Paddle Sport Safety Tips

5 Paddle Sport Safety Tips for Beginners

May 28, 2021

Each year the water trails and parks of America receive thousands of visitors ready to engage in various paddle sports. Water trails are teeming with activity as they provide an additional route to other points of interest.

However, as a beginner, it is important to understand some simple tips to stay safe before even getting into the water.

1. Safety First

Boat Safety Class

Contrary to popular belief there are several states that do not mandate taking a boat safety course. However, they do come strongly recommended even for non-motorized water vehicles.

Regardless of being a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard taking a class will help to keep yourself and others safe on the water. If there is no requirement in your state or are having trouble locating one, reach out to the local American Canoe Association for assistance.

Life Jackets/Life Vests


Life jackets are like seatbelts and they can be the difference between life and death. According to the American Canoe Society, practically 85 percent of water fatalities were contributed to the person not wearing a life jacket at the time.

Fortunately, all locations offering boating activities require everyone near the water to have on life jackets. However, it is also up to the individual to uphold safe practices.

Communication is Key

For obvious reasons communicating the route when making plans is essential. If no one knows where you are, then no one knows you are missing. Filing a boat plan is one way to alert people to the planned events. The plan outlines where you are starting, the planned route, and when you should reach the intended destination.

Another method is something, everyone, planning an outdoor excursion should use. That would be called the buddy system. Should you become ill or otherwise injured, there is someone to call for help.

Review Checklist

The American Canoe Association (ACA) promotes the use of the Paddlers Checklist. It suggests all the items a budding adventurer on the water needs. Everything from the obvious first aid kit with waterproof matches to a reminder to file a boat plan. The checklist is relevant to everyone from those piloting a single-bladed paddle to a whitewater canoe.

Another thing to check is that someone in the party knows how to use a compass and a map. Hiking should be one of those activities the party enjoys, not because the party cannot find its way out.

2. Rules of the Waterway

Just like highways, the waterway has its own set of rules to be obeyed. In order to navigate it safely, everyone needs to stay in their lane and follow directions. Furthermore, it is equally important to understand what different signs and signals mean in order to follow them properly.

Not to mention what the schedule is for different types of water vehicles. Newcomers may want to stay clear of all the hubbub that surrounds motorboats and jet skis. In that light being aware of when motorized boats are approved to be in a specific area is very helpful.

No drinking allowed

Reality television makes having drunken parties near or on the water look like fun, but it can have dangerous consequences. Not to mention operating even a nonpowered boat is illegal. Again, just like motor vehicles, water vehicles like paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes require the utmost attention to operate safely.

Be Bright. Stay in Sight

The use of bright lights and reflective clothing help ensure other passengers on the water can see you in various types of weather. Consequently, in the beginning, it would be best not to take the boat out in suspect conditions until your paddling skills are stronger. Especially, if you are boating in an area that also plays host to larger commercial vessels.

Although this is not to say that you should not have the boat in the water, how else are you going to learn? Having someone to help you understand the buoy markers and show you how to stay in your lane is very beneficial.

Traveling lanes

Learning which lane to be in and how to stay in it is crucial to have a good experience out in your boat. The lion's share of the conflict on the water transpires the same reasons lack of space, boat size, experience, etc. Being aware of your surroundings will go a long way in keeping clear of incidents.

Also, learning to read navigation charts will help you steer clear of commercial lanes and be aware of current travel restrictions near certain areas.

3. Initial Registration

If after taking a few classes you decide to jump in and purchase your own kayak, you are going to go through a similar registration process as owning a car. State registration officials want to be sure the boat actually belongs to you, legally. So while your state may not require a boating class certificate, you will need to have at least one or a combination of these three items:

valid registration
mooring license
launching permit

Even if this is a tedious process it comes with an added perk. If the boat becomes lost or stolen, police have the information they need to locate it. Not to mention that it is considered one of the documents that can be used at launch sites and access areas.

4. Changes in Weather

Being on land and smelling water is one thing, being on the water trying to navigate a storm is another. Before taking your boat out to the water it is imperative to check out the local weather reports regarding the area. With all this great technology and comprehensive data from World Meteorological Organization (WMO), it is very possible to have a good judge of future conditions.

Now, you do not need to be a television weather personality, but a general idea of how to look at the information is helpful when packing.

5. Additional Learning Activities Needed

Having pride in one's prowess in all situations is commendable, however, there are always a few skills that could be sharpened up. Exercise that develops strength and endurance is always welcome.

Swimming- no need to turn into an olympian but being able to dog paddle and tread water is useful

CPR- accidents happen, basic first aid is always a useful skill

Visual Signals- being aware of those nearby can alert to turning jet skis or others in distress

It is necessary that beginners and experts alike, are sure they know how to keep themselves and others safe while having fun on the water. In time and with a little confidence traversing white water rapids or performing Eskimo rolls are in the future.