Paddling down a river or across a lake is an enjoyable and safe activity, gaining popularity. But according to statistics, paddlers in small crafts such as canoes, kayaks and rafts are more than twice as likely to drown as individuals operating other types of vessels.
The higher rate of fatalities can be attributed to two factors:
- Some paddlers don’t consider themselves “boaters” and may not follow the same safe practices as other small vessel operators.
- Some paddlers need to develop their skills or knowledge to operate their small, unstable craft safely. They may be unaware of hazards unique to paddlesports, such as fast currents and low-head dams, or don’t follow proper safety procedures when encountering them.
Prepare by doing the following:
- Always wear a properly fitting PFD and know how to swim in a river current.
- Never paddle alone. Bring along at least one other boater. When canoeing, two canoes with two canoeists each are recommended. Three crafts with two paddlers each are even better. If unfamiliar with the waterway, paddle with someone knowledgeable.
- Never overload the craft. Tie down gear and distribute weight evenly.
- Maintain a low center of gravity and three points of contact. Keep your weight balanced over the center of the craft. Standing up or moving around in a small craft can cause it to capsize –a leading cause of fatalities among paddlers. Leaning a shoulder over the edge of the craft can also destabilize it enough to capsize.
- Stay alert at all times and be aware of your surroundings, including nearby powerboats. Be prepared to react when dangerous situations arise.
- Practice re-boarding your craft in the water with the help of a companion.
- Dress properly for the weather and type of boating.
- Check your craft for leaks.
- Map a general route and timetable when embarking on a long trip. Arrange for your vehicles to be shuttled to the takeout.
- Know the weather conditions before you head out. While paddling, watch the weather and stay close to shore. Head for shore if the waves increase.
Paddleboarding is an activity that started in the 1940’s in Hawaii, but recently has exploded in popularity across the country as an outdoor recreation activity. It's a great way to connect with nature, an excellent form of exercise. However, due to the popularity of paddleboarding and the unfamiliarity of the waterways for many of the users, education is becoming a necessity in order to enjoy this activity safely.
In the State of Kansas paddle boards are considered a vessel and therefore are subject to the same laws and regulations as other paddle craft. As such, paddleboarders need to carry a USCG approved, properly fitting life jacket and if you're 12 and younger you must be wearing your life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are only approved for persons 16 years of age and older. Paddle boards must also not operate inside a designated swim area or in any area restricted to boats marked by buoys. If you plan to be out on your SUP between sunset and sunrise you must also carry a flashlight or lantern with you.
The Coast Guard definition of a paddle board allows them to be operated in a swimming area without wearing a life jacket, but Kansas has specific definitions of a vessel and an SUP falls into the same category as a canoe or kayak. Kansas has not adopted the Coast Guard definition and therefore their carriage requirements for equipment and operation restrictions do not apply. If you have any questions please call the KDWPT Boating Education Section at 620-672-0770.