Kayak & SUP Paddling Safety Essentials

Paddling is a wonderful way to enjoy nature, get some exercise, socialize, challenge yourself and have some adventure. Know basic paddling safety and you’ll be paddling for years to come.

Kayak SUP paddling safety

Paddling isn’t a high-risk activity compared to other things. But the unthinkable can still happen. There are a few cases every year of unfortunate paddler injuries and even deaths.

Answering two questions can help us be more aware of safety:

  1. What are the risk factors when kayaking and SUPing?    
  2. What can we do to reduce the risks?

Risk Factor #1—Water

The first risk factor that’s built-in to all paddling sports—water! It’s water that makes the paddlesports possible, but let’s approach it with respect. Thankfully this can also be the easiest risk to control…

BEST PREVENTION? Wear your life jacket! In the majority of drowning cases each year, most paddlers were not wearing a PFD (Personal Flotation Device—a life jacket).

Risk Factor #2—Hypothermia

Hypothermia will always come into play when the water temperature is below 60º F (15.5º C), or the combination of water and air temperature is below 120º F (50º C). Even with a life jacket, hypothermia is dangerous.

kayak sup paddling safety

BEST PREVENTION? Wear a wet or dry suit when paddling in cold water along with your life jacket. They’ll help you retain your body heat if you should take an unintentional dive.

Risk Factor #3—Hazardous Water

Strainers (downed trees and branches), fast currents, heavy rains causing flooding, high winds and waves—all can be hazardous.

BEST PREVENTION? Know what the water conditions are like before launching. Avoid water conditions above your skill and experience level—strong currents, high wind and waves. Learn to back ferry and other important strokes.

Risk Factor #4—Collision with Other Objects

These can be stationary objects—like downed trees, rocks and boulders—other watercraft, even the shore.

BEST PREVENTION? Pay attention to your surroundings, especially if you’re in a current. Know and practice your basic strokes. Realize you’re small, low to the water and may be overlooked by other boaters. Wearing bright colors will help them see you easily.

kayak sup paddling safety

Risk Factor #5—Solitary Paddling

One of the best things about paddling is getting away from the noise and bustle of life. Kayaking or SUPing alone can be ultra-relaxing. It also means there’s no one around to help if you run into trouble.

BEST PREVENTION? Of course, the best prevention is to paddle with others! But at the very least, let others know where you’ll be, your route and when you plan to be back. If you paddle alone routinely, it’s essential you practice the safety tips we’ve been talking about, as well as learning how to self-rescue.

So, get out there and enjoy this wonderful sport—safely! Happy paddling!

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