Paddling Safety

“The marine forecast for Sunday looks perfect to paddle from Bete Grise to the Montreal River.  Much better than last weekend’s canceled trip.  The current plan is to leave Hancock at about 9:30 a.m.  If you are interested, let me know. It is arguably among the best paddles in Michigan.” – John Diebel, Hancock

Download a Paddling Safety Checklist

Safety on Lake Superior is critically important for beginner and experienced paddlers. Plan short adventures and be prepared for long, Lake Superior changes rapidly. Follow these basic safety rules no matter where you kayak:

Always wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). It’s not only a good idea; it’s the law. Eighty percent of all recreational boating fatalities happen to people not wearing a PFD (i.e. lifejacket). Ensure your lifejacket fits properly, allowing freedom of movement. Keep your lifejacket zipped or snapped and wear it each and every time you are on the water.

United States Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center

American Canoe Association?s ?Wear Your Lifejacket? brochure

Dress for immersion. The average water temperature of Lake Superior is 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold shock and hypothermia are major factors in kayaking fatalities. Check water temperatures before you start paddling and wear a wetsuit or dry suit as appropriate. In cooler conditions, layer synthetic fabrics, like fleece, and wear a hat. Pack extra layers and wind-blocking gear.

United States Search and Rescue Task Force on Cold Water Survival

Cold Shock and Swimming Failure from Sea Kayaker Magazine

Know how to get out?and back in?your kayak. Practice techniques for getting into your kayak by yourself. Get comfortable tipping over, popping your sprayskirt and getting out of the cockpit efficiently. Never let go of your kayak once you are in the water. Always be prepared to swim.

The T-rescue by Sharon and Alec Bloyd-Peshkin

Be visible. Place strips of marine reflective tape on your paddles and kayak. Keep a whistle, flashlight, mirror and flares in your Personal Flotation Device. Have an electric torch or lantern showing white light at hand to prevent collisions. Prior to each outing, determine the hour of sunset.

United States Coast Guard Rule 25, Sailing Vessels Underway and Vessels Under Oars

Fuel and hydrate. “With all the unpredictability kayaking can hold, why not plan to eat well?” Guide Michael Gray has said. Planning and enjoying interesting meals can help create a memorable kayaking experience. Hunger and dehydration weaken you physically and impair judgment. Mild dehydration can set in after just one hour of strenuous activity. Never paddle under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Wilderness Medical Institute on Hydration

Top Snacks for Your Kayak Trip from Kayak Alberta

Plan. Communicate a detailed float plan to friends and family. Let at least one person know where you are paddling, when you expect to return and when to call for help. Planning tip: typical kayak speed is 2-3 miles per hour.

American Canoe Association on Trip Planning and Preparation

Free Float Plan Template from Sea Kayaker Magazine

Forecast. Check the marine forecast before paddling. Be especially careful about storms and offshore winds. If conditions are beyond your skill and comfort levels, don’t go out.

NOAA’s National Weather Service Marine Forecasts

Bring friends. There is safety in numbers. A minimum of three in a group is recommended. In search of local paddling partners? Contact a local outfitter and connect on the Western Upper Peninsula Water Trail Facebook page.

Take a class. Learn the basics of self-rescue and assisted rescue. Consider taking a class from a local certified kayak instructor. The greater your training and experience, the greater range of conditions you may be able to safely handle.

American Canoe Association’s “Know Your Limits”

Match your kayak to conditions. Consult an expert or outfitter; know and respect the conditions for which your kayak was designed.

Bring gear. Bring gear appropriate to your paddling location and conditions, as well as the length of time you plan to be on the water. Be prepared in case you are out longer than you intended. Print off our handy check list above.

Good sources for paddling safety information:

Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association Kayak Safety

“I’ve been paddling Lake Superior in a dry suit since mid-March. It has been the greatest piece of gear. Snow and 90-degree temps; the suit has been comfortable.” – John Mancini, Hubbell