Cold Water Safety Policy

In order to create a safe paddling environment, we all need to be prepared for the very serious and potentially life-threatening risks associated with falling into cold water which include cold shock, incapacitation, and hypothermia.

Though there is no universally accepted definition of cold water, water temperatures in the 50F to 60F range are universally recognized as dangerous, and those below 50F very dangerous, especially for extended periods of time and to those who are not acclimated. The National Center for Cold Water Safety advises that people treat any water below 70F with caution.

Cayuga Lake water temperature records indicate 40’s in late May and November, low 50’s to 60’s in June and October, and low 70’s July, August and early September. At the start and end of our paddling season we need to be especially mindful of the cold water conditions in our lake.

  • The first canoe launch will be scheduled after the water temperature reaches 50F and in consultation with the coach, steerers, and elected board members. They will schedule the last paddle of the season before the lake temperatures drop consistently below 50F.
  • When water temperature is below 60F a properly adjusted and secured PFDs (not belt packs) are required to be worn by everyone in the canoe. Weak open water swimmers are required to always wear a PFD and we recommend all paddlers always wear a PFD regardless of your open water swimming skills. 
  • When water temperature is below 60F a drysuit or 2mm neoprene wetsuit or pieces and windbreaker are recommended. Footwear with wool or fleece socks or neoprene booties, headwear, and or gloves might be needed. 
  • No cotton clothing ever – this includes layers worn under clothing (e.g. a cotton t-shirt under a fleece jacket will stay wet and cold once it accumulates moisture). 
  • Be prepared to launch immediately. Minimize the time standing in the cold water. Enter and exit the canoe from the shallowest point to minimize getting wet. 
  • Be attentive to the well-being of others. Check-in periodically before, during and after a paddle to make sure people are okay and comfortably warm. If someone in the canoe shows signs of distress, communicate this immediately to the steerer, and the steerer will return immediately so the individual can rewarm and change into dry clothes. 

We will not paddle in conditions above the crew’s ability level. Prior to paddling in trips that cross the lake, all paddlers are required to complete huli (canoe flip) safety preparations.

  • Read and watch Cayuga Outrigger huli safety procedure and recovery details: 
  • Practice huli recovery drills on land.
  • Understand how you dress appropriately for paddling conditions including what thermal protection gear is ideal for our water and weather conditions. 
  • Field test PFDs and thermal protection gear. This means becoming familiar with your gear at the water temperatures you will encounter. You are encouraged to join team sessions where we will enter the water from the shore to test our individual gear. 
  • Members who have self-identified as weak open water swimmers are required to participate in field testing gear sessions and engage in swim exercises to enhance awareness, skills, and confidence. 
  • Members who are participating in race events must demonstrate skill in huli recovery

Before a canoe is launched for practice each paddler is responsible for: 

  • Knowing their seat assignment. The coach, with assistance from the steerers, will create a seating strategy. 
  • Reviewing with their seat buddy proper adjustment of PFD and thermal protection gear as well as “how are you feeling today.” Seat 1 and 2 are buddies. Seat 3 and 4 are buddies. Seat 5 and 6 are buddies. Adjustments will be made when there are fewer paddlers.
  • Helping to ensure that the canoe has everything from the essential equipment list.

Before a canoe is launched for practice the coach and steerers will: evaluate weather and water conditions to inform decision making and planning; determine that the rigging and other canoe elements are in working order; confirm essential equipment is working and onboard; and establish that all paddlers are ready. Our coach is responsible for evaluating and officially qualifying the club members that may take on the role and responsibilities of steerer in practice. 


Cold Water Overview from The National Center for Cold Water Safety

Cold Shock and Swimming Failure (Incapacitation) 3 minute video 

Understanding Hypothermia from Outdoor Swimming Society 

Cold Water Safety

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