Sea Kayak Adventure Group

Ocean Litereacy International (Hong Kong)

Cool day paddling in Hong Kong

cold weather paddling

Is there really such as thing as cold weather paddling in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is in the sub-tropical zone, surrounded by ocean, so it means that we don’t really get cold days (maximum temp below 10 C). However, if you combine cool
temperatures (12 to 18 C) with a breeze and a water environment, you can easily get cold through what is referred to as the “wind chill effect” combined with being wet and cooled by evaporation.

What is “wind chill”?

Usually, when an object loses heat through convection— when a body loses heat to the colder temperature air around it — there’s a small layer of heat between the warm object and its cold surroundings.
But when it’s windy, the moving air breaks up this insulating layer. It speeds up heat loss by blowing away the warmth & increasing evaopration.

wind chill effect

Add evaporation and it gets colder!

So when we have wind blowing away heat, it is also blowing away evaporated water which cools us down more (it works the same way as sweating does), so on cooler days we have to wear appropriate clothing or we can get really cool (cold) really quick, even if the sun is shining.
But we need layers because things can change during the day. Read on!

Layering for Kayakers

Generally, dressing for paddling is similar to any other outdoor activity: you want to wear layers that can be added and removed throughout the day to adjust your clothing to the changing outdoor temperature. Most importantly, all clothing you choose should retain very little water if it gets wet; otherwise, you lose a tremendous amount of body heat warming the water in your clothes. For this reason, cotton clothes should be avoided at all costs.

The inner layer, or base layer, should consist of wicking synthetic fabrics like
polypropylene. This layer should draw sweat and moisture away from your skin and allow it to evaporate quickly. A thin base layer is best because a thick base layer will prevent you from adjusting to warmer temperatures. Even your underwear should be made of wicking fabric — it’s much more comfortable! A rash shirt or running shirt is perfect.

The second layer is for insulation, so it can consist of fleece, wool, or other insulating, non-absorbing materials. Again, one or two thin layers is ideal (unless it is very cold), because then you can more easily adjust to a variety of conditions.

The outer layer is for protection from the wind & spray (or rain). Here you will choose a lightweight spray (rain) jacket, or whatever you need to avoid the rain, sun, wind, spray, surf, and anything else that comes your way. 

Remember, if you are in a sea kayak, your lower body will be warm

It is important to understand the difference between paddling a sea kayak and a ‘sit-on-top’ (SOT) kayak on cool days. You will be much more exposed on a SOT!

Sitting in a sea kayak your lower body will be protected from both wind chill and evaporation, so you will only need upper body protection.

On a sit-on-top you will also need a light weight, non cotton pair of leggings that reduce
wind chill and evaporation.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Outer layer (top layer) to protect from wind and moisture (spray, fog or rain).

wterproof paddling jacket
rain proof shell
waterproof shell

Middle layer to provide insulation from the cold outer layer. A light fleece is perfect.

middle insulation layer
middle insulation layer
middle insulation layer

Bottom layer to keep water away from your skin and insulate further. Rash shirt etc

womens rashy
running shirt

NEVER WEAR COTTON on a cool or cold day. It holds water against your skin and cools you down via convection. All clothing on cool days is to be made of a wicking material that does not hold water against the skin. This stops cooling by evaporation.

Keeping a weather eye open


"Scoff if you will Mateys! ...but after reading this you'll keep a weather eye on the waters round yer vessel when anchored!"

IDIOM: keep a (or one’s) weather eye open. To keep watch; stay alert.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

“weather eye”  NOUN: An ability to recognize quickly signs of changes in the weather.

As a sea kayaker, you should work on developing a good “weather eye” (along with all your other seamen’s tricks).  Various sights, sounds and smells can tip you off to changes that portend trouble. All you have to do is learn what they are for your kayaking area and keep that weather eye peeled. 

What to look for here in Hong Kong.
The weather is the most important criteria for planning when going sea kayaking. The kayaker who paddles without knowing the weather forecast is just asking for trouble.

Winds & the kayaker

When things go wrong for kayakers at sea, it’s usually because of a little too much wind.
Sea kayaks cope very well with waves, tides, currents and extremes of temperature, but too much wind can be a real problem. 

If the day of your trip is windy, you can avoid problems by changing your plans. Shorten the trip. Move it to a small estuary with wooded sides, or the downwind side of a headland. On a windy day, paddle upwind to start with so if anybody gets tired, the group will have an easy downwind ride back to where you started from.

If you are out kayaking and a strong wind is blowing right in your face, keep up the pace until you get to shelter. 
If you go slowly you will be out there struggling for a lot longer. If you stop for a rest you will drift backwards faster than you expect. A 10-minute rest on open water in a strong wind can cost you an extra 20 or 30 minutes paddling.

Also, wind creates waves. When a strong wind blows out to sea, the water may be smooth inshore but increasingly rough as you get further away from the beach. And the further you go out to sea, the rougher the sea and the stronger the wind. An onshore wind blowing a long distance over water can create a heavy surf which makes things difficult or even dangerous, especially when exiting the ocean. Knowing how to surf you kayak is essential in these conditions!

What is the best weather for kayaking?

A cloudy (overcast) day with little or no wind.

Some people are put off kayaking by cloudy days, but that can be the best time to head out. Kayaking in light rain is also quite refreshing and you’re going to get wet anyway, so don’t let a few showers put you off.

When the weather is overcast you don’t get baked by the sun so you tire less quickly and can have more fun kayaking out on the water. This is very important in Hong Kong

Bright sunny days are the most popular time to hire a kayak becuase most people haven’t had the experience of sitting on or in a kayak with no shade in the hot Hong Kong sun. This is infact not the best time to go kayaking. More information about the dangers of over heating while kayaking will be published in a future article.

So, if you are planning a kayaking trip in Hong Kong, or anywhere for that matter, make sure you get the latest weather information, understand it, apply it to the local geography and have a safe fun day on the ocean making sure you always ‘keep your weather eye open”!