Kayaking Safely With New Paddlers

It’s that time of year again. All our “seasonal friends” are letting us know that this will be the year they give kayaking a try. I laugh every year I hear them state this fact. In the back of my mind I know it all sounds great and exciting UNTIL it comes to summer and time to bite the bullet and actually come along. Then they all seem to chicken out…..but we play along and usually have a few give it a try.

Anyhow, here are a few basic facts that we have learned over the years that will make guiding a trip with newbies much more enjoyable for you as a guide. Plus, by following a few basic guidelines you can ensure that it will be safe, fun, and very enjoyable for first time paddlers.

#1 Check that everyone has the proper gear before leaving home. Examples:PFD, helmet, spare keys, water, sunscreen, portage shoes, snacks etc. Also, make sure their PFD fits them.

#2 Let someone (neighbor, friend, parent) know what river you are doing, from what point to what point and when you expect to return home. Just in case!

#3 Get the current weather forecast. If possible, try and take a newbie on a nice day. It’s not so cold and miserable for them then in the event that they decide to swim instead of paddle:)

#4 Give details of the river they will be paddling. Some of the most common questions for us when we are guiding a trip is: How do we portage? How many portages are there? Do I have to portage? Is there a place to change? What should I wear? (These last two are normally asked by females) Letting them know what to expect always seems to help.

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#5 Stress proper hydration/nutrition throughout the day. Tell them to bring water and somehow secure it into their kayak. Remind them throughout the day to drink. You would be surprised how many people forget to drink. Also, ask them often how they feel. Would they like to stop for a snack? Are they comfortable?

#6 Assist them on paddle strokes and the feel of the kayak upon entering the water. Before you even start paddling, make sure they understand how to hold the paddle, what strokes do what, make sure their seat is adjusted correctly, and they are comfortable with their kayak. Making adjustments mid river is not always easy or possible for that matter.

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#7 Make sure you take them to a river you are familiar with. I cannot stress this enough!!! They are depending on you to know what is coming next. If they change their mind when they start to hear the rapid around the corner, you know where and how much time you have to get them out to portage before they are committed. Be a knowledgeable guide about the river you are on.

#8 Don’t push them too hard. Ask if they are tired and would like a break. Remember you paddle often, they do not. If they want to try something new, let them. On the other hand, if they need to think about it for awhile or watch someone else first, let them do so.

#9 Stress what to do in a roll over. This is usually the scariest thing for newbies, but let’s face it, it sometime happens. Tell them exactly what to do. Tell them in what position to float downriver, never to get between their overturned kayak and a rock, and to swim to the rivers edge when possible. Explain to them how to wet exit their overturned kayak.  Remember it’s all about priorities. Rescue order should be people, boats, equipment.

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#10 Bring First Aid. This is what dry bags are for. Accidents happen. You don’t need much, but when you need it, you will be glad you had it. We have used our first aid a couple times. From simple bandaids to gauze wrapped with duct tape. (Yes, duct tape! Holds great in water)

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#11 Keep Alcohol For The End Of The Trip. We do not allow anyone in our group to consume alcohol while with us on the water. Maybe it’s being over cautious, but it’s hard enough to help and rescue a sober person when they are in a panic much less if they have alcohol in them. We have no problem asking anyone to leave the alcoholic beverages of choice for the end of the trip. This is for their safety as much as ours.

These are the basics for taking a newbie kayaking. Just keep in mind, a great guide can really make a great trip. If you want your family and friends to join you, show them you can be fun and knowledgeable all at the same time.

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Safe and Happy Paddling Everyone!

 

 

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