Coast Guard gets ready for Paddles Up Great Lakes safety outreach campaign

9th Coast Guard District News
CLEVELAND – For the second consecutive year, the 9th Coast Guard District is observing Paddles Up Great Lakes, an educational outreach campaign aimed at raising safe boating awareness among the region’s paddlesport enthusiasts.

The campaign begins Saturday and culminates with the annual Paddles Up Niagara event on July 30 in Beaver Creek State Park, Grand Island, N.Y.

“Paddling continues to be the fastest growing segment of recreational boating,” said Frank Jennings, Jr., the 9th District’s recreational boating and water safety program manager.  “The continuing concern about the economy, coupled with the modest entry-level cost of paddle craft, has sustained the surge in the popularity of this sport,” said Jennings.

In 2010, Coast Guard Boating Safety Statistics indicate 237 paddlers either died or were injured while paddling on our nation’s waters.  Of those, 141 died from drowning and 13 died from other causes.

“Recreational boating and paddle sports are fantastic ways to enjoy the beauty of the Great Lakes, but there are real risks involved with pursuing those activities on the unpredictable waterways throughout this region,” said Rear Adm. Michael N. Parks, 9th Coast Guard District commander.  “With so many new paddlers taking to the water, with little or no awareness of required or recommended safety equipment or an appreciation of safe paddling practices, we’ve made it our mission to help them get more enjoyment out of their sport by making them smart on what keeps them safe.”

During the Paddles Up Great Lakes campaign, Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel, along with participating federal, state and local partners, will be passing out safety and education information and offering paddlers an opportunity to take the Paddles Up Great Lakes pledge, committing to safe paddling practices.

Self-adhesive paddle craft ID stickers will also be distributed.  These ID stickers allow owners of canoes and kayaks to write down their contact information and attach it to their craft.  In the event a paddle craft is found empty and adrift on the water, the contact information will aid marine patrol and rescue personnel in quickly locating the owner to determine whether or not they are actually lost or in distress.  In those cases that a paddler is not in actual distress, this program greatly reduces the potential for an uneccesary search and rescue case.  An unecessary search may put boaters who are actually in distress in further danger because search crews are out searching for people who are not actually lost.  It also represents an unnecessary cost to taxpayers.

If not available locally, paddle craft ID stickers can also be obtained from the 9th Coast Goard District Auxiliary and Boating Safety Branch, by e-mailing a request to:

During Paddles Up Great Lakes and throughout the year, the Coast Guard recommends the following for a safer paddling experience:

  • New and inexperienced paddlers should seek out paddler education before heading out on the water.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers the Paddlesports America Course, a four-hour, classroom-based introduction to paddling techniques and safety strategies.  For Coast Guard Auxiliary course information, visit:
  • The American Canoe Association (ACA) offers several hands-on courses, for novice to experienced paddlers, as well.  CLICK HERE to obtain more information on ACA paddlesport courses.  Courses may also be offered by the U.S. Power Squadrons, state departments of natural resources, community park districts and local commercial outfitters.
  • The Coast Guard offers a free Vessel Safety Check for paddle craft.  To learn more about a VSC or to find the nearest examiner, paddlers can visit the web at:
  • Paddlers are generally more exposed to the elements than boaters on powered 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.
  • 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, or 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 paddle craft, especially a sit-inside kayak, easier in the event of a capsize.  PFDs should also be brightly colored to increase visibility to boaters in powered and sail craft.
  • An additional and invaluable piece of safety gear is a paddle float.   Paddle floats may either be manually inflatable or inherently buoyant.  When fitted over the blade of a kayak paddle, it essentially creates an outrigger, allowing a paddler to stabilize the kayak and reenter the craft more easily.
  • 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 also increases the chances of being seen by boaters operating powered and sail craft in the vicinity.
  • Paddlers need to understand their current level of physical fitness and endurance.  Paddling is fun but it can be strenuous exercise.  Paddlers need to start slow and work up to more strenuous activity and techniques.  Novice paddlers should also learn the techniques for self-rescue, as well as how to rescue fellow paddlers.
  • Paddlers need to understand the limitations of their paddle craft.  There are different types of paddle craft 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 recreational 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 should 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, not just one party is receiving the distress call; any nearby boaters can hear the distress call and my be able to offer immediate assistance.
  • A personal locator beacon is a compact device that is clipped to one’s person, normally on the life jacket 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: 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
  • 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 a sound producing device such as a whistle or horn 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 they will need to search for a distressed boater.  Information on a float plan, and how to obtain a blank float plan, can be found at
  • Boaters can learn about boating education in their state, by visiting the web at:

For additional boating safety tips, go to

“It makes sense for paddle sports enthusiasts to pursue boater safety education so they can safely enjoy paddlesports for years to come,” said Jennings.

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