Iowa DNR River Programs Outreach Coordinator Tom Robertson is worried some people may be in too big a hurry to get out on the water. “We’ve had such a long, drawn out winter that the water has never been given a chance to heat up at all. We’ve had no consistent warm days,” Robertson explains. “The big worry right now is people with the spring fidgets who’ve been cooped up all winter just want to get out on the water as quick as possible.”
Just having the sun’s rays poke through the clouds and the air temperatures rising is not enough to warm the water. “They see the first 60-degree day come along and they think that is the perfect time to go paddling. But they need to remember that the water is freezing,” Robertson says. Water temperatures need to be up in the 70’s to make it safe.
“I don’t know exactly what the temperature is — but I do know a good guess is probably in the mid 40s — and that is ice water. So that’s definitely cold enough to cause hypothermia,” according to Robertson. “And then you’ve got to factor in what the air temperature is. It’s pretty cool, it’s been very windy. All that combined is a very, very, dangerous thing.” He says cold temperatures can combine with inexperience and improper equipment to become deadly.
“If you don’t have a wet suit and you don’t have a dry suit and if you don’t have the proper boat control skills — that is we are recommending that people just wait until it warms up a little bit before they head out onto the water,” Robertson says. There’s also issue with the uncertainty of water levels.
He says it depends on which stream you are on as some are running, normal, some low and some are running high, depending on where you are in the state. “Our precipitation recently has just been so scattered that it’s just really hard to tell. It’s something you have to plan for and look out.” Robertson says it’s just not worth it to risk you safety right now.
“Right now it’s just too darn cold to be messing around with kayaking and paddling , I think until it warms up a little bit. And it’s going to take several weeks of consistently warm temperatures and sunshine to get that water heated back up,” Robertson says. He says if you need something to do while you wait you should take the time to check your canoe or kayak for any needed repairs or maintenance. Look for holes and leaks, make sure all hatch lids fit snug and securely and check your paddle blades for signs of cracking or splitting.
Dust off your life jacket and make sure all buckles and zippers work properly and look for holes and tears. Replace the life jacket if it has damage that cannot be repaired.