Chapter 7: Water Cleanliness and Small Vessels

Paddle Sport Safety

One may apply many of the safety guidelines learned, for powerboats, directly to kayaks and canoes. However, because these vessels are smaller and less stable than other boats, operators need to exercise additional caution when out on the water.

To begin, let's present a few statistics obtained from a recent study which highlights some of the dangers paddlers face. This recent study of paddle sports accidents found that:

  • 83% of victims in these fatal canoe/kayak accidents were not wearing a PFD or lifejacket. This statistic further highlights the importance of always wearing a PFD.
  • Standing up, or moving about, dramatically increases the chance of a fatal incident.
  • 50% of fatal canoe/kayak accidents involved someone fishing at the time the accident took place.
  • 25% of victims in fatal canoe/kayak accidents are believed to have consumed alcohol before the accident.

Study Source: (American Canoe Association: Critical Judgment, Understanding and Preventing Canoe and Kayak Fatalities)

Paddle Sport Safety

The take away from this study is to always wear a lifejacket or PFD, stay as calm and stable in the canoe or kayak as possible (especially if fishing), and never drink and operate a boat. But there are other things one can do to promote safety on a small craft.

When entering a small vessel, keep weight centered and low. Place one foot on the keel and then bring the second foot beside it. Keep both hands on the gunwales of the vessel for stability.

To avoid capsizing, evenly distribute weight throughout the boat and keep it centered and low. This will improve the boat's stability. Be mindful of the wakes of larger vessels that are operating near. As wakes from other vessels risk offsetting stability and possibly even capsizing the vessel. Keep one’s shoulders between the gunnels of the boat at all times. If something falls overboard or one needs to retrieve something from the water, use an oar paddle to guide the boat to the object. Do not lean and stretch out to retrieve it.

Paddle Sport Safety: Canoe

Try to avoid standing up or making any sudden movements when canoeing or kayaking. If one must move around the boat, always maintain three points of contact for added stability. Keep two hands on the sides of the boat, take a step forward, and keep both feet down when moving a hand.

Paddle Sport Safety

Take hands-on training to get familiar with navigating a kayak or canoe. Proper paddling instruction will allow one to learn balance, the use of stabilizing strokes, how to safely exit and enter the water, and useful rescue and recovery skills.

Never drink alcohol before boating: this rule applies to all boats in all situations. Never consume alcohol and operate a boat. 

Finally, avoid paddling alone. The buddy system goes a long way to promote safety when kayaking or canoeing.