The U.S. Coast Guard and American Canoe Association offer 10 ways to paddle safely in a kayak, canoe or raft.
1. Always wear your life jacket. Wear a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times on the water.
2. Don’t drink while paddling. Avoid alcohol, which impairs the coordination and balance you need to control a canoe, kayak, or raft.
3. Learn how to enter and exit your boat safely and stay in your boat when possible. Most paddle sport-related drownings are the result of capsizing.
4. Keep your balance. Don’t overload your boat. Distribute passengers, secure gear evenly and low and leave your dog on land.
5. Practice the wet exit. Learn how to get out of, hang on to, right, and reenter your capsized boat.
6. Don’t get left in the cold. Dress for the weather conditions and be prepared for cold-water immersion. Hypothermia is a danger any time of year.
7. Plan ahead. Know the water you are paddling, plan your day of paddling, and file a “float plan” so that someone knows where to find you and when you plan to return.
8. Never paddle alone. Companions can come to your aid if you get in trouble. New paddlers should paddle with someone more experienced — it’s a great way to learn and remain safe if there is a mishap.
9. Be in command. Know how to move your boat forward, back, and sideways, and how to stop using paddle strokes. Watch ahead for hazards like undercut rocks, large branches, trees, other boats, and on rivers, watch for bridge pilings and big drop-offs.
10. Learn about your boat. Consider taking a canoe or kayak safety class. Call 1-800-929-5162 or visit www.acanet.org to learn about classes offered by the American Canoe Association. For more details, call the U.S. Coast Guard information line at 1-800-368-5647 or visit www.uscgboating.org.