Coast Guard launches “Paddles Up Great Lakes”

CLEVELAND –  The Ninth District Coast Guard District is launching “Paddles Up Great Lakes,” an educational outreach campaign aimed at raising safe boating awareness among the region’s paddlesports community.

The campaign begins Labor Day weekend and runs through Sept. 10.

“Paddlesports is the fastest growing segment of recreational boating,” said Frank Jennings, Jr., the Ninth District’s recreational boating safety program manager.  “Current economic conditions coupled with the modest entry-level cost of paddlecraft have contributed to a surge in the popularity of this sport.”

According to the National Marine Manufacturing Association, 2009 sales of canoes and kayaks totaled 343,600, nearly the number sold the previous year.  With the growth of this user group, the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary are engaging paddlers and paddling groups in the interest of on-water safety.  Coast Guard boating safety statistics from 2009 indicate 255 paddlers either died or were injured while paddling on our Nation’s waters.  Of those, 120 drowned.

“Paddlers are boaters,” Jennings said.  “But, there’s generally no mandatory boater education requirement unless required by state law when renting from an outfitter or livery.  Many new paddlers are potentially taking to the water with little or no awareness of required safety equipment or safe paddling practices.  Our goal is to raise that awareness.”

During “Paddles Up Great Lakes,” Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel, along with participating federal, state and local partners will be passing out safety and education information, as well as self-adhesive ID stickers to canoe and kayak owners.  The self-adhesive ID stickers aid marine patrol and rescue personnel in quickly locating owners of paddlecraft found empty and adrift on the water, potentially shortening the duration of search efforts.

If not available locally, paddlecraft ID stickers can also be obtained from the Coast Guard’s Ninth District Auxiliary and Boating Safety Branch, by e-mailing a request to: frank.t.jennings@uscg.mil

During the campaign and throughout the year the Coast Guard recommends the following for a safer paddling experience:

  • Paddlesports are the fastest growing segment of recreational boating, with more than 300,000 paddlecraft (primarily kayaks) now being sold annually.  Paddlecraft are an extremely affordable entry point to recreational boating, which is attractive to new boaters, boaters downsizing from larger boats and those interested in getting closer to the environment.
  • New and inexperienced paddlers should seek out paddler education before heading out on the water.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary now offers the “Paddlesports America Course,” a four-hour, classroom-based introduction to paddling safety, techniques and safety strategies.  For Coast Guard Auxiliary course information, visit:  http://www.cgaux.org/boatinged/
  • Courses may also be offered by the U.S. Power Squadrons, state departments of natural resources, community park districts and local commercial outfitters.  The American Canoe Association offers several hands-on courses, for novice to experienced paddlers, as well.  CLICK HERE to obtain more information on ACA paddlesport courses.
  • Paddlers are generally more exposed to the elements than boaters on power and sail craft.  Paddlers need to equip their boats with required and recommended safety gear, such as a Personal Locator Beacon and waterproof, hand-held VHF-FM marine radio.  In addition to a PLB and a VHF-FM marine radio, paddlers may also consider carrying a fully charged cell phone, protected in a waterproof container or bag.
  • Paddlers need to dress for the water temperature rather than the air temperature and wear the proper personal protective clothing, including dry or wet suits, when advisable.
  • A life jacket, a.k.a. Personal Flotation Device, is one of a paddler’s primary pieces of safety gear.  Any PFD worn is better than none at all.  However, the Coast Guard recommends paddlers use PFDs that are inherently buoyant rather than inflatable.  This makes reentering a paddlecraft, especially a sit-inside kayak, easier in the event of a roll-over.  PFDs should be brightly colored to increase visibility to boaters in power and sail craft.
  • Paddlers should always check the weather forecast before paddling and should always file a “Float Plan.”  Paddlers should resist the temptation to paddle alone and instead paddle with a partner or in groups.  This reduces risk to an individual in the event of an emergency.  Paddling in groups increases the chances of being seen by boaters operating power and sail craft in the vicinity.
  • Paddlers need to understand their physical limitations and endurance.  Paddling can be strenuous exercise.  Paddlers should be physically fit and know techniques for self-rescue, as well as how to rescue fellow paddlers.
  • Paddlers need to understand the limitations of their paddlecraft.  There are different types of paddlecraft design.  Some kayaks are designed for touring and are capable of carrying significant amounts of gear for longer trips.  These types of kayaks may cost several thousand dollars.  Others, such as inexpensive, entry level kayaks are generally designed for protected waters, near-shore waters or water such as found on lakes and slow moving rivers when paddling trips will be of shorter duration.
  • Marine Band Radio, Personal Locator Beacon, Signaling Devices, Float Plan
    • Paddlers are encouraged to invest in a waterproof, hand-held VHF-FM marine radio as their primary means of distress alerting on the water.  Communication via VHF-FM radio provides superior alerting capabilities compared to cell phones.
    • When a MAYDAY is sent out via VHF-FM radio it is a broadcast and not just one party is receiving the distress call; any nearby boaters can hear the distress call and offer immediate assistance.
    • A Personal Locator Beacon is a compact device that is clipped to one’s person, normally on the lifejacket one is wearing.  In the U.S., users are required by law to directly register their PLB in the U.S. 406 MHz Beacon Registration Database at:  http://www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov/ or by calling 1-888-212-SAVE. Other users can register their beacon in their country’s national beacon registration database or, if no national database is available, in the International Beacon Registration Database at https://www.406registration.com/.
    • Once activated in a distress situation, the PLB transmits a 406 MHz signal to the International Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System which provides distress alert and location data for search and rescue operations around the world.
    • When a 406 MHz beacon signal is received, search and rescue personnel can retrieve information from a registration database. This includes the beacon owner’s contact information, emergency contact information, and vessel/aircraft identifying characteristics. Having this information allows the Coast Guard, or other rescue personnel, to respond appropriately.
    • Day and night visible flares, a signal mirror, and/or a whistle, sound producing device should be used to alert others that you are in distress.
    • A float plan should be completed and left with someone who is not going with the recreational boaters.  A float plan is a lifesaving device on paper and provides emergency responders with valuable information of they need to search for a distressed boater.  Information on a float plan, and how to obtain a blank float plan, can be found at http://www.floatplancentral.org/
    • Boaters can learn about boating education in their state, by visiting the web at: http://www.cgaux.org/boatinged/

For additional boating safety tips, go to http://www.uscgboating.org/index.aspx.

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