NEW YORK – As the boating season unofficially begins, Coast Guard Sector New York is reminding paddlesport enthusiasts to take precautions to ensure safe trips and increase survivability in case of an emergency.
Paddling — canoes, kayaks, etc. — is the fastest growing segment of recreational boating, with more than 300,000 paddlecraft 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.
The Coast Guard encourages New Yorkers who enjoy paddlesports to continue doing so, but to use this time before Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff of the boating season, as an opportunity to survey and add to safety and survival equipment. Paddlesport enthusiasts should also brush up on paddling education by taking one or more of the paddler education classes offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, state departments of natural resources, community park districts, paddling clubs and local commercial outfitters.
New and inexperienced paddlers should seek out paddler education before heading out on the water. The Coast Guard Auxiliary now offers their “Paddlesports America Course,” a four-hour, classroom-based introduction to paddling safety, techniques and safety strategies. Click here for Coast Guard Auxiliary course information. The American Canoe Association offers several hands-on courses, for novice to experienced paddlers, as well. Click here for more information about ACA paddlesport courses.
Click here to read a blog post about Operation Paddle Smart, a multi-agency effort to educate and remind new, casual and experienced paddlers to assess the risks and be prepared for what might go wrong while paddling.
The following three pieces of equipment are some examples of gear the Coast Guard considers essential for all paddlers, no matter what type, how long or short the trip, or where the destination:
- Life Jacket – A life jacket is one of a paddler’s primary pieces of safety gear. Any life jacket worn is better than none at all. However, the Coast Guard recommends paddlers use life jackets that are inherently buoyant rather than inflatable, which makes reentering a paddlecraft, especially a sit-inside kayak, easier in the event of a roll-over. Life jackets should be brightly colored to increase visibility to boaters in power and sail craft.
- VHF-FM Marine Radio – 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 a one-to-one communication; any nearby boaters can hear the distress call and offer immediate assistance.
- Personal Locator Beacon – A personal locator beacon is a compact device that is clipped to a boater, normally on the life jacket he is wearing. In the U.S., users are required by law to directly register their PLB in the 406 MHz Beacon Registration Database at: http://ift.tt/1lqJBfy or by calling 1-888-212-SAVE.
Other users can register beacons in their country’s national beacon registration database or, if no national database is available, in the International Beacon Registration Database at http://ift.tt/TikIwl. 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.
Below are additional safety tips the Coast Guard recommends for all paddlers:
- Paddlers should always check the weather forecast before paddling and should dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature. At times this might mean wearing wet or dry suits while paddling.
- A float plan should be completed and left with someone who is not going with the paddlers. A float plan is a lifesaving device on paper and provides emergency responders with valuable information they would need in order to search for a distressed or overdue boater. Information on a float plan and how to obtain a blank float plan can be found at http://ift.tt/1lrgyd4.
- Paddlers should resist the temptation to paddle alone and should 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 powerboat operators and sail craft in the vicinity.
- Paddlers need to understand their physical limitations and endurance. Paddling can be strenuous exercise, and 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 that found on lakes and slow moving rivers when paddling trips will be of shorter duration.