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Washington State Parks Boating Program leads effort to increase paddlesports safety

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Paddleboarders on Lake Chelan during the recent Windermere SUP Cup Races. (Photo by Jillian Foster)

OLYMPIA – With eight weekends left of summer and warm, dry weather in the forecast, Washington State Parks’ Boating Program wants paddlesports enthusiasts to be sure they understand boating laws and risks before they head out on the water.

According to a 2015 report from The Outdoor Foundation, paddlesports use increased 14 percent between 2010 and 2014. Unfortunately, the number of fatalities also has increased with the rise in popularity of canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards (SUP) and other small craft. Last year’s Recreational Boating Accident report data show 88 percent of boating fatalities happened in boats less than 18 feet long, and almost half of those were in kayaks or canoes.

The Boating Program is leading a statewide effort to increase the awareness of the risks associated with paddlesports, improve safety and encourage paddlers to be prepared for all kinds of conditions.

“Many paddlecraft are easy to use without a lot of training,” said Wade Alonzo, Boating Program manager. “That may mislead new paddlecraft users to head out unaware of boating laws and unprepared to deal with the risks. It’s important to know and obey boating laws and understand the risks—they’ll keep you, your family and friends safer on the water. We want people to be able to enjoy Washington waterways while staying safe—and legal.”

The Boating Program recommends the following to ensure paddlers are properly prepared for a safe outing on the water.  

Wearing a lifejacket is important on all paddlecrafts in Washington State lakes and waterways. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks)

Wear a life jacket

State law requires all vessels, including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, to have at least one properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. The Boating Program encourages paddlers to not only bring a life jacket but to wear it every time they go out. Paddlecraft are more prone to capsizing than larger vessels. Paddlers should be prepared to fall in the water at any time. Getting back into a kayak or canoe from the water can be exhausting or even impossible due to injuries. By wearing a life jacket, paddlers increase their chances of survival and have an easier time getting back into their boat. Fortunately, life jackets are much more sophisticated and comfortable and tailored to specific water activities.

Take communication devices

Paddlers should carry two forms of communication that will work when wet, such as a sound-producing device like a whistle, waterproof cell phone or marine radio. Having these forms of communication will greatly increase their chances of being located in the event of an emergency. Day and night visible flares, a signal mirror and a whistle or air horn can also aid emergency responders in their search efforts. Boaters are also encouraged to purchase, register and carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) which will instantly notify responders of their location when activated during a distress situation. More information about the different kinds of communications for boating is on our fact sheet.

Get educated

Paddlers should consider taking a course before heading out. These courses offer valuable paddle safety skills that could potentially save lives in an emergency. Paddlecraft are considered vessels, and paddlers should understand the  legal “rules of the road” on shared waterways. Classes are taught by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron, through local clubs and outfitters, city and county parks and recreation departments and for free online.

File a float plan

Filing a float plan can be as simple as writing down a plan for a voyage and leaving it with a friend or family member. Information should include the route planned, where the boat embarked from, where it will return to and estimated return time. The Coast Guard has a mobile app for filing an electronic float plan, which can be downloaded from the Apple app store or Google Play.

In addition to these recommendations, paddlers are encouraged to include a waterproof sticker or label on their paddlecraft that includes the owner’s name, phone number, address and an emergency contact.

If someone witnesses a paddlecraft-related accident, they should call 911 right away and report the nature of distress, number of persons or vessels involved, provide a GPS location or detailed description of the location, and remain on scene to relay pertinent information or updates as they occur.  

(Submitted by Washington State Parks)

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