Whether operating a craft powered by engine, sail or paddle, all boaters need to look out for one another to ensure an enjoyable day on the water. For paddle craft — canoes, kayaks, rowboats or stand-up paddleboards (SUP) — that means being aware of your surroundings and prepared for any event. These are some things you can do to paddle safely.
Wear your life jacket.
Of all drowning victims, 85% were not wearing a life jacket. The law simply requires having one “readily accessible,” but only a rookie paddler doesn’t wear one. Experienced paddlers wear them. There are fanny-pack-style life jackets that can be worn for a SUP. Modern life jackets come in all styles and sizes.
Because paddle craft sit low in the water, they are less visible and harder to see at twilight and in fog. Paddlers should wear bright clothing and hats, use a life jacket that contrasts with your shirt and use paddles with reflective decals on the blade.
Dress for immersion.
Assume you are going to be in the water at some point. Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Cold water can kill. The body loses heat about 25 times faster in cold water than when dry, and children lose heat faster than adults. Avoid cotton clothing like T-shirts and jeans because they retain water and accelerate the cooling process. Wear footwear that protects from the cold and rough/abrasive surfaces.
Carry paddling essentials.
Paddle craft, including SUPs, are considered legal vessels. Paddlers are required to have a life jacket, a sound-producing device (whistle) and flashlight and should consider carrying a cellphone in a waterproof case. Always carry drinking water. Sit-inside kayakers also should consider having a pump.
Know your limits.
Most kayaks and SUPs are designed for protected waters and moderate currents. Know the capability of your craft. Never paddle while using alcohol or drugs. If possible, don’t paddle alone.
Tell a friend.
Let a trusted friend know where you’ll be, when you plan to launch and return, what your planned paddling route is and when to notify authorities if you don’t check in as scheduled.
Take a paddling class.
If you’re new to paddling, take a class. Paddling has unique characteristics, such as reboarding from the water and other safety skills. The American Canoe Association (https://americancanoe.org) is a good resource.
– Greg Fonzeno is the public education officer and commander of the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit (Flotilla 22) at Allatoona Lake.