Here are a few tips to keep you safe on the crowded waterways:
Look at the weather
- Check the radar for storms. Lightning isn’t fun, either is hail. Hail dings.
- Check the wind report and forecast. You don’t want to get caught offshore and have to fight the wind to get home.
- Don’t try to outrun a storm. Wait until it’s over.
Getting to the water safely
- Check your straps and rack before you leave the driveway. There are few things more dangerous than having a 14-foot board fly off a roof rack at 70 mph on a major highway. Plus, ding repair on that scale is expensive.
- Pack you pfd. It’s the law.
- Pack a leash if you are surfing, on a downwinder, or if you are new. It’s good to take a leash if you are
- If you are on a river, pack the appropriate whitewater leash and pfd.
- If you are bringing kids under 12, they need to legally wear a pfd. They can not wear an inflatable belt pfd. On a child who can not swim, the very instrument made to help them, can actually kill. It inflates on their lower back/waist and they hang under water. Not good.
Pick a route
- Know what your are going to do, where you are going to go before you get out there.
- Locate places to enter and exit the route. If you get in trouble, you will want to be able to safely reach land.
- If there is wind, paddle into the wind FIRST, then do the downwind back. Going with the wind is a blast and you go far. Coming back is hard and depending on how fast the wind is blowing, it might be impossible to get back.
- If you are going with the wind and dropping a car, doing a point to point, make sure to bring the keys for the car you dropped. I’ve seen people drop a car, drive to the point of entry, and leave the keys in the parked car at the start. Not fun.
Let someone know where you’re going, find a paddle buddy
- Tell someone where you are going, your route and what time you expect to be home. If you don’t come back within a reasonable time frame, people know where to look.
- Find someone else to join you. A paddle buddy can help you if you get hurt, go for help, share provisions, and be that second voice that might talk you out of doing something dumb.
- Pack a phone, charged, in a dry pack or waterproof case. A Ziploc doesn’t do it. The green line won’t save you. Make sure it’s waterproof.
Hydration and food
- Bring water. Always bring more water than you think you need. If you live in the northern hemisphere, it’s now summer. It’s hot. Dehydration can affect balance, muscle cramping, nutrient absorption, temperature regulation, digestion, energy metabolism, toxin elimination and your ability to tell a good knock knock joke.
- Pack a energy or meal replacement bar. Something just in case you need energy. Paddling burns calories. After an hour, you’re going to need something.
Avoid Boat Traffic
- Stay out of the main waterways/channels. Boats have the right of way.
- When crossing the channels, cross at 90 degrees and pretend you are crossing a highway.
- Look both ways and estimate if you have time before starting to cross.
- Avoid fishing areas like fishing piers or areas where fishermen park their boats and cast at structures like jetties, dams, etc.
You are an ambassador of the sport
- If you stay out of boat traffic, have fun, bring friends, and stay safe, you are paving the way for others to enjoy the sport we all love. Your example is one that people can follow when they paddle.
- If you see someone with their paddle backward, in the weeds, and perhaps crying softly to themselves, this isn’t the East Village. Ask them if they need help. If that seems too forward, ask them where they paddled from, where they’re headed, if they’re out with friends. That might start the “I’m actually in trouble” dialogue.
Never turn your back on the water: If you see trash, pick it up.
- It doesn’t matter if it’s an ocean, lake, river, pond, stream, bay, inlet, whatever. Pay attention to the water and when our playground needs us, do not turn your back. If you see trash, pick it up. It doesn’t take much, but when you paddle past a plastic bag and pick it up, it’s one less turtle, or bird, or after it dissolves into smaller pieces, is one less fish with plastic in their stomach. The broken window theory is really true on water. If people see others cleaning up, they will hesitate before littering.
- And cigarette butts are litter. When you see someone flicking their filter into the water, onto the street, it’s the same as if they ate a Big Mac and tossed the McDonald’s bag and Big Mac box on the ground. Same thing. Bigger container.
If there is lightning
- THROW AWAY YOUR PADDLE WHEN THERE IS LIGHTNING. Carbon paddles are made of carbon fiber. Its ability to conduct electricity is established in the marine industry and hazards includes fire, shock and electrocution and corrosion of metals in contact with it and water. Throw your paddle away and paddle your board on your stomach. Paddle to shore.