You don't need to be a Northwest Male Action Figure to ditch the horsepower and enjoy some human-powered fun on our inland Northwest waterways. Whether you're taking a leisurely canoe ride on Green Lake, whisking down the Rogue River on an inner tube, or paddle boarding on Lake Sammamish, these tips from the Coast Guard and American Canoe Association (ACA) can help you keep the fun afloat:
- Check weather, winds, currents, and conditions before you set out. Could anything change between the time you leave and the time your return? Be especially mindful if you're paddling on waters affected by tides and currents. And if you're even thinking of venturing from river to ocean, don't grab your paddle until you've checked conditions with the Coast Guard. You'll find weather information lines here for many rivers along the Pacific Northwest coast.
- Don't keep your outing a secret. Tell others where you're going and when you'll be back. (They can notify authorities if you're overdue and get help.) Carry a phone and radio.
- Make a fashion statement in orange. Orange, as in lifejacket, that is. All paddlers need at least a Coast Guard-rated Type III lifejacket (generally considered the most comfortable and recommended by the ACA for paddle sports). Type II, the near-shore buoyant vest, makes a good choice, too. It's the classic lifejacket for calm inland waters. Nearly 70% of all drownings involving canoes, kayaks, or rafts might have been avoided if the victim had been wearing a life jacket, according to the ACA.
- Sit on it. Never stand in a kayak or canoe and avoid weight shifts that can lead to capsizing.
- Paddle with a pal. But don't push fellow paddlers beyond their capabilities (and be realistic about your own level of fitness and experience). Set a reasonable pace so everyone can stay together, and be willing to adjust further if you notice a paddler lagging behind. Consider asking an experienced paddler to bring up the rear in case someone runs into trouble.
- Blow it. Wind and water can make hearing others more difficult, so carry a whistle to signal in an emergency.
- Dress in layers. When paddling in cool temperatures, be ready to peel off layers (think quick-to-dry polypropylene, nylon, and neoprene) to avoid getting overheated or chilled from perspiration. A fleece-lined skull cap is a good choice to keep your noggin toasty. Consider carrying a change of clothes in a sealed dry bag, just in case. And if you're paddle-boarding, a wet suit is a good idea any time of year in our perpetually chilly Northwest waters.
- Don't take a wake hit broadside. If you encounter a wake from a motorized boat, enter the wake at an angle. Small waves can be approached head-on, but you don't want to take on one so large that you "fall off" the back side of the wave and submerge the bow.
- Cross quickly and stick to shorelines. Especially when sharing waterways with larger, motorized craft, stay close to the protection of the shoreline, which you're more likely to have to yourself. If you need to cross a waterway, wait until powerboats have passed so you can cross behind rather than in front of them. Don't linger in midchannel.
- Be sun-savvy. Sun and wind can dehydrate – even when you're surrounded by water. Make sure you drink plenty of water, use sunscreen, and wear a brimmed cap when the sun's out.
A final thought: If you own your own paddle-powered vessel, use a permanent marker to write your name, phone, and email address on its interior. Not only do you stand a better chance of recovering it if it goes missing, you may prevent the Coast Guard from launching an unnecessary search and rescue if it's ever found adrift. The Coast Guard will contact you to verify that the vessel was unoccupied.