Paddling Tips

Safety Tips

  • Put commercially available foam blocks on your canoe gunwales where they hit your car rack. When you cinch the tie-downs, the foam gives and helps keep the boat on tight. Always use bow and stern tie-down lines when driving with your boat on your car rack (putting a twist in tie-down straps helps eliminate wind hum). It only takes an extra minute and adds a lot of safety.
  • Before leaving on a paddling adventure, check your local weather and marine forecast (don't go if the weather is beyond the abilities of the least experienced person in your group). Bring a weather radio with you.
  • Always plan your route, taking into account known danger areas and safe harbors – learn to recognize these and chart them on your map. Leave your route with a friend and include the number of people going, who they are, your planned return time, color of boats, etc.
  • Carry at least one signaling device on every trip – a flashlight, strobe, three flares, horn/whistle, cell phone, VHF radio, bright flag or a mirror are some key items to have along.
  • Always wear your PFD. Get one that is comfortable, that has large arm and neck holes so it doesn't chafe, and make sure that you swim in it so you know how it feels. When you need a PFD, it's too late to put it on. It's like a seat belt. If you put it on EVERY time, you'll have it on when you need it. If you feel too hot, go for a swim! Pick out a brightly colored PFD that you feel good in. Make sure that it has the pockets or reflectors or whatever you feel you need so you really get attached to it.
  • Also, PFDs with foam sections that articulate and bend with your movement are usually more comfortable than those without. Torso length adjustments on the shoulders of higher end PFDs can really help customize the fit, especially for women, who tend to have shorter torsos.
  • On every trip bring along an extra paddle, a first-aid kit, plenty of drinking water, sunscreen, lip balm, waterproof matches, a multitool, hand pump and sponge.
  • Wear brightly colored clothes when you paddle. You can also put reflective tape on your PFD, boat and paddles. The more visible you are, the safer you are.
  • Kayaks are not easily seen by other boaters. Try to stay out of the shipping channels, and be as predictable and visible as possible. To help with this, choose a brightly colored boat (red, orange and gold are good) that will stand out against the water and sky.
  • Always check the legal safety and lighting requirements for boating for the area you will be in. You may be required to have certain lights with you or carry specific safety gear such as flags when you are on the water. (You can check with the Coast Guard for coastal waters, or with the Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for internal waters in Maine.)
  • When sea kayaking, know which way the tide is moving and plan accordingly. Make sure to pull your boat up above the high tide line when you're not boating, and secure your gear to keep it from floating or blowing away.
  • Respect private property when boating. Land only on public areas or where you have permission to be.
  • Take the opportunity to clean up the ocean when you're out. Trash is not good for marine wildlife. Pick up those plastic bags or cans you see in the water. You can make a game out of it with kids to see who can collect the most, the biggest, smallest, brightest, etc.
  • To increase your enjoyment, take a paddling class (the paddling classes at our Outdoor Discovery Schools are a great place to learn) to improve your skills. Look for books and magazines that describe the area that you're paddling in and bring some friends or seek out a local kayaking or canoeing club.

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