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Paddle Sports and Small Boats

Paddle Sports are becoming more and more popular year after year. Whether canoeing, kayaking or rafting, a day on the water enjoying the thrill of the sport or leisurely enjoying the nature around you can be very satisfying.

Paddle Sports

Participants in Paddle Sports need to be especially vigilant in observing their surroundings, especially when operating around powerboats. A wake from a powerboat can easily swamp the paddle driven boat and leave the paddler in the water.

Power boaters should also be aware when operating around paddlers, other small boat operators and swimmers. They need to remember that they are legally responsible for their wake and any damage that it may cause.

There are certain Do's and Don'ts that should be observed to make your paddling adventure a safe one.

Do's:

  • Take a hands-on lesson before attempting your first paddling experience. You will learn balance, safe exit and entry, stabilizing strokes, and rescue and recovery skills. You will also learn about special moving water conditions including unusually high water and operating around low head dams and strainers.
  • Know how to swim and be able to perform a "self rescue" in rivers or waters with strong currents.
  • Wear a properly fitted lifejacket and keep it snug. Require that others onboard do the same.
  • Pay attention to the boat's capacity plate and stay within the required limits.

Don'ts:

  • Never paddle alone. There is safety in numbers.
  • Avoid alcohol use. Far too many deaths are recorded each year when Paddle Sport enthusiasts are using alcohol prior to finding themselves in the water.
  • Avoid paddling in extreme conditions that are beyond your skill level. If extreme weather or water conditions exist, stay off the water.
  • Do not overload your craft. Make sure gear is secured and distributed evenly from side to side and bow to stern.

Preparation

Like boating in general, preparation prior to getting underway is a necessity and could save your life.

  • File a float plan. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Check the weather conditions prior to getting on the water.
  • Access your boat with 3 points of contact. Do not stand or move about excessively.
  • Load the boat properly. Keep yourself and equipment low and along the centerline. Standing or moving about increases the chance of capsizing. The most stable position for a canoeist is kneeling.
  • Keep your shoulders within the gunwales of the boat. If you must retrieve something from the water, reach with your paddle or get close enough to retrieve the item without leaning over.
  • Always dress for an unexpected flip, wear appropriate clothing.
  • Carry drinking water and use sunscreen.
  • Carry required equipment and rescue gear.

Special Dangers

Paddling presents some special dangers that every participant in the sport should be aware of. These include; entrapments, broaches, strainers and low-head dams.

The most obvious threat to life on the water is drowning. Wearing a USCG approved and properly fitted life jacket can prevent this in calm water but in swift or turbulent water even a life jacket may not keep your head above water at all times.

Entrapments - usually happen when a person's foot gets wedged in a crevice or under a rock. The force of swift water may prevent you from being able to free yourself.

When you find yourself in swift water, float on your back with your feet up and pointing downstream. This position will enable you to fend off rocks while making your way to the shore. It also diminishes the chance of being entrapped. If your paddle craft remains afloat, hold onto the upstream side as you make your way to shore.

Broaches - A broach may occur when your paddle craft gets pushed sideways by the current and gets pinned against a rock.

Preventing a broach starts with avoiding obstacles in the water. You probably won't be able to miss them all even if you are an experienced paddler. Since being broached is being pushed into a rock by the current, do your best to avoid this situation.

Strainers - Strainers are a common hazard in rivers and streams and may be from a group of rocks, fallen trees or other debris. As the name implies, they have no effect on the flow of water but "strain" out people and paddle craft. Keep an eye ahead and do your best to avoid any strainers that you see.

Low Head Dams - Low Head Dams are serious risks that may be encountered when paddling. Sometimes referred to as "Drowning Machines," they are dangerous both above and below the dam.

DamsFrom downstream, you may not realize the danger until it's too late. From upstream, low-head dams are difficult to detect. In most instances, a low-head dam does not look dangerous, yet can create a life-threatening situation. You should always pay attention to warning signs, markers or buoys and keep well clear of low-head dams.

An obvious danger is encountered when a boat is carried downstream over a dam, yet the most serious danger occurs immediately below the dam, where hydraulic effects can submerge a person or a craft and keep it submerged within a few feet of the dam. Also, the person can become entangled in underwater debris, and not be able to free him or herself.

Dams do not need to have a deep drop to create a dangerous backwash. During periods of high water and heavy rains, the backwash current problems get worse, and the reach of the backwash current is extended downstream.

Small low-head dams that may have provided a refreshing wading spot at low water can become a brutal death trap when river levels are up. Simply put, it is not the drop of the dam that is the lethal danger, but the backwash current. This backwash current is governed by volume of water and flow.