Coming home safely is the goal of any paddling outing. Heed the following hints brought to you by Perception kayaks to ensure you have a safe time out on the water.
Wear Your PFD: Whether you’re paddling a sup, canoe, kayak or inflatable, a properly fitting personal flotation device (PFD) is your most important piece of equipment. Get one that fits correctly (doesn’t ride up over your shoulders in the water) and wear it every time you’re out on the water.
Apparel: Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions and water temperatures you’re paddling in. If it’s warm water in Florida, shorts and a sub shirt will suffice. In colder climates, add a synthetic layer (i.e. fleece, capilene) and a paddling jacket and/or pants. Always heed hypothermia and its opposite, heat stroke.
Safety Gear: If you’re touring far from shore, be equipped with the proper safety gear. This includes a spare, breakdown paddle; a paddle float (wraps around the blade for easier self-rescue); a bilge pump for expelling water from the cockpit (if your boat has one); and safety whistle. Also, bring protection from the sun and plenty of water and food for your voyage.
Heading out: Plan accordingly, bringing everything you need for the appropriate conditions. If carrying gear, load the heaviest items toward the boat’s center for balance and handling; if you’re in an open-top kayak or canoe, make sure all your gear is secure and tied-down.
Know your route: Even if you’re travelling with a guide you can get separated from the group. Know where you’re heading each time you’re out on the water by going over the route beforehand and finding it on a map. When paddling, keep landmarks in sight as points of reference and take occasional readings from a compass.Also, always tell someone your destination and when you’ll be back.
Getting in and out: If loading from land or a dock, place your paddle behind you and across the boat and land/dock, grabbing the shaft for stability as you get in.
Avoid the sun: Unlike backpacking, when paddling you’re constantly surrounded by sun-reflecting water. Even in cold-weather climates, take steps to avoid exposure by applying sunscreen before heading out, and wearing a visor or sun hat while on the water. Keep lip balm and sunscreen handy so you can re-apply without having to head to shore.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: A) You’re exercising; B) You’re doing so outside, without shade. Stay hydrated by keeping water bottles either strapped to your deck or within easy reach inside your cockpit. Better yet, get a hydration system that either fastens to your back or the deck, ensuring cool water is always a lip-purse away.
Save your strength: You’ll likely be using muscle groups that haven’t been worked in a while. To avoid fatigue, tour instead of sprint, using your entire torso with each stroke. This will put some of your arms’ strain on your back, shoulder and stomach muscles.
If you capsize: First off, don’t panic. If you’re paddling a sit-on-top, tip the boat back upright and climb back on, using a scissors kick with your feet to help gain upward momentum. If you’re in a closed-cockpit boat, get your partner to help you tip it back upright and hold it steady from the side while you climb back in. Then use a bilge pump to rid the craft of water. If solo, use a paddle float to stabilize the boat before climbing back in.
Paddle with a partner: Team up with a friend or loved one for your paddle. Not only does this let you both share in the sport’s beauty, but it creates a safety valve should things go awry.