More on paddling

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 2, 2005

This week I am continuing the theme of looking at paddle-propelled vessels and how to safely enjoy them out on the water. Just as with other recreational water sports, the first and most important area to review is safety. Just because a kayak is self-propelled doesn’t mean that there are not multiple ways that operators can get in trouble. There are also some legal requirements for operating a kayak or canoe.

We are lucky here in Virginia to have a wide variety of streams, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water to use paddle vessels on. The state and local Web sites promoting different aspects of water recreation, from bird watching to tests of fitness, are numerous. Right here in Suffolk, the Great Dismal Swamp presents an extraordinary opportunity for a lot of fun and recreation using canoes, as does the Nansemond River.

So where to begin? Perhaps the top Web site available to introduce a paddle enthusiast to safe canoe or kayak operation is the American Canoe Association’s &uot;Paddle Basics&uot; site, This site does a good job of looking at basic safety skills, clothing, equipment and even discusses the best mental approach to paddle sports. The site also correctly points out that hands-on instruction is actually the best way to safely learn this sport, such as through a course or seminar.

Email newsletter signup

Three of the items discussed on the ACA web site were especially important for beginners. Lets focus on these I’ll call the &uot;big three,&uot; paddles, life jackets and clothes.

The Paddle: Do you remember going to summer camp or a state park and your choice of paddle was formed around the idea that &uot;one size fits all&uot; regardless of if you are Shaq O’Neal’s size or Tiny Tim size.

In reality the length of the paddle makes a big difference in how well and effectively you propel yourself through the water. There are different versions. The single blades are good for canoes and rafts, the double blade for kayaks (you have probably seen these in the Summer Olympics). There are also different kinds of materials. Buying a good blade is something you should consult a professional about.

Personal Flotation Devices or PFDs: Those of you that have read my column before knew, that as a retired Coast Guard officer, I was some how going to work life jackets into the discussion, especially when 83 percent of all those who died in canoe related accidents did NOT have on life jackets. I cannot emphasize enough how important this! The ACA Web site puts this issue in perspective, &uot;While US Coast Guard regulations only require that each boater have a wearable PFD (Class III or V in flotation rating) on board, the (ACA) strongly advises that anyone in a canoe or kayak wear a PFD at all times. In fact, ACA requires that PFDs be worn during all ACA instruction courses or sanctioned paddling events. Most experienced paddlers prefer to wear a PFD that ensures a snug fit. A PFD that is too loose will not keep your head above water. &uot;

Synthetic T-shirts and Shorts: During the summer I have seen folks on the river wearing thin cotton t-shirts or in some cases, no shirts at all (this is a good way to get a sunburn!) The ACA web site states that, &uot;even on a relatively warm day it is important to wear clothes that dry quickly. This prevents both chilling and chafing. Bathing suits will also serve this purpose.&uot;

Until next week, Boat Safe, Boat Smart and remember to stay hydrated on the water.