Paddle sports safety tips

Americans are paddling in record numbers, according to the Outdoor Industry Foundation. About 22 million Americans are paddling, the most popular vessels are recreational kayaks. Stand up paddle boards are growing in popularity every year.
Paddle crafts are a flexible, fun way to be outdoors and stay in shape, but like any other water sport, safety has to be the top priority.
“The most important safety step paddlers can take is to wear a personal flotation device or life jacket when on the water,” said Liz Lodman, FWP boat education coordinator.
Other safe practices for paddlers recommended by the American Canoe Association include:
• Check your craft for leaks.
• Map a general route and timetable when embarking on a long trip. Arrange for your vehicles to be shuttled to the takeout point.
• Know the weather conditions before you head out. While paddling, watch the weather and stay close to shore. Head for shore if the waves increase.
• Always wear a lifejacket, and know how to swim in a river current.
• Never paddle alone. Bring along at least one other boater. If unfamiliar with the waterway, paddle with someone who is knowledgeable about it.
• Never overload the craft. Tie down gear, and distribute weight evenly.
• Maintain a low center of gravity and three points of contact. Keep your weight balanced over the center of the craft.
• Standing up or moving around in a small craft can cause it to capsize—a leading cause of fatalities among paddlers.
• Leaning a shoulder over the edge of the craft also can destabilize it enough to capsize it.
• Stay alert at all times; and be aware of your surroundings, including nearby powerboats. Be prepared to react when dangerous situations arise.
• Practice reboarding your craft in the water with the help of a companion.
The American Canoe Association has video series that provides valuable information to persons paddling recreational kayaks, fishing kayaks, and stand up paddle boards. Visit www.americancanoe.org/WebTV to view the video clips.
For more on Montana’s boating laws and safety, go to the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov on the Recreation page and click Activities then Boating, Floating, and Kayaking.

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