Increasing numbers of watergoers trading engines for paddles AZGFD offers 10 tips for paddlesports safety
Whether it’s dipping the canoe or kayak into one of Arizona’s lakes for a quiet day of fishing or it’s just to enjoy some time on the water, studies show the number of people reaching for a paddle and heading outdoors is increasing.
Paddlesport activities, including canoeing, kayaking, inflatable rafting and standup paddleboards, are gaining in popularity nationally. In 2014, about 21.7 million people enjoyed the sport nationally – an increase of more than 3 million people since 2010, according to a report from The Outdoor Foundation.
“Paddlesports is truly finding an audience with many people and families looking to experience the quieter side of our lakes,” said Josh Hoffman, Arizona Game and Fish Department Boating Safety Education Program coordinator. “While paddlesports offers a great time on the water, the activity does offer some risk for those who are under educated and unprepared. That is why it’s crucial for anyone heading out on a canoe, kayak, raft or paddleboard to always wear a life jacket and to take a safety course.”
AZGFD offers free boating and paddlesports safety courses in Phoenix and Lake Havasu City. Those interested in taking a course can register by visiting www.azgfd.gov/boating and clicking “Boating Safety Education.”
In 2015 nationwide, 68 people died while canoeing and 71 died while using a kayak, according to U.S. Coast Guard figures. The most common causes of fatal accidents were capsizing, the vessel overturning or someone falling overboard. More than 83 percent of those who drowned were not wearing a life jacket.
Those heading out on standup paddle boards, kayaks and canoes are reminded that each are legally considered watercraft. Users are required to have a wearable personal flotation device on board while on the water and must follow the same navigation laws pertaining to all watercraft.
“We can never stress it enough that life jackets do save lives,” Hoffman said. “If you were to fall overboard it could be several minutes until rescue arrives. That life jacket will buy you critical time.”
To better prepare for a safe and enjoyable time on the water, paddlers should consider these 10 safety tips:
Take a safety course – Courses such as the free class offered monthly by AZGFD provides paddlers the information needed for canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding.
Wear a life jacket – You never know when your vessel will capsize or you’ll be thrown into the water. A life jacket will help to keep you afloat until your vessel is turned upright or you’re rescued.
Cold water safety – Water colder than 77 degrees can send a person into shock. Even in a healthy person, cold-water immersion can impact muscle movement, breathing and heart rate. Prolonged exposure to the water can lead to hypothermia, cardiac arrest and death.
Learn and follow all navigation rules – Paddlers are each legally considered watercraft and must follow the same laws and navigation rules as any other watercraft.
Safety check – Check your vessel and make sure it is properly equipped before heading out.
Consider potential impacts to wildlife and habitat – Be mindful of how your day out on the water can impact wildlife areas and habitat. Avoid sensitive wildlife areas and check with land managers ahead of time to determine if certain areas are closed to the public.
Know your limits – Always follow your instincts and play it safe. Avoid placing yourself into a potentially dangerous situation.
Carry a sound-producing device – Make sure to bring a device such as a whistle or horn that is audible for at least a half mile. This will help to signal rescuers, if needed.
Keep an eye on the weather – Follow current weather forecasts and avoid heading out if inclement weather is in the forecast. In Arizona during summer monsoon, weather conditions can change quickly and can be deadly.
Have a detailed trip plan – Before heading out on the water, leave a detailed trip plan with location and contact information, and indicate when you could be expected back.