5 Paddling Safety Tips

By: Thomas Cummings, Interpretative Ranger for Umbagog Lake State Park

With the dog days of summer coming to a close there’s never been a better time to talk about paddling safety. While you’re out on the water there are many things that a majority of people aren’t prepared for. These tips will not only help keep you safe, but also let you get the most enjoyment out of your paddle.

Can you spot the person paddling at sunset here at Umbagog Lake State Park?

1. Plan your Paddle

Before heading to the water, it’s important to come up with a plan for your adventure. First by mapping out the route you, and your group are thinking of traveling. This gives everyone an opportunity to see the areas where the group can turn back or find shelter by paddling to shore in the event of an emergency. Another consideration before you begin paddling for the day is the weather. Wind plays a big role in this category, as strong winds may make a planned route more difficult than expected. Finally be sure to tell someone your route and the time you’re expected to be back! By doing this, in the event of an emergency, at least one person has a general idea of where you may be found and can contact emergency services.

A water proof map (right) is perfect to take out on the lake. I was sure to check it with another map (left) of the lake to be certain about my planned route.

2. Wear a proper fitting Life Jacket

Life jackets, or Personal Flotation Devices (PFD’s), play a critical role in water safety. These work to help keep you floating in the water long enough for rescue. However, it is crucial that the PFD you are wearing fits properly. To test the fit of a life jacket, hold both of your arms up to the sky and have a friend pull up on the top of the arm openings. The life jacket is a proper fit if it stays in place. If the jacket slides up to your chin or face, it is not a proper fit. Before your paddle test your life jacket. Test the jacket by laying in shallow water with supervision, making sure it doesn’t ride up.

Here are two different PFD’s. On the left is a Type III PFD and on the right is a Type II PFD. The main difference is the Type II has the potential to keep an unconscious person’s head out of the water.

3. Bring a Whistle

Communication out on the open water in the event of an emergency is very important. Calling out using your voice is very tiring and the sound doesn’t travel very far. A whistle on the other hand, requires less energy to blow and the sound will also carry further. However, just having a whistle on the boat defeats the purpose of having it. Be sure that you are wearing the whistle around your neck or on your life jacket. It is good to practice grabbing your whistle while you find yourself in different scenarios. This works on building muscle memory of grabbing the whistle when you enter the water. That way, if there is an emergency, you have that tool right at your finger tips with out hesitation.

A must have if you plan on being out on the water. With a small lanyard, I am able to keep this tool close in the event of an emergency.

4. Use Sun Protection

On the open water there is nowhere to hide from the sun’s rays. Protecting yourself from these rays will result in a more enjoyable paddle and little need for recuperation afterwards. Wearing a breathable pair of long sleeves and long pants will help prevent sunburns on your arms and legs. A sun hat , or baseball cap, will protect your head and face. Finally a good pair of UV sunglasses will help protect your eyes from getting burned from the reflection off of the water. Sunscreen is a great tool to cover the areas that your cloths don’t cover. Just keep in mind, to make sure your sun protective clothing won’t weigh you down if you go for an un-expected swim.

Here’s a picture of me paddling around Big Island at Umbagog Lake State Park. My long sleeves kept my arms safe from getting burned during my 6 mile adventure.

5. Bring Food & Water

Just like hiking, paddling requires plenty of energy, as well as hydration. A few snacks and two Liters of water (64 oz.) are great to bring along for your paddle. This will let you stay hydrated, as again you’ll be in direct sunlight, while working your core and upper body. The snacks can not only boost your moral, but give you the bit of energy you may need to complete your paddle. Remember, if you carried it in you need to carry it out.

Plenty of water in my re-usable bottles as well as some snacks will make my paddle that much better!

These are just some general tips that can result in a safer trip out on the water. By practicing and sharing these tips water can be fun and safe place for everyone.

If you don’t own a canoe or kayak and want to get on the water you can rent them at different state parks. Be sure to talk with staff and get recommendations on different paddling routes too.

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Discover Power of Parks SCA Interpreters

Discover the Power of Parks is presented by New Hampshire State Parks in collaboration with the Student Conservation Association and made possible by generous financial support from Eversource. The program offers a look into the natural world through hands-on programming. Interpretive programs focus on connecting participants with nature and building appreciation for New Hampshire's unmatched natural heritage. Programs include guided hikes, interpretive tours, and imaginative environmental workshops for children and families. Programs are offered free to guests with paid park admission fee. No pre-registration is required.

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