Paddle Crafts

two paddlers atop a kayak

Yearly, paddle sports are becoming more and more popular. There is nothing better than spending a day on the water, whether it is canoeing, kayaking, rafting, enjoying the thrill of the sport, or taking in the scenery in a leisurely manner. However, these water activities also come with some dangers awaiting them. 

The term ‘paddle craft’ refers to a wide range of vessels such as canoes, kayaks, rafts, rowing vessels, and utility boats, all of which require different methods of operation. 

Paddle Craft Safety 

Whenever two vessels meet, the paddle craft should be accorded the right-of-way. There is no doubt that paddle crafts are easier to operate, but their operators must know how to respect larger vessels. 

Boat operators must pay close attention when a paddle craft or small boat is nearby. Those operating the vessel must exercise caution by maintaining a proper lookout and keeping a safe distance from paddlers and swimmers in the area. In areas with poor visibility due to fog or other factors, boaters should be especially cautious.

It is important to remember that boaters are also responsible for the wakes that their boats generate. The wake of a boat is powerful, and it can affect small boats and paddle crafts nearby. For example, a large wake can cause a smaller boat to capsize. 

To ensure a safe paddling experience, paddle operators should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • A hands-on lesson might be a good idea before a first paddle experience. 
  • Being familiar with the basics of swimming and being able to perform a self-rescue in waters with a strong current
  • Ensuring to check the boat’s capacity plate and other limitations before an operation 
  • Wearing a Personal Flotation Device is a must. Ensure that they fit correctly and snugly

Paddle Craft Preparation 

As with any other boat, preparation is necessary for paddle boat operators. They must prepare before entering the water by: 

  • Filing a float plan and letting relatives or friends know the destination, route, and expected date of return 
  • Checking weather and local water conditions before entering the water
  • Keeping an eye on the course of the water and the characteristics of the area that may affect the trip
  • Preparing all required equipment and rescue gear

Training: Training is the best way to ensure the safety of swimmers, boat operators, and paddlers. Various courses are currently offered to teach proper paddling techniques, safe entry, and exit techniques, and stable strokes to beginners, intermediates, and advanced boaters. The course also includes instruction in rescue and recovery skills. 

Boaters interested in paddle sports can obtain additional information and education through NASBLA Paddlesports Education standards

Importance of PFDs:  Most paddling accidents result from not wearing an approved Personal Flotation Device and not being able to swim, according to The US Coast Guard statistics. A Personal Flotation Device can be extremely helpful in cases where boaters or paddlers fall into the water and are unable to swim. 

Self-Rescue Techniques

Kayaks, among other paddle crafts, are particularly prone to rolling over on the water. Therefore, kayakers must be equipped with reliable self-rescue techniques. 

Self-rescue techniques are available in many forms: 

  • An “Eskimo roll” is  the process of rolling a kayak back upright 
  • A buddy roll involves another paddler nearby assisting the operator in rolling 
  • A wet exit  means exiting the craft from the water

While these self-rescue techniques contribute to the safety of both paddlers and operators, paddlers must re-enter their kayaks with the aid of paddle floats while in the water.

Paddle Craft Loading

An operator of a paddle craft must be familiar with its capacities and limitations before they operate it. This step aims to ensure that once a paddle craft reaches its capacity, the operator is already familiar with how to overcome the situation. 

It is crucial to load paddle crafts properly. Operators must maintain a low position and stay within the centerline to operate safely. Additionally, overloading a paddle craft with equipment is a big no-no. In most cases, drowning accidents occur as a result of overloading. Ensure that operators read and understand the paddle craft’s capacity plate guidelines. It is through this process that lives are saved. 

Retrieving Items From the Water

Boaters should refrain from sudden movements when retrieving items from the water and moving around the vessel. Keep your shoulders inside the boat’s gunwales when retrieving items from the water.

If something falls into the water, the best action is to reach for it with the paddle or direct the boat closer to the item so it can be grabbed without too much movement or tipping the boat. 

Paddling in Numbers

As with motorized vessels, boating alone is not recommended. It can result in unnecessary incidents and even fatalities. A few things to remember when boating and why it is safer to travel in groups are:

  •  It is better to have two or more boaters than one. The boats are more stable as the weight is distributed evenly between the axes, reducing the likelihood of capsizing
  •  If an incident occurs, more hands are available to assist.

Things to Avoid

Too many incidents and fatalities occur because of extreme conditions such as poor weather, water conditions, and distance between the boat and the shoreline. Here are a few things to avoid before participating in paddle sports:

  • Never venture too far from a shoreline, especially if you are still learning your chosen paddle sport and are not yet confident.
  • Never consume alcohol. The number of deaths associated with paddle sport enthusiasts who drink alcohol before entering the water is far too high each year.
  • Never paddle in extreme conditions if your skill level does not allow it. Stay off the water if severe weather or water conditions exist.



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