OHIO RIVER TRAIL COUNCIL

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Paddling Safety Tips & Hazards

 

Paddling Safety Tips

  • Wear your life jacket. Some 80 percent of all recreational boating fatalities happen to people who are not wearing a life jacket.
  • Expect to get wet. Even the best paddlers sometimes capsize or swamp their boats. Bring extra clothing in a waterproof bag.
  • Be prepared to swim. If the water looks too hazardous to swim in, do not go paddling.
  • If you capsize, hold on to your boat, unless it presents a life-threatening situation. If floating in current, position yourself on the upstream side of the capsized boat.
  • Scout ahead whenever possible. Know the river. Avoid surprises.
  • Be prepared for the weather. Get a forecast before you go. Sudden winds and rain are common and can turn a pleasant trip into a risky, unpleasant venture.
  • Wear wading shoes or tennis shoes with wool, polypropylene, pile or neoprene socks.
  • Never take your boat over a low-head dam.
  • Portage (carry) your boat around any section of water about which you feel uncertain.
  • Never boat alone. Boating safety increases with numbers.
  • Keep painter lines (ropes tied to the bow) and any other ropes coiled and secured.
  • Never tie a rope to yourself or to another paddler, especially a child.
  • Kneel to increase your stability before entering rougher water, like a rapid.
  • If you collide with an obstruction, lean toward it. This will usually prevent your capsizing or flooding the boat.
  • File a float plan with a reliable person, indicating where you are going and when you will return. Remember to contact the person when you have returned safely.

Hazards on the Water

Dams: Water going over a dam creates a back current, or undertow, that can pull a boat into the turbulence and capsize it. This hydraulic can often trap and hold a person or a boat. Hazards include the areas above and below the dam. Paddlers can spot dams by looking downriver for a horizontal line across the water.

Strainers: Trees are typical strainers that can trap and flood boats. Water flows through these obstructions, but solid objects do not. Strainers can pin victims underwater.

Current: Never underestimate the power of moving water. Boaters who are not sure that their boat or their ability is up to the prevailing conditions should stay off the water.

Cold water: Sudden immersion in cold water can lead to cardiac arrest or can cause a person to inhale water. If you fall into cold water, immediately cover your mouth and nose with your hands. Dress properly for the cold by wearing a hat, several layers of clothing and warm boots. Wool, pile and polypropylene provide warmth even when wet. Avoid cotton fabrics.

Hypothermia: Hypothermia is the lowering of the body’s core temperature. It begins with shivering. Judgment then becomes clouded and unconsciousness sets in. Death can occur if hypothermia is not treated. Remove a hypothermic person from the water and replace wet clothes with warm, dry clothing and/or a blanket. Do not massage the extremities or give the victim alcohol or caffeine.

Heat exhaustion/sunburn: When it is hot, wear sunglasses, a hat, and lightweight, light-colored clothing. Apply sunblock with a high SPF rating and drink plenty of fluids.

Other boaters: Be aware of other boaters. Keep a sharp lookout to prevent collisions and conflicts.  

 

 
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