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Paddling down a river or across a lake or bay can be an enjoyable and safe activity. But, according to statistics, paddlers in small crafts such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts are more than twice as likely to drown as individuals operating other types of boats.

This higher rate of fatalities can be attributed to two factors. First, paddlers don't consider themselves "boaters" and fail to follow the same safe practices as other small boat operators. Second, many paddlers don't have the skills or knowledge they need to operate their small, unstable craft safely. They may be unaware of hazards unique to paddlesports, such as fast currents and low-head dams, or don't follow proper safety procedures when encountering them.


Prepare for Safety

A paddler prepares for safety by doing the following:

  • Always wear a life jacket (PFD), and know how to swim in a river current.
  • Never paddle alone. Bring along at least one other boater. When canoeing, two canoes with two canoeists each are recommended. Three crafts with two paddlers each are even better. If unfamiliar with the waterway, paddle with someone who is knowledgeable about it.
  • Never overload the craft. Tie down gear, and distribute weight evenly.
  • Maintain a low center of gravity and three points of contact. Keep your weight balanced over the center of the craft.
    • Standing up or moving around in a small craft can cause it to capsize—a leading cause of fatalities among paddlers.
    • Leaning a shoulder over the edge of the craft also can destabilize it enough to capsize it.
  • Stay alert at all times; and be aware of your surroundings, including nearby powerboats. Be prepared to react when dangerous situations arise.
  • Practice reboarding your craft in the water with the help of a companion.
  • Dress properly for the weather and type of boating.
  • Check your craft for leaks.
  • Map a general route and timetable when embarking on a long trip. Arrange for your vehicles to be shuttled to the takeout point.
  • Know the weather conditions before you head out. While paddling, watch the weather and stay close to shore. Head for shore if the waves increase.