Don’t paddle into danger: Tips for canoeists, kayakers and rafters
July is prime season for Northwest paddle sports. Whether you're new to human-powered craft or a veteran paddler, these 10 tips can help ensure a safe, fun trip for everyone:
1. Check weather, winds, currents and conditions before you set out.
Could anything change between the time you leave and the time you return, especially if you're paddling on waters affected by tides and currents? If you're planning to go from river to ocean, verify conditions with the Coast Guard.
2. Share your plans before you leave.
If you don't return as expected, someone at home will know where to send help to find you. Consider carrying a VHF radio in addition to your cell phone, and keep them in a waterproof container.
3. Wear a life jacket and helmet.
Paddlers need at least a Coast Guard-rated Type III lifejacket (generally considered the most comfortable for paddle sports). Type II, the classic, bulkier lifejacket for calm inland waters, is a safe choice, too. Nearly 80% of people lost in boating accidents may have been saved had they been wearing a life jacket, according to the American Boating Association. In addition, to protect your head in a river or surf-zone paddling accident, choose a quality helmet designed specifically for paddle sports.
4. Always remain seated.
Never stand in a canoe or raft and avoid weight shifts that can lead to capsizing. Also, consider tethering your paddle to your craft so it's not lost if you capsize.
5. Paddle with a group.
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.
6. Carry an emergency whistle.
Wind and water can make hearing others more difficult. Sound from a whistle carries farther than shouting.
7. Dress in layers.
Be ready to peel off layers (think quick-to-dry polypropylene, nylon and neoprene) to avoid getting overheated or chilled from perspiration. 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 chilly Northwest waters.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Use sun protection.
Sun and wind can be dehydrating – even when you're surrounded by water. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and use sunscreen
Some final thoughts: If you own a paddle-powered craft, use a permanent marker to write your name, phone number 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.
And if you're interested in insurance coverage for your paddle craft that goes beyond the protection offered by your homeowners policy, let us know! Your local PEMCO agent or a representative at 1-800-GO-PEMCO can explain coverages that apply and help you explore options for additional protection.
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