Using Tech for Paddling Alone Safely
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote a post on handy apps to help you stay safer on water – especially if you paddle alone. Let’s face it, despite the admonishions of well-meaning friends and family members, sometimes we all paddle solo. In fact, many of us prefer it. I know I do when I am concentrating on a Paddle Monster workout.
The reality of it is, though, we can’t always coordinate workout times with buddies. If it’s a choice between paddling solo and not paddling all, well, I will always choose the former. Same with most of the other outdoor activities I do.
That said, it is always a good idea to let someone know where you are going and when you intend to return. Even when it’s a short workout and especially when it’s a longer one, or a paddle trip.
Expedition paddlers have been doing this the old fashioned or analog way for years, filing something known as a float plan with official agencies as well as friends before a day-long or multi-day paddle excursion.
But it’s a practice that’s good to get into even what we are just going out for an hour, and it doesn’t haven to be as detailed or widely distributed. A text or a phone call letting a non-paddling friend know the following can suffice:
• Where you are paddling specifically.
• What time you will be on the water.
• What time you expect to return.
• What craft you are paddling: type, brand, color, length.
• What you are wearing: top/pants/hat color.
When you’re done, don’t forget to send the “I’m okay” message.
The problem with the text or voicemail or email message, though, is two-fold:
• In your rush to get after your workout you might forget.
• There’s no way to track where you might be if you do get into trouble and need help.
Enter the GPS/Location Based App
Handy apps can make that entire process easier if not automatic, as well aid emergency responders in finding you if something goes wrong, thanks to the GPS function of these apps, used in conjunction with a mobile phone or smartwatch. And that is why I use them when I paddle alone.
A lot has changed since I wrote that first article on paddling location apps in 2014.
• Over half of the apps mentioned in that first story are no longer available.
• Others have improved.
• The devices have improved – both the watches and the phones.
• Battery life is better.
• Power drain from the apps isn’t as bad.
• Mobile phone water resistancy is greatly improved.
Regardless, I almost always have my iPhone in a waterproof case of some sort and have it attached to my life vest with a lanyard. A long one.
Free with Garmin Connect and a compatible device.
Garmin’s tracking function is available to Garmin smart device users via it’s Connect App. You’ll find it in the More section of the app, under Safety and Tracking.
Many if not most of us Paddle Monsters probably use a Garmin device with Connect already. LiveTrack is easy to set up, and it can be set to automatically email your contacts of your whereabouts when you push the button and start recording an activity or workout on your smart watch. The email includes an invitation to click on a link that will allow your contact to follow you during your paddle and observe your workout stats. The link will be active until you stop your workout, or you can set it to be visible for 24 hours after your workout. For best safety, use that 24 hour visibility. It can be a handy tool for paddling alone safely.
Big Apple Flaw
Apple iPhone users will be extremely frustrated about the inability to text the link to contacts. There is plenty of conflicting info on the interwebs as to why the text option isn’t supported on the iOS platform. Bottom line is, iPhone/Garmin users can only alert and share via email or Twitter or Facebook. If your intended recipient is one who does not check email or social media often, they may not know you’re out and about at all, let alone that you have finished your paddle safely (or not, as the case might be.) This has been a sore spot with my main emergency contact who doesn’t check personal email or Twitter during the work day. “Can’t you set it to text me instead?” Nope. So what I end up doing is sending her a text saying “Hey, I am about to go paddle for an hour or so.” And then a “Hey, I’m off the water,” follow up text, which kind of defeats the integrated purpose. At least she knows something’s wrong if she doesn’t hear from me and will know where to direct authorities by checking the link. Android users apparently have the choice to send via text or email.
Garmin’s Live Event feature can be used in the same way, but only for Android users. It’s designed to let your cheering squad know when to be at the finish line by estimating your finish time during races. I’ve heard of folks using it in the same way as LiveTrack though, as an emergency back up. I wish Apple would change its mind about this but there is no indication that will happen.
$24.99/ 6 months
$6.99 month to month
This is my automated answer to sending that text to my emergency contact. The subscription fee is a small price for me to pay for safety and I get backup paddle data in case I need it.
The Paddle Logger interface is simple and easy to use. The PaddleLive premium feature allows you to notify via text as many emergency contacts as you like. Once set up, all you have to do is remember to hit the start button on the app on your phone, and then hit the End button when finished. The more I use Paddle Logger, the more I like it. And all my contacts report receiving my start/finish texts consistently.
Paddle Logger will also notify your contacts if you fail to check in. In the PaddleLive settings, you determine how long it will be before the app sends up a “red alert” to your contacts – anywhere from one to four hours after starting the app. If you are doing a paddle that extends beyond four hours, you can adjust the settings to allow you to extend that session for up to four hours beyond, but to do that you will have to hit the “extend session” button on the app.
In the event a red alert goes out, your contacts will be sent a text asking them to check in with you as well as a link that will show your last known gps coordinates, how much battery time your phone has, when your started your paddle and when you were expected to finish.
If you get into trouble at any point in your paddle, you can send up a “flare” yourself that will send out the link as well as the request for the contact to check in with you.
The Paddle Logger folks have been friends of Paddle Monsters for a while – and the app is integrated with the Virtual Paddle Race series started last year. I’d recommend this app for the safety feature regardless of our connection with them.
Paddle Logger works well on the Apple Watch, making it even more convenient.
$5.00 a month/when billed annually ($60)
If you use the Strava app to record your paddles and other types of workouts, its subscription service includes a function similar to that of Paddle Logger’s. You can set it to notify up to three contacts, and once you toggle the Beacon function on, it will send out a message alerting your contacts that you are paddling (or whatever) and providing them with a link where they can follow you live, in real time. Once you stop, the contact can see that the activity has ended. You can also send texts through the app to your contacts at any time during the activity.
Strava Beacon won’t automatically notify your contacts that you have stopped or that you are later than your expected finish time. So it won’t send up those red alerts like Paddle Logger does. You can customize your initial outgoing text message to include an anticipated finish time, but this isn’t nearly as handy as Paddle Logger’s functionality. If you are already a Strava subscriber and you don’t want to add another app to the ones you pay for, then definitely take advantage of this function. In my opinion, Paddler Logger is the better deal – over all it is cheaper annually and provides a better, easier to use safety notification function. And hey, it’s paddle specific!
Life 360 has gone through changes, like most apps have, since I first wrote about it in 2014. It has most noticeably changed its pricing tiers. While it remains one of the best family location tracking and notification apps, it is not as handy as it used to be for our paddling safety purposes. Especially when Garmin is doing it for free and Paddle Logger has a reasonable premium feature that includes emergency pinging.
Apple’s Find My App
If you are an Apple user, the Find My app can be used to share your location with designated friends, offering a function similar to Life360’s but without subscription fees. It is not the most intuitive, but you can set it up to share your location only when you arrive or leave specific locations. It’s not like your friends get to track your whereabouts all the time. In fact, the safety alerts toggle in the setup is designed to let you know if someone is tracking you without your permission. Don’t confuse that with a safety alerts function like Paddler Logger’s.
The location sharing function is accessible through the Message app as well.
Remember, while handy this functionality will not send out alerts should you not return to a location at or within a certain time, nor will it tell your contact if your battery is low.
If you are an Apple user and you are looking for a no-cost, basic notification service then this is an option. It could also be a good back up.
On the flip side, FollowMee hasn’t changed much at all. To the point where I am surprised that it is still around. It is technical and somewhat cumbersome in comparison to what Garmin, Paddle Logger and Strava offer so, unless you really don’t want to use one of those, it’s hard to consider it as a contender in 2021.
Before you set up any of these apps, do the following:
- Be sure to let your emergency contacts know that you are doing it.
- Have a detailed conversation about what they should do if you go missing. Better yet, write it down for them.
- If you have more than one emergency contact (and you should!) be sure they all know who your other contacts are so they can coordinate an emergency response.
- Let your contacts know where you routinely carry your wallet and/or insurance card and even car keys so they will know where to look for those if you end up in hospital or urgent care.
Feel free to share your favorite location sharing app in the comments!