Paddlesport safety: Coast Guard provides tips to help keep your time on the water enjoyable

Published 7:10 am Thursday, May 7, 2020

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Captain Kevin Carroll, Coast Guard Commander for Sector Virginia, highlighted important paddlesport safety tips for those taking to the water this spring and summer.

Carroll has served for over 25 years with the Coast Guard and said, “we love people being out on the water.” He added that although successful search and rescues are always the goal, the Coast Guard would rather see people not have to be rescued at all.

With paddleboards, kayaks and self-propelled water craft, there are many ways individuals can enjoy their time out on the water.

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“Overall, we want people to enjoy that time [on the water] . . . we don’t want people to get into distress and potentially put their lives in harm’s way,” Carroll said.

Carroll’s first tip for avoiding a life-threatening situation? Always wear a life jacket.

He noted that different states have different requirements for life jackets; “check your state boating laws.” Either way, putting on a life jacket after already having fallen in the water is difficult. Wearing one to start could be difference between life and death, in some cases.

Carroll also recommended – whether going out alone or with others – to tell someone on shore where you plan on going and around what time you expect to be back. This is known as a “float plan.”

The float plan allows the individual on land to check in and see if the individual on the water arrived back on time. “If not, they should call you and make sure you’re okay,” Carroll noted.

If the individual(s) at sea do not respond, that is when the Coast Guard, a first responder or 911 operator should be contacted. A search and rescue would then be in order. Because the individuals notified people on land where they were going, the search area is minimized.

Carroll said he also tells kayakers and paddleboarders to always label their gear. “We ask people to tag their gear with a name and telephone number where someone on the kayak could be reached.”

He mentioned that in some circumstances, the Coast Guard will be notified of an unoccupied kayak that washed up on shore. “We treat every one of those cases as a search and rescue,” Carroll reported.

coast guard

The Coast Guard rescuing a stranded kayaker during a storm. Courtesy United States Coast Guard

If contact information is available, the Coast Guard can call and see whether or not the owner had his/her water craft taken with the tide or if the individual is in danger. This helps to prevent false alerts and expend resources elsewhere if there is no need for a search.

Carroll explained that before going out on the water, it is important to understand the environment in which you will be entering.

A common misconception is that water temperature is similar to air temperature. Carroll warned that the air temperature one day could be 70 degrees, but the ocean only 50 degrees. “Water temp below 60 degrees in 10 minutes or less could impair your ability to move,” he said.

Carroll recommended taking precautions, especially if the water temperature is below 60 degrees. Consider wearing a wetsuit and checking the National Weather Service and Coast Guard websites prior to going out.

Checking tide and current conditions is always a good idea as well. This prevents sticky situations, like going out to sea with the tide behind you, but coming back having to paddle against it.

“Visitors who may not live around the area and go in the water may not understand what currents can do,” Carroll noted. Currents are not the only source of problems; possible storms can pose threats to those entering the water, too.

“Stay home when weather shows storms… messing with the weather is a sure way to show you what your limitations are,” Carroll advised.

Other helpful tips included employing the buddy system, avoiding alcohol, carrying at least one communication device and avoiding vessel traffic. “Rules of the road are vitally important,” Carroll said. However, avoiding interaction altogether, especially with commercial vessels, is always a better option.

Carroll recommended having a marine VHF radio on board; these radios are weather resistant and allow those on the water to communicate with others in the general vicinity. Having vital medications on board is another good idea, just in case the time out at sea is extending for unforeseen reasons.

Lastly, one of the most important takeaways Carroll had for the general public is always stay educated.: “For a novice boater, we encourage you to go out, but make sure you’re educating yourself.”

Education can make all the difference, especially out at sea. Carroll said no one he had rescued “expected to be in distress.” Acknowledging the fact that we are all “guests” in that environment and being prepared for anything is the true to key to saving lives.



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