With
their waterproof zippers and gaskets at the neck, wrist and ankles,
theyíll keep water out of your inner layers. A number of our drysuits
now come with waterproof, breathable socks. A
pant combination may leak a very small amount at the waist juncture
due to torso movement, but youíll stay dry enough to be safe during a
wear splits the difference between the other two styles. There are semi-dry
tops and some semi-dry suits on the market. Typically, they will feature
latex gaskets at the wrists (and ankles, on a suit) only. The neck usually
features a punch through neoprene ďgasketĒ or an adjustable neoprene cuff of
some sort. Semi-dry wear is a great option for touring and recreational
kayakers and rafters, who want to prevent water entering their inner layers
at the wrist and ankle and donít need quite such a water-tight seal at the
|Donít Forget the Extremities
You lose a lot of heat from your head.
helmet liners made of neoprene or synthetic fibers can really keep
for boating are generally made with neoprene as the insulating material.
If you find your fingers and toes getting really cold at times, a helmet
liner will help cure this as much as gloves and booties will. Keeping
your head warm creates a chain reaction that youíll notice all the way
through your body. Additionally, gloves and boots provide increased grip
and traction while they insulate. You can add neoprene socks and glove
liners for even more protection from the cold.
Questions to ask yourself before boating on cold
- How cold will the water and air temperatures be?
- In the past, how comfortable have you been at those temperatures?
- Whatís the weather forecast?
- How experienced are your boating companions?
- How reliable are your self-rescue skills?
- How easily can you get to land to warm up and change to dry clothing,
if need be?
Things to consider when boating on cold water:
- Youíre engaging in a water sport Ė exposure to water is going to
- Dress for the worst-case scenario you may face, usually a long swim.
- Have apparel that you can layer together to adjust to changing
- Donít forget your PFD. It acts as an insulating layer and will keep
you afloat while youíre recovering from a swim.
- Practice self-rescue techniques.
- Test your cold weather apparel by taking a dip in it.
- Check with local boaters, boating clubs and search and rescue
organizations for gear recommendations.
- Bring high-energy snacks and lots of liquids. A thermos of something
hot is good to have along.
- Remember Ė going out boating is optional, coming back safely from a
trip Is MANDATORY!