Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

Admitting that my prior experiences canoeing, kayaking and sailing were done with little thought to survival (other than wearing PFD and knowing what the water temps were; I was a lot younger then than now) as I've been following this year's Vendee Globe racers' progress it dawned on me that these courageous individuals have to be prepared for pretty much anything they may be faced with while single-handedly spending nearly two months at sea, circumnavigating our world.

Members here ought to have some pretty wide-ranging opinions on what's appropriate for proper seasonal attire.

I'd like to ask you to post your comments, suggestions, favorite vendors, and other thoughts to the forum. We all may learn something new from their contributions.

14 replies:

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RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?


i paddle through the winter here in the mid-atlantic region (washington DC) and use a kokatat meridien dry suit for cold weather/water days.   just for reference, my home waters are already down to 52 degrees and the air temperature today is in the high 40s.

depending on temeperatures (air and water), i vary the layers undeneath and begin to add things like waterproof thermal gloves and hats to tailor my clothes to the temperature.

i also use to be an active around-the-year sailor (in the northeast)....and we used drysuits as well during the late autumn/winter and early spring.   they were a requirement (dry suits) to participate in most of the organized activity and a lot of meetup and paddling groups around here will also mandate drysuits for participation during the cold season.

there is plenty of on-line material about water and air temperatures that can lead to hypothermia and survial times and about how dry suits i will not repeat that here or attempt to sumarize it.

drysuits, as an approach, particularly the high end ones made with goretex or other breathable material, tend to be the most comfortable and versatile to handle a wide range of cold weather situations becuase of the layering that you can do under the suit to adpapt to the conditions that you can't do with others systems like a wetsuit.  the breathable drysuits are also expensive pieces of equipment (~ $1,000 +) but can easily last a decade or more with proper care.   i can vouch for the comfort of  breathable drysuits as i also have wetsuits that i use for snorkeling and have occassionally tried them during paddling.  i also once had an inexpensive non-breathable drysuit....and i would not recommend them for paddling as you quickly become sticky and wet inside the suit.

that said, in addition to the drysuit, i also adjust where i paddle and my risk parameters when paddling during the winter months.  for me, for example, i don't do open water/dynamic water paddles in the winter when i am alone (i do a lot of solo paddling in addition to group work during the warm months) it's shore watching for me when i am doing my winter solo paddles as i want to include quickly walking/swimming to shore as part of any recovery plan.  i am also tighter on safety equipment as there are often not a lot of people around, so radio/phone, paddling plan, paddling with other strong/properly equipped paddlers are things i am more attentive to during the winter.


RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

Thankyou for that! Exactly the kind of things I was hoping to see posted here!

I have a (nearly) life-long friend who touts Kokotat as "the best" so your words fall on fertile ground. He taught me the rudiments of kayaking and sailing back when we palled around some 50 years ago but we're no longer physically close, he in Miami Beach and myself in west central Wisconsin.

Finding appropriate gear here in WI may prove daunting as it seems REI's a Kokitat dealer but not all their stores carry much of any of their line.  

RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?


fwiw, i knew my size and using sizing charts, i comfortable bought my Kokotat on-line from one of the more reputable on-line sellers.   they typically have much better selection than what you would find in a local store.  reputable sellers will also have good return policies should you make a sizing mistake.  also. if you know what you want and have a bit of patience, its pretty easy to find a sale/coupon and get a good chunk of money off (REI has a 20% off sale once a year for example).

the thing i also want to emphasize and is important to keep in mind is paddling is an active sport - even if you are doing a relaxing paddle.  so some of the survival-oriented equipment you hear about is meant to keep you alive when you fall into cold water....but is not optimized to be comfortable for the actual performance of your sport (e.g., before you fall into the water)..   so that's why the breathable dry suits like the kokatat gore-tex suit and versions they sell specifically for paddling, are considered the gold standard...because they are both comfortable while paddling and they can save your life should you end up in the water.  fwiw, imho NRS also makes great equipment.   

but the point i guess i am making is the drysuits that are specifically designed for Kayaking work best and are most comfortable becuase they  optimize the suit around the what happens in the sport (e.g., how you move, where there is likely wear, what additional equipment might be involved like spray skirts and lifejackets, even the act of what happens if you need to pee) and it is the accretion of this experience and consequent features of their equipment that really makes for a product that allows you to enjoy winter paddling and be safe. 



RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

Excellent details there h, thanks again.

Your locus being the Eastern Shore and with activities that carry you into and through what are my 'off-season' months (save perhaps for ice fishing - which I don't do - and cross-country skiing - which I have though not recently) give you a different experience than what I'd expect here in the upper midwest.

Once my Waterlust canoe's launched (emphatically not an ice-breaker!) this next year my plans don't include much waterborne activity before late April or after October here; it's just not a comfortable prospect unless we see an unusually mild spell come in.

I'll use your insights while I bring myself up to speed with what else is out there. The tout for NRS is a helpful one.    

RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

I just made the shift to winter paddling gear here in Florida.  Had to wear long sleeve shirt yesterday.     

RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

Right... thanks. Don't forget the sunblock, between your toes too!

Maybe a .410 for those pesky Burmese Pythons....



RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

   I frostbite race Lasers in New England. Today was cold and very windy. I can not say enough good things about my Kokatat dry suit. I am too cheap to buy such a luxary item, but my lovely wife bought it for me. I have had it for 15 years and it has been back to the factory twice for repairs. Great company.

Of copurse a dry suit is completely useless in warm weather. Time for a wet suit or other gear.

The most important thought is: Dress for the Water Temperatures!! There is always a chance of ending up in the water when small boating of any kind.

And since all sorts are reading this - A PDF (Personal Floatation Device, ei Life Jacket) is completely useless if not warn. And very dangerous if warm unzipped/unbuckled. Please do not believe me, test it on a warm day. jump in the water with your PDF unzipped/unbuckled and see if you can swim. The damn thing will be floating around your arms and certainly not supporting (floating) your wieght.

OK go have fun!! But don't forget to leave a float plan with someone. So easy with texting these days. 

RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

Yes, by all means, DRESS FOR THE WATTER TEMPERATURES.  Heck, you can get cold just looking at old water on a warm, sunny day...just ask anybody who's sailed in Lake Superior.

Also, I think it is halpful to carefully observe Scheibeck's Simplified Standards for Safe Sailing as much as possible:

1. People stay in the boat.

2. Water stays out of the boat.

3. Boat stays right side up.


.....Michael (Scheibeck)

RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

   "...looking at cold water...."  Sheesh.

RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

Joel thanks for mentioning wet vs. dry and when the former's the better choice! Having never used either I'm looking to get up to speed about the what, when and whys before shopping!

Gramps your SSSS rule is a good one to live by!

(Yet we're all likely too chagrined to admit we've sometimes had to manage holding just two of those points or worse yet, one... right? Heaven forfend failing all three at once....)

RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

Yes, failing all three at once is...well...a capsize.  I really to try to adhere to the Marty Cooperman School of Thought on capsizing.  As he (a long standing friend of mine) and a friend were about to embark on a camp-cruise along the shore of Lake Superior one Fourth of July (some folks hold that Lake Superior has but two seasons: Winter and Fourth of July, so I assumed it was the later) in a Wayfarer Dinghy, someone asked him, "What if you capsize?"  He replied, "Don't."

But, yes, it happens.  I might ought to add here that #1 should be suspended once #'s 2 & 3 have both gone by the board.  Well, modified, really, to "people stay with the boat."

Y'all be careful out there in them thousand dollar drysuits.  <;-)


RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?



Some other Waterlust builders (UK, Norway, TX) have elsewhere described their experiences upon first 'getting used to how their endeavor behaves once launched under sail.

So I'm not so much expecting to capsize once I get mine launched as I'm trying to properly prepare for the certainty that it will happen.

Likely not merely once either.

Hence this thread....

RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

   The best defense is a good offense. Pick a warm sunny day, preferably with warm water, if available, and capsize you vessel. Thus you will learn what goes well and what does not, with out the surprise and panic of an accidental, unplanned capsize.

Key issues: does the rudder stay on? Does the rig stay in? what else that we need floats away? Can you get back in the boat? Can you sail the boat (as in does enough water exit the boat/does the boat float high enough to bail)?

Here is a great video on capsize recovery from the C420 class association.

Capsize a small boat should be fun!


RE: Suits, Both Wet and Dry: What & When?

Thanks for the link Joel!

I'm not one to side with the "capsize a small boat should be fun" crowd anytime soon, mind you (prior experiences having been unsettling in the extreme, and I was a lot younger then!) so I'm trying to be as prepared as possible for what I consider to be an eventuality.

If it never happens (again) unexpectedly, so much the better! 

Yet I think it only prudent to be prepared as best I can, even for the capsize 'testing' I want to do once I get my Waterlust launched. Heck I've practiced handbrake turns in snow covered parking lots for decades for much the same reason: it gives me confidence about how my ride behaves beyond what an 'average' driver might ever encounter.

Here's a link to a (LONG) thread on the forum run by Fyne Boats over in the UK. There are now four of us making contributions; two here in the US yet to launch, one in the UK and another (the OP) in Norway who have been posting about their experinces both with the building as well as the performance of this design of Dillon's. Make some popcorn, grab your favorite beverage, wade in if you wish....

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