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Paddling Safety

Kayaker on the Black River

Boaters have been exploring Ohio's waterways by canoe and kayak since pre-historic times. Paddling is a great family activity, and Ohio's lakes, rivers and streams provide a variety of opportunities for fun and enjoyment, ranging from quiet lakes and slow, idyllic streams to the wave action of Lake Erie or an adrenaline-charged swiftwater  river. 

Safety Tips

  • Never boat alone. 
  • Wear a life jacket at all times, particularly in moving water. A wearable PFD for each passenger on board must be carried in the boat, but actually wearing it greatly decreases the chance of drowning on any body of water. Ohio Law: Children less than 10 years of age must wear a properly sized life jacket when on boats less than 18 feet in length. 
  • Be prepared to swim. If the water looks too hazardous to swim, then don't boat on it! Even calm water poses risk.
  • Prepare yourself and your gear for getting wet. Dress properly and bring an extra change of clothing with you in a waterproof bag. Pack your cell phone in this bag. Wetsuits or drysuits should be worn when water and air temperatures combined equal less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless of the environment, cold water can kill. Dress in layers of clothing that will trap body heat even when wet. Polypropylene or wool are good materials for such conditions. Avoid 100 percent cotton fabrics. Neoprene shoes or tennis shoes with woolen socks are recommended footwear. 
  • File a "float plan" with a reliable person indicating where you are going and when you will leave and return. Remember to contact the person once you have returned safely. 
  • Do not overload your boat or unevenly load your boat. Keep the weight in the boat centered from side to side and bow to stern. The lower and closer the load in the boat is to the boat’s centerline, the more stable it will be. The boat's capacity plate gives the maximum number of persons and the maximum weight of the equipment and gear on board that the boat can safely accommodate. If your kayak or canoe doesn't have a capacity plate, follow manufacturer's suggestions for gear and people. Overloading is a leading cause of capsizes of small boats. 
  • Always maintain three points of contact (for example, two hands and one foot touching the boat) while moving around in the boat. This includes when you are getting in or out of the boat. If you are actively fishing from your canoe or kayak, be sure to use your back, legs and feet for bracing.
  • Watch for river hazards. Be alert for river characteristics that could cause harm to your boat or persons on board.

Best Practices

  • Never mix alcohol and boating. Alcohol impairs coordination and judgment, two things vital to a safe boating outing. Stay sober while boating and carry plenty of drinking water. 
  • Should you fall in, try to get out of the water as quickly as possible. 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. Do not try to remove clothing or shoes. Air trapped between layers of clothing will aid, not hinder in keeping a person afloat and also protect from direct exposure to cold water. 
  • Know your abilities. Do not attempt to navigate a swift-moving river or stream if you have not had previous training. Fast water is extremely powerful: what looks like a fun ride could be deadly. Always paddle with more than one experienced boater in your group so that if trouble occurs, help is nearby. Portage (carry) around any section of water about which you feel uncertain. Avoid overexertion and guard against extreme weather conditions. 
  • Carry a rescue throw bag with sufficient line. Rivers often have a strong current that could carry a boat into danger. Be prepared to help other boats on the water should they be in need.