Know Before You Go. Read about the waterway you plan to paddle and be sure to check that flow levels are good for paddling (Skill & Flow Ratings). Too little flow can make for hiking with a boat, and too much water can be dangerous as some rapids become more difficult. Let someone who isn’t paddling with you know what your plans are by leaving a float plan.
Dress For Safety. Lifejackets (or Personal Flotation Devices) should be worn at all times. Be prepared for your type of paddling by being dressed and outfitted properly. Dress appropriately for your paddle trip and avoid wearing cotton clothing, especially in colder weather. Cold water can be a killer! Loss of body heat and the possibility of hypothermia can be a result of falling into cold water, especially while wearing clothing that does not dry quickly, such as cotton. Be prepared for colder waters by wearing moisture-wicking, warm clothing, wetsuits, and a hat.
Pay Attention and Be Considerate of Others. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings, especially if you encounter powerboats. Stay alert and be ready to move out of danger. Stay visible by wearing bright colors or by using a horn, whistle, or flashlight because others may not see you. Share the water – give others the room they need to enjoy the waters. Keep the scene clean and pick up litter. Take your trash with you (and pick up litter you see along the way!).
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!
Hazards. Paddling Hazards include rocks, strainers, dams, heavy current, lightening, and other bad weather. Strainers can be anything that blocks your path but lets the water filter through, like downed trees or debris. Check the weather forecast just before your trip
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.
For more information, download the SmartStart Paddling Safety Brochure.