Last Friday I covered some general rules about small boat safety, and this blog will cover safety rules and suggestions for use with canoes and kayaks. I think I can safely say that canoe and kayak boaters were in use on Presque Isle waters long before any other small watercraft. But now, as recreation and sport, their use has increased 10-fold over the last 5 to 10 years. Paddle boaters are at the present time the fastest growing segment of the boating community.
Remember, our waterways belong to everyone. Canoes and kayaks, of course, have a long and rich tradition on Presque Isle. However, in today’s age of large, fast motorized craft and their wakes, canoes and kayaks are among the most susceptible to accidents. Part of the reason for this is that they and slower moving, difficult to spot on open water, and usually cannot maneuver or change course quickly.
I read a report issued by the U.S. Coast Guard recently that said that in 2007, 117 fatalities were attributed to canoes, kayaks and rowboats. The report went on to say that properly fitted life jackets could have prevented nearly all these deaths. Of these deaths, 97 were from drowning.
Recently, I talked to an old codger at the new Presque Isle Turtle Platform site, and he told me that he sure has seen a whole lot of slender boats. OK, now he stumped me. I asked him what he meant by slender boat. He told me they were small boats that were tapered fore and aft so that they could go backward as easily as they go forward. He also said they always had a round bottom. Obviously, he was talking about either canoes or kayaks. No, he said they were slender boats, and he owned one back in 1938, and the new ones were just too fancy for him.
The narrow shape of both makes them wobbly in the water. If you have little or no experience in either canoes or kayaks, here are some tips about how to get into one:
- Have someone hold the canoe or kayak steady.
- Crouch low and keep your knees bent if possible.
- Grab the side of the canoe or kayak for balance.
- Keep your feet on the centerline of the craft.
One important factor to remember when canoeing or kayaking is that you should bring the proper equipment and find a way to tie it all to the craft in some type of waterproof bag. I can assure you that you are most likely going to somehow get wet (even if it’s just from the paddle drip). In a canoe, you can tie the bag to one of the center beams and in a kayak, if you do not have a storage area built-in; center it in the front area of the kayak.
What should be in that bag?
- Sun protection hat, sunscreen, long pants and a long-sleeve shirt.
- First-aid kit.
- Map – if area is unfamiliar.
- Food, if you plan to be on the water for an extended period.
It is extra important to always wear your life jacket, because you never know when you might tip over unexpectedly or fall out. Make an effort not to make sudden or jerky movements. If you are taking a partner (this is highly recommended) the experienced person should sit in the stern of the craft. If you do encounter bigger waves, avoid letting them hit the side of your canoe or kayak. Always try to keep the waves at right angles to your craft.
A friend of mine who kayaks daily has said that ALL novice paddle boaters should practice for at least a week on calm waters before they venture onto potentially rougher waters. He recommends that you should know the conditions and forecast before you set out, and also, always know and paddle within your abilities. Paddling a canoe or kayak is fairly easy; however, you WILL need more than just a little practice to get from point A to point B. If you do run into rough conditions, consider kneeling on the bottom instead of sitting on the craft’s seats. This should provide more stability.
Again, like learning on a small boat, canoeing and kayaking is not something you should try to learn on your own. At first, to be safe, you need someone with experience onboard. Everyone needs a boating buddy. Besides, it will be a lot of fun.
Finally, one last very important point, do not drink alcohol before or while operating your craft. Alcohol affects balance, coordination and judgment. Have fun, but be safe this summer.
See you on the park!!
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