Beyond Cold Water Bootcamp


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Next to flotation and the ability to keep your head above water, guarding against the onset of hypothermia is crucial to survival until help arrives.  Remember, the body will lose heat 25 times faster in water than in the air.  The best way to prevent hypothermia is to wear thermal protective clothing that’s appropriate for the weather and for the activity.

Although clothing may provide warmth in the air, when immersed in cold water, it often provides more weight than warmth.  In addition to flotation, wearing a PFD does provide limited thermal protection but falls short if you’re going to be immersed in cold water for any longer than a few minutes. 

Fortunately, there are a number of options when it comes to thermal protective clothing, and the choices below are designed for a variety of boating activities. These include: 

  •  wet_suit_copyWet Suit – Often worn by Personal Watercraft riders to prevent convective heat loss in the air and when splashed with water. If a rider were to fall into the lake, a boundary layer of water will be built up underneath the wetsuit, which will be quickly heated by the skin, thereby providing limited thermal protection. (A PFD should also be worn, however, since the wetsuit provides no flotation.)


  • paddling_dry_suitPaddling Dry Suit – These are ideal for long-term wear as they are lightweight and facilitate full range of movement. Dry suits, often available with thermal booties, will keep you dry and provide moderate thermal protection. (Again, additional flotation must also be worn.)


  • floater_suitFloater Suit – These are designed to provide considerable thermal protection as well as flotation.  The thickness of the material can restrict mobility somewhat, however, and may cause you to overheat during long-term wear aboard. They are available either as a one-piece unit or separately as bib-pant and jacket.  Like a wetsuit, water enters between the suit and the skin and forms a thermal boundary layer to slow the onset of hypothermia.survival_suit


  •  Survival Suit – These are one-piece dry suits designed for wear in extremely cold water where rescue could take some time. They provide both  flotation and a high degree of thermal protection. Any boater in these conditions should keep a Survival Suit in an easily accessible location so that it can be donned immediately before entering the water.


No matter what type of boating you do, wearing appropriate thermal protection will not only keep you warm while on board, but just may save your life if things suddenly go wrong.

Click here to see a video highlighting the protective capabilities of a variety of thermal wear.