Kayaking In The Rain: Safety Concerns

Kayaking In The Rain: Safety Concerns

Kayaking in the rain can be pretty fun. There’s nothing like a cool breeze on your skin, light raindrops falling on your face, and the cloudy, gray skies that set the mood and put you in an introspective state while you paddle your kayak and enjoy the endless water all around you.

However, is kayaking in the rain safe? Will you drown if you kayak in the rain, and what other dangers might you face if you decide to kayak in a storm?

Kayaking in the rain is possible, but there are some safety concerns you must know about before proceeding.

You should stay warm, avoid kayaking in a thunderstorm, and have the necessary safety equipment and skills to deal with the rain. Read on for the full scoop on how to kayak in the rain safely.

Rainy Day Hazards

Rainy Day Hazards

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First, let’s discuss the hazards that rainy days bring to kayakers. These hazards apply even during the summer, when the weather is warm, and when there is no lightning present.

A major concern is changing water conditions. Lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water can quickly flood due to rain. This flooding can also lead to faster currents.

Faster currents can make things difficult for kayakers who aren’t experienced. Even if you have kayaked in that lake or river many times before, you may encounter new water conditions that you are not accustomed to. Certain parts of the river may be more dangerous than others.

For example, if there is a place where two branches of the river meet, and there is a lot of flooding, it could easily cause you to lose control of your kayak. Flash flooding is a particular concern.

Flash flooding happens when a low-level waterway, such as a river, becomes flooded in a short amount of time. You might start out on the river thinking that since there is a mere drizzle, there isn’t much of a danger for kayakers.

After all, you are an experienced kayaker, and you know how to handle a bit of flooding. However, if a flash flood occurs, you may find yourself battling a raging current in a span of just half an hour.

According to the National Weather Service, even “tranquil streams and creaks” can become “raging torrents” due to flash flooding.

Heavy rainfall can also lead to mudslides along the riverbanks, which can make navigation tricky.

Rainy Day Hazards

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Flooding doesn’t just make it harder to navigate and paddle. Flash flooding could easily cause your kayak to fill with water, increasing the risk of sinking.

You should have a bilge pump to remove excess water from your kayak. In cases of mild flooding, it might be enough. However, if the flooding is severe, a bilge pump may be not be enough.

Your kayak may fill with water faster than you can pump it out, causing your kayak to sink. Swimming to shore in such conditions will not be easy.

It is not uncommon for even experienced kayakers to find themselves well beyond their capabilities when flooding occurs.

Cold Weather Risks

Cold Weather Risks

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In addition to the general risks that come with kayaking in the rain, it will be even more dangerous if it is cold. Hypothermia is a real risk that kayakers must know about in cold weather, whether it’s raining or not.

According to the Mayo Clinic, hypothermia occurs when you lose heat faster than your body can produce it For example, if you get submerged in freezing water without expecting it (which can happen if you fall off your kayak), you can rapidly lose body temperature and experience hypothermia.

According to the CDC, while hypothermia is more likely to happen at frigid temperatures, it can happen at even relatively mild temperatures of over 40 degrees Fahrenheit if the person has a chilled body temperature due to being wet from the rain.

It doesn’t have to occur suddenly, either. Prolonged exposure to the cold can also lead to hypothermia, according to the CDC. That means that if you kayak in the rain in chilly weather, you may experience hypothermia.

Cold Weather Risks

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Hypothermia can affect your brain’s ability to think, which means you may not be fully aware of what is going on around you, or you may not be able to make the right decisions to keep yourself safe.

Hypothermia is always a risk while kayaking because you can get submerged and get wet. If it is raining, though, the risk increases.

Therefore, it is crucial to take some steps to avoid hypothermia, and that starts with wearing the right clothes. A dry suit can help keep heat in and water out, keeping you warm.

Cold Weather Risks

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Layers are important. An inner layer of spandex or something similar can wick away sweat and moisture – just like rain; sweat can keep you chilled.

You should also consider covering your extremities. Gloves can help keep your hands warm, while woolen socks in your boots will keep your feet warm.

Meanwhile, a hat will keep your head warm. Covering your extremities will go a long way to raising your overall body temperature. You should also make sure to eat before kayaking.

If you kayak on an empty stomach, you will lack those carbs that could give you energy and keep you warm. I recommend carrying a thermos with some hot tea with you as well.

That way, if you ever get really cold, you can drink some hot tea and raise your body temperature. Tea can also give you some caffeine, which can provide much-needed energy when you are cold, shivering, and feeling tired.

I usually advise against drinking caffeinated drinks while kayaking because it can dehydrate you, but this case would be an exception as long as you don’t overdo it. Another trick is taking a high-sugar snack, such as a glucose snack bar (the kind made for diabetics) with you on your kayak.

A sugar rush can increase blood flow and circulation in your body; in turn, that can increase your overall body temperature (disclaimer: this does not constitute medical advice!).

Finally, know what the signs of hypothermia are. They include intense fatigue, shivering, feeling cold and tired, and drowsiness.

Lightning and Thunderstorm Safety

Lightning and Thunderstorm Safety

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Thunderstorms present their own risks. While kayaking in the rain is okay if it’s not too strong and you have experience, you should never go kayaking in a thunderstorm – it’s just not worth the risk.

If lightning strikes the water, it can kill you! Electrocution by lightning isn’t as common as you thought it was when you were a kid, but you are just putting yourself at unnecessary risk if you go kayaking in a thunderstorm.

If you don’t believe me, here are some news stories that might change your mind:

  • A lifeguard was killed and seven people were injured after lightning struck at a beach in New Jersey. (USA Today)
  • One person died and at least 13 sustained injuries after lightning struck the water at Venice Beach in Southern California. (CNN)
  • A lightning strike at a Bronx beach killed a 13-year-old boy. (New York Times)

Lightning and Thunderstorm Safety

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If the forecast indicates that a thunderstorm is on the way, don’t go kayaking that day. If you do happen to be on the water, and you hear the distant rumble of thunder, get back to shore immediately!

The longer it takes for you to hear the sound of thunder after you see lightning, the further the storm is. According to Weather.gov, for every five seconds between lightning and thunder, the storm is one mile further away (starting at one mile for five seconds).

However, storms can get closer quickly. Get to shore and see shelter in a building. If there are no buildings nearby, get into your car and seek shelter there, says Jonothan O’Brien, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

According to the National Weather Service, though, you don’t want to be under a tree or lie flat on the ground if there is a thunderstorm, despite popular myths that say you should do either of those.

You should continue walking or stay in an empty field rather than lie down or sit under a tree – being under a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties!

Also, lightning can strike up to 15 miles away from a storm, so definitely don’t wait until the storm is close to get out of the water.

Always check the weather forecast before you head out. If there is any chance of a thunderstorm, even a small one, please avoid kayaking; it is better to be safe than sorry.

Reduced Visibility and Navigation Challenges

Reduced Visibility and Navigation Challenges

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Another major concern is a lack of visibility. This is caused by several factors, including gray clouds that darken the skies and heavy rainfall.

The more intense the storm gets, the more difficult it will be to see clearly. If you rely on glasses for eyesight (you are nearsighted and can’t see well without them), the danger increases many times over.

I am sure anyone with glasses can relate to the pain of walking in the rain and your glasses getting all wet and foggy. You might try to dry it with your shirt, but if the rain is heavy, your shirt will be wet too, so that won’t help much.

Now, that’s one thing if you are walking in your neighborhood, where you know where you are going. Imagine doing that while trying to paddle a kayak in a raging storm!

If you wear contact lenses, the risk is lower, but you still run the risk of having a contact lens fall out. You should have an extra pair of glasses for such emergencies while kayaking.

Even if you don’t need glasses, though, you will experience decreased visibility.

Reduced Visibility and Navigation Challenges

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So, how do you combat this? Using proper lighting can help. Kayak lights can help you navigate at night and in rainy conditions.

They can also make you more visible in case you need to call for help. You might also consider wearing bright clothing.

That won’t help you see better, but it will help you be seen by rescue teams.

Finally, if you wear glasses, consider putting in lenses if it is going to rain; carry an extra pair of glasses with you in case your lenses fall out. Lenses can fall out, but if you put them in correctly, it won’t be a common occurrence.

Gear and Equipment Considerations

Let’s take a minute to discuss the kind of gear you should be taking with you when you are going out kayaking in the rain. Here are a few things that are must-haves; never go kayaking in the rain without them.

A Life Jacket

A Life Jacket

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A life jacket is essential at all times, but especially when it’s raining. It may be illegal to go kayaking without one, and you will definitely need it if your boat capsizes and you find yourself in flooded waters.

A PFD also serves as an extra layer of clothing that can help you stay warm and avoid hypothermia.

A Bilge Pump

A Bilge Pump

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When it is raining, your kayak is more likely to fill with water. There are many ways to get water out of a kayak.

For example, you can use a cup or bowl and manually scoop up and pour out the water. Or, you can get a sponge that can soak up water in your kayak.

However, when it is raining, those methods likely won’t be sufficient to remove all the excess water in your kayak. That is why you should have a bilge pump, which will do the job a lot quicker and more efficiently than other methods.

There are both manual and automatic bilge pumps. A manual bilge pump will be cheaper, but it also requires you to pump out the water manually, which might be challenging in difficult weather conditions such as a rainstorm.

Therefore, you might consider getting an automatic bilge pump instead.

Safety Gear

Safety Gear Image Source: Shutterstock

You should have signaling equipment, including lighting and a whistle, so you can be seen if rescue teams need to be sent for you.

A VHF (Very High Frequency) Marine radio is also important, in my opinion, if you plan on kayaking in the rain, especially at sea.

It allows you to communicate with other boaters and with the Coast Guard. A compass is another tool you should always have. When visibility is poor, a compass will help you maintain the right direction and get to safety.

Check out our list of essential kayak safety equipment and our guide on what to have in your kayak emergency kit.

Precautions and Safety Tips

Precautions and Safety Tips

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If you plan on kayaking in the rain, here are some important safety tips and guidelines you must adhere to. Always check the forecast before heading out.

In addition, once you get to the water, check the forecast again. It’s not as simple as checking if there will be rain or not.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • How heavy will the rain be?
  • How strong will the winds be, and in what direction will they be blowing? (Check out our article on wind limits for kayaking.)
  • What is the chance of a thunderstorm?

An app like Rainviewer can provide you with essential information about rain, cloud cover, and more.

It will also give you alerts that will notify you of heavy rain or other conditions. Get used to checking the sky as well. A rapidly rising cumulus cloud and a darkening sky can signal a thunderstorm.

Before you head out, inform others of your trip. That way, if you get lost, someone will know that you are in trouble and call the authorities to send out a rescue team.

Finally, get good at survival. Learn how to swim and build shelter for yourself. Take some canned food with you and learn how to make a fire, so you can survive in the wild until help arrives.

A fire can keep you warm and ward off hypothermia, and the smoke can serve as a signal to your location that a rescue team can find you. Making a fire in the rain is not easy. You have to find dry wood and shelter – check out this guide.

Kayaking in the Rain – Recap

I know I have been a bit harsh in this article, but I felt it was essential not to sugarcoat the very real risks of kayaking in the rain.

While it is possible to stay safe with the proper precautions, it is also important to know your limits and not go beyond them. Before you go kayaking in the rain, I also recommend improving your kayaking skills.

You might take some courses, such as a wilderness survival course or an advanced kayaking course, that will help you navigate even the roughest waters.

If you are a beginner kayaker, I would recommend pushing off on kayaking in the rain until you get more experience. If you liked this article, please share it with a friend!

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Kayaking In The Rain: Safety Concerns

Peter Salisbury

Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.

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