Our Top Paddling Safety Tips

4-minute read

Safety should always be a top priority when you kayak, canoe, packraft or paddle board. Here are some essential safety guidelines, including tips from a couple of our Ambassadors.

group getting kayaks and gear ready for a trip 

(Photo courtesy of Rob McNamee)

Most Important Safety Considerations When Paddling

Drowning is the biggest safety risk for paddlers. It’s quite rare, thankfully, and your best defense is to always wear your PFD (Personal Flotation Device, or life jacket) securely when you’re on the water.

Another risk is exposure. It could be exposure to the threatening weather—wind, rain, sleet or lightning. Or it could be exposure to water that’s cold enough to cause hypothermia if you should capsize.

So it’s important to check the forecast ahead of time and always “dress for immersion,” for the water temperature, not just the air temperature.

Ambassador Charles Bauer adds another important consideration: Boat traffic where you’ll be paddling. If you’re in a 12-foot kayak on the same water with 30-foot speedboats or 1,000-foot tankers, it’s your job to stay out of their way!

Most operators of these bigger, faster boats aren’t looking for you. So stick closer to the shoreline and out of boat lanes. Choose a boat that’s brightly colored (like red or orange) and use high-visibility gear and PFD.  High-visibility paddles are also a great idea, like the red and green options in our Ray series kayak paddles.

Ambassador Harald Born adds another key consideration: Know your own and your group’s ability on the water, and don’t put yourself in conditions above your skill level. This could include fast-moving rivers, the ocean with its tides, or big water like the Great Lakes that can throw up huge waves.

Before you tackle a challenging water environment, get the training and experience you need to paddle it safely.

 packrafter paddling down a rocky river in big rapids

Don’t take on water you’re not trained for! (photo courtesy of Four Corners Guides)

How Safety Considerations Vary

“Safety considerations change depending on location, especially if it's a new place,” says Charles. “It also depends on weather, open water vs protected water, and whether I am paddling solo or with a partner or group.”

River paddling has extra challenges that don’t apply to flatwater. Tidal areas offer their own challenges. A slow-moving river is more beginner-friendly than a fast-moving river with stretches of rapids.

An hour or two on the lake at your family cabin is a different story than a day or two in a remote wilderness setting.

Harald adds, “I take weather more into account when sea kayaking than river kayaking.”

It comes down to knowing your paddling environment and the risks it carries, and then being prepared to lower those risks as much as you can.

How Do You Plan for a Safe Trip?

Charles offers several ways he plans ahead to be sure his kayak trips are safe every time:

  • He researches any new route on Google Earth and looks for comments about the route from other kayakers.
  • He prints out his route plan for both him and his wife (who is his contact person). If an emergency comes up, she knows where he is.
  • He brings a compass, ensures his phone is fully charged and brings a portable waterproof charger.
  • He has a dry bag or two for his valuables and a change of dry clothes. He also brings water and snacks.
  • He checks and packs his First Aid kit, a tow rope and his bilge pump.
  • He dresses for immersion and the elements.
  • He wears an ID bracelet (RoadID.com) that has his name and birthdate, emergency contact phone numbers, blood type and other health information.

For convenience, keep your gear together in a paddling kit: maybe a dry bag or two, or a waterproof day pack. Put it with your paddle and PFD so it’s all easy to grab together each time you head out.

For paddling on rivers with rapids, Harald suggests you know in advance where you’ll need to go ashore or eddy out to scout challenging sections. That way you’ll take the time you’ll need into account so your group doesn’t feel rushed. You don’t want the temptation of skimping on safety to make up for lost time on the river.

 woman relaxing on a paddle board on a calm lake

(Photo courtesy of Scottie Peterson)

Paddling is one of the safest and most fun outdoor activities you can do—when you keep these things in mind!

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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