Here is an outline of actions and items that should be part of your next safe paddling trip compiled by the American Canoe Association and United States Coast Guard.

Working together under a grant provided by the Wallop-Breaux Aquatic Resources Trust, the American Canoe Association and United States Coast Guard have developed a safety checklist for paddlers.

  1. Be a swimmer – Learn about defensive and aggressive swimming techniques.
  2. File a float plan – File a float plan as part of your routine River Trip Planning. File it with someone you trust will call if you are late.
  3. Wear a lifejacket and keep it snug – Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or lifejacket designed for the type of paddling you enjoy and wear it.
  4. Assess your boat’s flotation – Flotation needs to fit snugly and be well secured. Ensure watertight compartments on kayaks are sealed.
  5. Carry a spare paddle – Lack of a backup paddle can complicate a trip. Depending on the activity, some paddlers use a paddle leash that connects the paddle to the boat or wrist. The leash isn’t suitable for whitewater use.
  6. Always dress for an unexpected flip – Consider clothing as a system and dress in layers. Using polypro underwear, a dry suit or paddle jacket, and dry pants will better prepare you for unexpected soakings.
  7. Wear a Hat or Helmet – A helmet should be worn in whitewater sized to accommodate a neoprene hood for paddling in cold water. There are obvious benefits to protecting your head while bouncing down the river bottom. Using a neoprene hood in cold water keeps the head warm and prevents the shock of unexpected entry into cold water that can upset the equilibrium. Paddlers in calm water should have a hat for protection from the sun.
  8. Chart and Compass or Map of the River – Remain oriented. Learn low technology navigation and map reading before becoming dependent on a GPS receiver that can be dropped or run low on batteries
  9. Carry a Whistle or Sound Signaling Device – Consider tying a whistle to your PFD
  10. Throw bags and other rescue gear – Purchase and learn to use a Throw Rope Bag. Take a Swiftwater rescue or river safety clinic.
  11. River Knife – A knife should be within reach anytime there are lines being used near boats.
  12. Bilge pump and/or Bailer – Paddlers operating in open water need something to get the water out of their boats.
  13. Self-rescue devices – These can be paddle floats for sea kayakers or painters and end loops attached to whitewater craft.
  14. Signaling and Communications Gear – Well-prepared paddlers should carry several means of communication, lights, mirrors, and flares. Consider the purchase of water-resistant handheld marine VHF radio to improve trip safety.
  15. First Aid and Survival Kits – There are ready-made marine first aid kits on the market, or you can build your own. Consider assembling a personal survival kit.
  16. Duct Tape – The paddler’s friend
  17. Personal Items – Carry this gear for your protection from the elements and use drybags to keep all of your equipment dry:
  • Sunscreen
  • Drinking Water
  • Proper Footwear
  • UV Eye Protection/Sunglasses with a strap

See the Complete Kayaker’s Gear List for more ideas on how to outfit your next trip.