When You Go Paddling, Prep to Enjoy and Prep to Stay Safe

This article was produced under a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Whenever you go paddling, whether a quick trip around the local lake or a longer excursion along the coast, it pays to be prepared. There are multiple factors to consider when taking out a watercraft—be it a canoe, kayak, or standup paddleboard (SUP)—and all relate to keeping you safe, while maximizing fun.

It all starts with checking the weather before your planned excursion. Of course you can’t plan for errant storms, but knowing whether thunderstorms are forecast is important because there’s nowhere to hide from lightning in the middle of the water, plus high winds and rough water can capsize your vessel. Even some innocuous rain could lower your body temperature and cause hypothermia if not dressed properly.

Sun protection should be on your packing list, no matter the weather, but it’s especially important if it’s going to be a sunny and cloudless day. You’ll need to bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and/or clothing that has ultraviolet protection built in. For more inclement weather, make sure to bring along appropriate apparel like rain gear; a warm, insulating layer; or dry top/splash jacket. In general, just be sure to follow a common paddling rule of thumb: Dress for immersion (aka the temperature of the water, not the air).

The most important, often neglected, piece of gear you need to take for any on-the-water adventure is a life jacket, or personal flotation device (PFD). It’s a great idea to take one with you as they offer extra flotation in case you get tossed out. And for those who don’t like wearing the often bulky, hot standard PFDs, can spend a little more money and pick up an inflatable PFD, which uses a CO2 cartridge to fill up the vest, either manually by pulling a cord or automatically with a water sensor. These days you can get them in the typical vest configuration, or the newer waistpack style, which is great for wearing on SUPs.

Along with bringing snacks for energy, it’s doubly important to pack plenty of water so you can stay hydrated. Even though you’ll be surrounded by water, you should never drink unfiltered water from a lake (and definitely not saltwater from the ocean) to slake midday thirst. Try to bring along around one liter of water for every two hours you’ll be actively paddling and exerting yourself. And leave the beer and booze. Save it for land, when you’re relaxing around a grill or campfire.

Speaking of hanging out and cracking some brews post-paddle, both are best enjoyed with friends, which is another way to make sure you stay safe on the water: Always bring a buddy. Not only do you get to spend time with a friend experiencing cool stuff in the outdoors, but having someone with you can be a crucial factor in surviving a potential mishap.

Have fun this summer when paddling, but remember to follow these few simple tips to make your time fun and safe. If you have a solid plan put together to tackle your paddling adventure, you’re much more likely to get home safe after having a blast on the water.

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