Paddle craft: Reduce your risks!

Paddle sports are a great way to experience the outdoors and stay active. The unique risks associated with paddle sports can be reduced through proper preparation and taking the right precaustions. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Paddle sports are a great way to experience the outdoors and stay active. The unique risks associated with paddle sports can be reduced through proper preparation and taking the right precaustions. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Aux. David Glaser

Paddle sports continue to be one of the fastest growing areas of recreational boating, with more than 300,000 paddle craft being sold annually. Paddle craft are relatively cheap compared to other recreational boating activities, adding to their popularity. Paddle sports are a great way to experience beautiful outdoor areas, bringing operators closer to the natural environment.

However, paddle craft also present unique dangers. While they do bring their operators closer to the natural environment, they also expose operators to the elements. Paddle craft are also more susceptible to changes in environmental conditions because of their relatively smaller size.

Last year alone, there were more than 200 deaths and injuries for paddle craft operators, a sobering statistic that shows how inattention and improper preparation can affect paddle craft operators too.

If you love getting outdoors and enjoying the growing trend of paddle sports, here are some simple tips to follow to help lessen the risks associated with these craft.

1. Always wear a life jacket.

Wearing one that is inherently buoyant can help you get back into a kayak if you happen to fall out. Make sure your lifejacket fits properly – drowning was the lead cause of death in 2013 for paddle sport operators. A life jacket is much harder to put on once you are already in the water, so have it on before you leave shore.

A Paddle Smart sticker allows rescue crews to contact you if your paddle craft is found. Having these stickers on your craft can save countless resource hours. U.S. Coast Guard image.

A Paddle Smart sticker allows rescue crews to contact you if your paddle craft is found. Having these stickers on your craft can save countless resource hours. U.S. Coast Guard image.

2. Get a paddle smart sticker. Check the weather. Have a plan.

A Paddle Smart sticker is a great thing to have on your kayak or paddle craft. It lets authorities know who to call if your craft is found and can save rescue crews countless resource hours. Filing a float plan is another crucial step in case rescuers need to find you. It can be as simple as telling a loved one where you are going and when you plan to return. Always check the weather before paddling. Paddle craft expose operators to the conditions and are more susceptible to wind and waves than other recreational boats.

3. Have the proper gear.

If you’re kayaking in remote waters, a handheld VHF-DSC radio can give you a way to call for assistance. Cell phones won’t always have reception, can run out of battery and are useless if they get wet. If you do bring your cell phone along, keep it in a zip locked bag to ensure it does not get wet. If you plan on fishing in your paddle craft, kayak stabilizers are a great way to keep your balance if you plan to stand up.

If you plan to purchase a kayak or a life jacket in the future, consider bright colors when buying. It is easier for rescue crews to spot brightly colored paddle craft if they are involved in a search.

Paddling with a partner or larger group is fun and lessens the risks associated with paddling alone. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Paddling with a partner or larger group is fun and lessens the risks associated with paddling alone. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

4. Know your role.

It is important to educate yourself before going out on the water. The Coast Guard Auxiliary conducts safety courses that focus primarily on paddle sports.

Just like while recreational boating, inattention and lack of situational awareness can greatly increase your risks. Your best bet is to stay clear of other recreational boaters and allow them the right of way. They are much more limited in their ability to maneuver and operate than paddle craft.

5. Use the buddy system.

Paddling with a partner or in a larger group will reduce risks to individual paddlers. Recreational boaters will also be able to spot a group of kayakers much easier than they can spot a solo paddler.

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