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Rule 2
Always Dress for The Water Temperature

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Sea kayaker Steve Bethke suited up for 40F (4.4C) rescue practice

A Wise Decision

"I ran into a kayaking-newbie friend on Saturday and she asked me if I wanted to go kayaking. No, I told her, I don’t have a dry suit. Good point, she said, I don’t have one, either."
Cassandra Heide - Pacific Northwest Kayaker / January 2022

Why You Should Always Dress For The Water Temperature

Because cold water can kill you. Not wearing thermal protection when you go out on cold water [Below 70F (21C] is gambling with your life. The air temperature is irrelevant. The only thing that really matters when you fall in is whether or not you're dressed for immersion.  Keep in mind that without the protection of a wetsuit or drysuit, most people will experience maximum-intensity cold shock at water temperatures between 50-60F (10-15C)


Dressing for the water temperature means a lot more than simply wearing a wetsuit or drysuit. It means knowing with certainty that the garments you're wearing provide enough thermal protection to keep you warm and allow you to function - physically and mentally - should you wind up in the water.


Cold water immersion is always a race against the clock, and depending on how well prepared you are, it can be a desperate race or one you can walk rather than run.

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Tsunami Rangers co-founder, Eric “No Exceptions” Soares emerging from the chilly Pacific Ocean wearing a full-thickness (7mm) wetsuit and neoprene hood.

“For the record, when I say “wearing a wetsuit”, I mean a good quality, well-fitted wetsuit appropriate to the conditions one is paddling in.  And that means IMMERSION. A 3mm farmer john with some polypro and an anorak when paddling the Mendocino Coast is not “wearing a  wetsuit”. 

- Andy Taylor – Comment on the Tsunami Rangers blog.

  • Wearing thermal protection like a wetsuit or drysuit so that you don’t experience cold shock.  We recommend that you do this if the water temperature is below 70F

  • Wearing enough thermal protection so that you remain warm, calm, and able to function – physically and mentally - while you’re in the water – whatever the water temperature happens to be.

  • Wearing a wetsuit that’s thick enough to protect you from the cold and snug enough to work properly.

  • Wearing a drysuit that doesn’t leak, is not excessively burped, and has enough warm clothing underneath it to protect you from the cold.

  • Wearing enough protection to keep you functioning if you have to swim or get towed to shore, and if you can’t get to shore, enough protection to keep you alive long enough to be rescued. See: How long before I'm rescued?

Dressing For The Water Temperature Means

Not Dressed For Immersion

Ice climber focused on paddling through a narrow ice canyon on top of the Matanuska Glacie

Ice climber paddles an inflatable canoe through a narrow ice canyon on top of the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska.

Why we say there should be “No Exceptions” to this rule:

A lot of people who don’t want to be bothered with dressing for the water temperature argue that you can make a lot of exceptions to this rule, and they’ve come up with all sorts of excuses and rationalizations to justify paddling unprotected on dangerously cold water. Those exceptions get a lot of people killed each year. See the Case History examples at the bottom of this page.  Also see our section on the Challenging Conditions Myth.


Common Excuses for Not Following Golden Rule No. 2

“I‘m not going to wear a wetsuit or drysuit because”:

  • I’m not going to capsize.

  • The water temperature is above 60F.

  • I brought extra clothing and warm drinks.

  • I paddle “close to shore” or in “protected waters”.

  • I don’t plan on encountering “challenging conditions".

  • They’re uncomfortable and get in the way of my paddling.

  • It’s too expensive.

  • I paddle with a group and can quickly get back in my boat.

  • Air temperature + the water temperature = whatever, so it’s safe.

  • The air temperature is too warm and I’m worried that I’ll overheat.

  • The water is shallow and I can stand up if I fall out.

  • I’m just going out for a quick paddle, not an expedition to the North Pole.


The Bottom Line


  • In nature, weather and water conditions have the potential to change with amazing speed and little or no warning. What will not change during the course of your outing is the water temperature.

  • The only thing that really matters when you’re in the water is whether or not you’re dressed for immersion.

  • Nobody ever plans on capsizing or getting into trouble.

  • None of the paddlers whose lives were lost because they failed to dress for the water temperature, ever, in their wildest dreams, planned on encountering the circumstances or conditions that killed them.

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