Knowing what to wear when you venture out on the water is probably one of the easiest problems to solve, but one which catches many people out. Clothing that would keep you warm and comfortable walking around on the shore, or even out mountaineering, can seriously let you down if you end up capsized in the middle of a lake. Water temperatures in the UK are generally very cold most of the year. Even in the height of summer, the water temperature of large deep lakes can still be very cold, especially if strong winds and waves have mixed up the surface waters with colder deeper layers.
Be realistic about clothing and water temperatures
Everyone who ventures out onto the water in a sailing canoe should wear a buoyancy aid, all of the time. If you do accidentally end up in the water, a buoyancy aid will help keep you buoyant and look after you whilst you sort out the boat and get back in.
Inflatable life jackets, such as those often worn on yachts, are not appropriate, whether manually or automatically inflated, as they do not provide any buoyancy until they are inflated. They are then much too bulky and restrictive for an active sport.
The foam in a buoyancy aid also provides useful insulation against the cold, as well as some physical protection.
Although a few layers of synthetic (not cotton!) clothing topped with a wind/waterproof outer layer can provide enough protection in reasonable summer weather conditions, once you get wet from rain, spray or falling in, such clothing has significant limitations. This is why dry suits have become very common for canoe sailing, especially early in the season or on longer sailing days and expeditions. A dry suit will fully protect you in a capsize and allow you a long time in the water without suffering from the cold. An added bonus is that if you do have a dry suit then you are much more likely to practice capsize recovery regularly, which will also give you the peace of mind that you can still do it.
A Dry Bag with spare/extra clothing etc
On longer sailing days away from the campsite/base we should always carry extra gear to cover emergencies.
A dry bag can carry extra clothing in case you or someone else gets wet and cold. Also take some food, water and a stove to have a warm drink and a meal, a bivi bag/shelter in case someone becomes hypothermic, a chain and padlock to secure a boat whilst you go fetch the car and a phone in a waterproof case to call for help. This list can become quite extensive, but better to be prepared and routinely take these things with you.
Even day sailing on a large lake, you might end up several miles away from your car when extra strong gusty winds blow up. Being comfortable will make it less likely that you risk sailing back until the bad weather subsides.The great thing about canoe sailing is that the canoe will happily carry lots of gear so you don’t have to be concerned with the weight. This contrasts well with mountaineering, where again you should carry extra gear in case of emergencies but the extra weight in a rucksack can become an issue.
For a more detailed look at what you might consider taking with you read Calling for help and safety