Paddle SC

Water Safety

Be Paddle Smart

Follow these tips from the American Canoe Association (ACA) for a safe and comfortable trip. 


Know Before You Go. Proper planning is important! Learn about your route in advance, especially the possible hazards, and know where to go in case of emergency. Check the weather and flow conditions before you go, and prepare accordingly.

Wear Your Lifejacket. Properly fitted lifejackets (or Personal Flotation Devices) should be worn at all times. Keep a whistle on your PFD for alerting others if you get in an emergency.

Know Your Equipment. Make sure you are comfortable with the paddle craft that you are using, and that you can steer and propel it effectively. Know what kind of conditions your equipment is suited for and use it appropriately.

Stay Hydrated and Energized. Carry enough food and water for the length of your trip, plus a little extra in case of emergency.  

Make a Float Plan. Know where you are going to get in, take out, and about how long it will take. Leave a float plan with someone who isn’t paddling with you.

Know your Limits. Only take on a paddling trip that is appropriate to your experience level. Plan to go with other experienced paddlers when learning new skills or challenging yourself.

Dress For Safety. Dress appropriately for the weather and water conditions. Cold water can be a killer! Be prepared for colder waters by wearing moisture-wicking (not cotton), warm clothing, wetsuits, and a hat. Protect yourself from the sun with sun protective clothing (UPF), sunscreen, and a sun hat.

See and Be Seen. Make sure you are aware of and visible to other water users, especially power boats. In low light conditions, use lights.

If You Fall In. Stay calm and stay with your boat. If you fall out of your boat in a current or rapid, assume the whitewater swimming position – with your feet up and pointing downstream (like you’re in a recliner) until you reach flatwater or shore and can get back in your boat. In most cases, getting wet or flooding your boat is no reason to end your trip – just dump the water out, re-enter, and continue paddling!

Don’t Drink and Paddle. Never boat under the influence. Paddling a kayak or canoe requires a responsible, safe, and aware operator. Don’t blur that operation with alcohol or drugs.


Be Considerate of Others. Share the water. Give others the room they need to enjoy it. Give fishermen room so you don’t disturb the fish.

Keep the Scene Clean. Take your trash with you, and pick up litter you see along the way. Leave the waterway cleaner than you found it.

Respect Private Property. Only use public lands and access points, or private lands with permission from land owners.

Follow the Rules. Respect the local rules, regulations, standards, and culture.

Practice Leave No Trace.

Additional Resources from the ACA:

SmartStart Paddling Safety Brochure
Best Practices for Paddlers
Rules of the Road: What Paddlers Need to Know
How to Choose a Lifejacket
Paddle Safe! Have Fun!

Paddle SC is presented by
Upstate Forever
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
South Carolina National Heritage Corridor
Rainey Foundation