Cold Weather, Cold Water Paddling Safety Tips

How to stay safe when the water is cold

We’ve been cooped up all winter and many of us are itching to get back on the water. Before you venture out on the Huron River or any waterbody in the preseason cold, there are additional safety precautions you should take.

Cold Weather Paddling

Paddling in your kayak or canoe or using your SUP in cold weather or on cold water, especially during parts of the year when temperatures can fall near or below freezing, gives you much less room for mistakes before you can find yourself in catastrophic circumstances. Hypothermia and drowning are a perilous mix. Immersion in cold water can lead to the rapid onset of hypothermia, which can make you lose control of your muscles and become unable to get back in a boat or to shore.

Temperatures of the Huron River in April

April water temperatures measured in the Huron River in Scio Township and at Lower Huron Metropark 2015-2018 were as low as 38 degrees Fahrenheit. The April average daily minimum temperature measured 48-49. The average daily maximum temperature was 50-52 degrees.

Not convinced you need to be concerned?

Here is some information from the American Canoe Association about cold water paddling:

Cold Water

Cold water is extremely dangerous. It quickly robs the body of its strength, diminishes coordination and impairs judgement. Immersion in water as warm as 50-60 degrees can initiate what has been determined to be “Cold Water Shock.” When a paddler capsizes and is suddenly immersed in cold water the body’s first reflexive action is to gasp for air, followed by increased heart rate, blood pressure and disorientation, and can even lead to cardiac arrest. Without proper equipment and apparel, the body can become incapacitated in just a few minutes, and without a lifejacket this can be a very dangerous and often fatal combination. When paddling in places where the water temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, a wetsuit is a must and a drysuit is highly recommended. This is also the case if the combined air and water temperatures are below 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another dangerous situation that can occur in cold water or cold weather is hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when exposure to the elements prohibits the body from reheating and maintaining its core temperature. Typical symptoms of hypothermia include: shivering, impaired judgment, clumsiness, loss of manual dexterity and slurred speech.

Methods of treatment for cold water shock and hypothermia vary depending on the severity of the situation. The most important thing to remember is that the individual in either of these situations needs to be warmed slowly.

Steps to Protect Against the Effects of Cold Water

-Select and layer clothing properly

-Have spare clothing available in a sealed dry bag while on the water

-Always wear your lifejacket

-Keep yourself well-hydrated and fueled with high-carbohydrate foods

Excerpted from “Know Your Limits, a special safety publication from the American Canoe Association.”

More cold weather, cold water tips

Select and Layer Clothing Properly. Let’s amend this to say bring more warm weather clothing than you think you will need. If you overdress, you’ll sweat a little. If you underdress, it’s dangerous. Experts and veteran paddlers recommend a base layer of snug moisture-wicking clothing, a heavy insulative layer or layers on top of that to keep in body heat, and a waterproof layer as an outer shell. That last outer layer is made easiest by wearing a drysuit: a full-body jumpsuit made of a waterproof fabric, with seals at the wrists, neck, and ankles to keep water completely out.

Bring a Friend. If you capsize or fall out of your boat during warm, fair weather, it’s usually inconvenient. If you fall out of your boat in cold water, it can be extremely dangerous. Always paddle with a friend.

Consider the Boat Material. Most kayak and canoes on the market are suitable for cold water and cold temperatures. Some materials and seals can become more brittle in the cold, but the big concern is if you encounter ice. Ice can wreck a boat just like a sharp rock, but it’s sometimes harder to see and can be less predictable in moving water as the river starts to melt and ice starts to break up. On the Huron River, metal canoes and durable plastic kayaks are recommended during all seasons. They can take beating and keep going. Fiberglass boats are more likely to be punctured if they strike something hard, and even in fair weather conditions, it’s tough to avoid every rock and bit of woody debris on the river.

Remember the Basics. Check out “Know Before You Go: 4 Tips for a Safe Paddle Trip” or see our Have Fun, Stay Safe page.

Huron River Liveries Begin to Reopen with Pandemic Precautions

The Huron River Water Trail’s kayak and canoe rental services are following state and CDC guidance as they each reopen by May 30th. Outfitters are operating at reduced capacity or with changes to normal services. As always, river conditions can affect the services offered, and water levels on the Huron River have been very high. Please check with your favorite livery in advance before you go.

2020 Early Season Updates and Information:

Heavner’s Canoe and Kayak Rental

2775 Garden Road, Milford, 248-685-2379

Note that services may only be initially available at the Kensington Metropark Farm Center. Online reservations are preferred to facilitate the preparation and cleaning of boats, and to reduce contact with staff.

Village Canoe Rental

1216 Garden Road, Milford, 248-685-9207

Village Canoe Rental is open and operating with precautions for social distancing. Shuttle services may be limited as a COVID-19 precaution, call in advance to confirm.

Skip’s Huron River Canoe Livery

Delhi Metropark, East Delhi Road, Ann Arbor, 734-769-8686

Shuttle services may run at reduced capacity to maintain social distancing.

Ann Arbor Canoe Liveries

Gallup Park: 3000 Fuller Road, Ann Arbor, 734-794-6240

Argo Park: 1055 Longshore Drive, Ann Arbor, 734-794-6241

Ann Arbor Canoe Liveries will be initially open at a reduced capacity to protect staff and patrons.

Motor City Canoe Rental

Oakwoods Metropark Outpost:  Cedar Knoll Picnic Area, 313-473-0396

Atwater Paddles, Flat Rock:  26425 Atwater Street, Flat Rock, 313-473-9847

The Oakwoods Metropark location, is ready to open at full capacity with precautions for COVID-19. Due to high water levels, however, the anticipated first day of operation will be Saturday, May, 30, subject to change based on river conditions.

Atwater Paddles in Flat Rock does not have an opening date yet but an announcement will be made when that decision is made.

H2E River Adventures

Hull’s Trace, 36495 West Jefferson, Rockwood, 734-379-9912

Launch times are by reservation only, 7 days a week. Due to COVID-19, only kayak adventures will be offered until further notice. Half day and full day kayak rentals are available.

Tips for Paddling Safely During COVID-19

Do what you can to protect others around you and livery staff as you enjoy the Huron River. Check out our TOP TEN TIPS for paddling safely during the pandemic.

Map of Locations and Business Listings

For a map of locations with business listings and information see our Outfitters page.

Remember, Recreate Responsibly

  • Stay close to home when you go out to have fun.Recreate responsibility.
  • Wear a mask when interacting with livery staff or when outside and near groups of people at liveries.
  • Use restrooms before you leave home to avoid using any public facilities that are open. Many public restrooms may still be closed.
  • Wash your hands before you go, and use available hand sanitizer before and after interacting with livery staff.
  • Follow all social distancing guidelines. Keep 6 feet between you and others outside your household whenever possible, or when waiting in line to rent a boat.
  • Please Leave No Trace! During the pandemic, many parks and municipalities are operating with limited maintenance staff. That is making it harder to keep litter out of the river. Pick up after yourself, pack out what trash you can, and don’t litter.
  • Paddle within your limits. Don’t bite off more than you can chew or get yourself injured while outside. First responders need to help those suffering during the pandemic, either from COVID-19 or other serious conditions. Getting hurt unnecessarily could draw resources away from those that most need it.
  • Plan ahead. Check with your favorite canoe and kayak outfitter before you go.

More Ideas for Finding Nature in the Huron River Watershed

Nature is open, head outside stay safe! Check out our blog at for more tips on getting outside close to home.



Paddling safely during COVID-19

To combat the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan, Governor Whitmer extended the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order until May 15. Please remember to stay home as much as you possibly can and stay at least 6 feet from others if out. People should do everything they can to stay away from others outside their own households. Exercise and outdoor activity is allowed under the order assuming you take appropriate precautions. Indeed, paddling, biking, running, or hiking can be a great way to put even more social distance between yourself and others. In many cases, getting out on a river or a lake is the most secluded you can be in Michigan.Kayak Stack

That being said, the Huron River Watershed Council encourages you to follow the executive order and stay home to stay safe. Most of the facilities, services, and businesses along the Huron River Water Trail will be closed through May 15 and perhaps even longer. Most public restrooms are closed. Campsites are closed. Many of the river access points will be closed to motor vehicles.

Check for closure updates with Water Trail partners:

Even after official COVID-19 guidelines are relaxed, it will be wise to practice social distancing for the next year, even into the 2021 paddling season. If you do choose to explore the water trail or paddle elsewhere, the trick is to avoid others while traveling to your destination, while you paddle, and while you load up to come home.

Here are tips to keep yourself safe from COVID-19 while exploring the Huron River or other waterways:

  1. Avoid popular paddling or outdoor activity locations and time your trip wisely. We can’t stress this point enough. If you know a popular outdoor recreation area will likely draw a lot of people, go somewhere else. This makes following all the other guidelines easier. For example, we have seen a surge in paddlers with their own boats on the Huron River between Dexter and Ann Arbor, and some paddlers have reported difficulty in finding parking at a safe distance from others. With schools and businesses closed, keep in mind that many people will be out at times they normally wouldn’t be–making for unexpected crowds.
  2. Paddle in places that you know require far less paddling skill than you have.  Take every precaution to paddle safely and avoid a paddling-related injury. Even in the Huron River’s urban areas an injury could leave you stranded in a location that is difficult for first responders to reach. You’ll be drawing emergency personnel away from COVID-19 response efforts, and you will likely be exposed to medical staff that have been exposed to the novel coronavirus themselves.
  3. Keep your group size small. Normally, we recommend paddling with a friend. Under these circumstances, we recommend paddling solo in a safe place you already know well while letting friends know where you’re going and when. Keep your paddler group limited to 2-3 people at most.
  4. Maintain at least a 6-foot distance at all times from others outside your household and minimize the time you’re in the same vicinity as others. Carry on friendly conversations with folks you haven’t seen for a while over the phone. This applies to all activities. Even while you’re paddling, stay 6 feet away from others on the waterway. This includes other paddlers, even those in your own group. Keeping a full kayak paddle length between you and others should be enough.
  5. Bring supplies to wash your hands and bring your own hand towel. Throw a bar of soap, a bucket, and clean water in with the rest of your gear so you can wash your hands before and after paddling. Hand sanitizer is another option.
  6. Only touch your own gear. Again, we’re applying a common rule to paddling. If you help someone carry a boat, remember where you touched it. If you carry the stern to launch, carry the stern when you take out.
  7. Avoid areas that require you to touch common surfaces. If you know there’s a tricky portage or launch that might make you want to grab a railing or put your hands down on a common surface, consider alternatives, or be prepared to wash your hands while in the middle of your trip.
  8. Avoid sharing snacks and drinks. Bring plenty for everyone to have their own stash. Avoid all sharing. Make every person carry their own food bag.
  9. Camping along waterways isn’t advised under active state and federal guidelines. Most parks and camping areas will be closed and unmaintained. If you’re planning a through-paddle for the 2020 season, plan to stay at home at night and pick up where you started the next day while following all other guidelines.
  10. Don’t let COVID-19 distract you from following normal safety precautions. This is all a distracting, frustrating mess, and it will end eventually. Until then, take your time. Make sure to follow standard safety procedures like telling your friends where you’re going, checking river and weather conditions before you leave, and wearing a personal flotation device.

If you do go out, share your stories on social media! We all like paddling with friends and sharing the experience. Share your love of the river remotely. Use hashtags #huronriver and #huronriverwatertrail.

If you choose to stay home, you can still explore with our  HURON RIVER VIRTUAL TOUR.

PFAS in Foam on the Huron River Water Trail

As the emerging threat of PFAS has unfolded across Michigan and on the Huron River, it’s raised concerns about recreation.

Swimming, bathing, and boating on the Huron River Water Trail are still okay. For those activities, continue to enjoy the water as you have with a few minor precautions. PFAS isn’t

Foam that possibly contains PFAS

Photo of foam from 2013 that possibly contains PFAS, near Barton Dam, Ann Arbor, by Rebecca Foster.

a health risk when exposed to skin. The risk is that high levels of PFAS in foam can get on your hands and clothes and eventually make it into your mouth or nose. It’s a health risk when ingested over time, so accidental mouthfuls of river water are no cause for concern. The State of Michigan has issued a Do Not Eat Fish advisory for the Huron River and an advisory to avoid ingesting river foam.

PFAS tends to concentrate in foam and can lead to foam forming on the river, but foam is also naturally occurring. State experts and resources describe PFAS foam as bright white, sticky, lightweight, and that it tends to pile up near the water’s edge. Other harmless substances can create similar foam, however, and there’s really no practical way to know how much PFAS is in any glob of foam just by looking at it. It’s best to play it safe and treat all foam on the river as potentially containing high levels of PFAS. If you find foam you suspect is not naturally occurring, call the state’s 24-hour pollution hotline at (800) 292-4706.

Enjoy the River While Protecting Yourself from PFAS Foam

  • Have fun swimming and boating on the river away from foam. Skin contact with river water or foam isn’t a concern.  Accidental mouthfuls of river water or no cause for alarm.
  • Avoid foam on the Huron River or connected lakes and creeks. Avoid touching foam and make sure to keep pets and kids away from foam. PFAS tends to concentrate in foam.
  • Foam naturally occurs on rivers and PFAS tends to concentrate in foam, but there’s no way to know how much PFAS is in any glob of foam just by looking at it. It’s best to play it safe and treat all foam on the river as potentially containing high levels of PFAS.
  • Although it feels nice on a hot summer day, don’t linger in the spray immediately below dams. It may be possible to inhale PFAS attached to foam spray.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water and rinse off once you get home from paddling or swimming in the river.
  • Rinse off pets if they made contact with foam or foamy water. Rinsing off in the same river or lake where foam isn’t present is okay.

For more information on PFAS in the Huron River watershed, visit the Huron River Watershed Council’s webpage at


Know Before You Go: 4 Tips for a Safe Paddle Trip

The Huron River National Water Trail winds through natural areas, traverses historic cities, and ends at Pointe Mouillee on Lake Erie. Paddlers of all skill levels can find a place to refresh themselves along its length, but remember to prepare before you go and be smart as you enjoy your trip.2018 Huron River Day, Gallup Park, Ann Arbor, by Karissa Brumley

Get to know the river before you go
Plan your trip in advance, tell others about your plan, and stick to the plan. For longer trips, plan for restroom breaks and stay within your group’s fitness limits. A safe estimate of travel speed on the Huron is walking speed—about 2-4 miles per hour. Scout the river as best you can before you go and consider paddling with someone more experienced. Be especially careful around dams and obstacles that can trap you against the current.

Know the conditions
Conditions on the Huron River can change rapidly. Pay attention to all safety warnings and check the weather before you go. River and weather conditions are available HERE, and it’s best to call the OUTFITTERS on the stretch of river you’ll be paddling. During fair weather weekends, stay visible and be prepared for high boat traffic on impounded lakes.

Bring the proper gear
Always wear a lifejacket. The Huron River is shallow in sections but people have been carried away by less than a foot of moving water or caught up in trees and vegetation. Just as when hiking into the wilderness, pack plenty of water, food, a flashlight, and a whistle. A sponge, bilge pump, or bailor can help you keep excessive water out of your boat. A paddle tether can keep you from drifting uncontrollably if you accidentally drop your paddle. Always carry a map. A waterproof Paddler’s Companion will give you detailed section maps of the entire water trail. You can purchase one HERE.

Be smart and courteous
Keep your craft under control. Give paddlers traveling upstream the right of way, and always ask other groups of paddlers before passing them on the river. Remember that anglers need plenty of space and that sound carries over water. Respect landowners along the river. Don’t trespass and use only designated restrooms.

For more information about staying safe on the Huron River National Water Trail, go to SAFETY & ETIQUETTE.

PFAS and Recreation on the Huron River

This blog was originally posted in April 2019. Our understanding of the PFAS crisis has improved significantly since then, and we’re updating this post for 2023.

As the the extent of PFAS contamination around the globe has become apparent, it’s raised concerns about recreation. The Huron River was one of the first rivers in Michigan widely known to be contaminated by PFAS. Thanks to remediation efforts, PFAS levels in surface river water have fallen by about 99% compared to where they were in 2018. As long as we take some basic precautions, we can continue to enjoy the river as we have in the past.

Swimming, Paddling, and Boating Is Okay

Swimmers at Baseline Lake

Swimmers at Baseline Lake in Dexter.

At the levels of PFAS contamination found in the river, the best available science tells us that regular swimming in the river is okay and that we can continue to enjoy the river as we have. PFAS is a health risk when ingested over time, or with repeated exposures to very high levels, such as what workers in industrial environments might encounter.

Avoid Foam

PFAS concentrates in foam at levels much higher than in non-foamy water. Agitated PFAS may cause “PFAS foam” which resembles smooth, creamy, sticky foam, but PFAS can also concentrate in naturally-occurring foam, so it’s best to assume that all foam on the river contains elevated levels of PFAS.

If you do make contact with foam, don’t panic. Simply rinse off with non-foamy river water and wash up with soap when you can.

Take care to keep pets and young kids away from foam, as they may touch foam and accidentally ingest it. If that happens, there is no immediate health concern due to PFAS. The concern is repeated exposure over long periods of time, but it’s best to avoid exposure to foam when possible.

Foam also tends to form below dams, and there is some concern about PFAS in spray droplets that people may inhale. For those reasons, it’s best not to linger in areas below dams.

Do Not Eat Fish on the Huron River

The State of Michigan has issued a Do Not Eat Fish Advisory for most of the Huron River. We expect the advisory will remain in place for several years. Anglers should not eat any fish from the Huron River or the connected waterways for the foreseeable future above I-275. Below I-275 in the lowest section of the Huron River, the state guidelines suggest some consumption of fish is safe. Consult the Eat Safe Fish Guides to protect yourself from PFAS and other contaminants in fish.

Note that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is currently reevaluating their guidelines, which are based on old information. Several lines of recent scientific evidence have demonstrated that PFAS are more toxic and widespread in fish than previously thought. The Huron River Watershed Council recommends exercising additional caution and to avoid consuming fish from the Huron River until updated guidance becomes available.

The Huron River Watershed council recently partnered with the Ecology Center and Friends of the Rouge to sample fish in two watersheds. Every single fish sampled in that study contained PFAS, regardless of the species and where they were caught. Read the summary here.

Conditions in the Huron River Improving Amidst a Global Problem

We now know that PFAS are far more toxic and far more pervasive around the world than previously thought. What was once described as an emerging crisis in 2018 is now understood to be long-term global problem.

That said, conditions on the Huron River have improved. As we head into the 2023 paddling season, PFAS levels in the river are significantly lower than they were four years ago. Several sources of the PFAS to the river have been identified and addressed, and the levels of PFAS found in sampled fish is lower than what was found in 2018 and 2019. The Huron River Watershed Council is working with state and local partners to address additional sources, reduce contamination to the river, and inform paddlers on the Water Trail.

Visit for more information.