A group of sea kayakers in the remote temperate rainforest of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Robert Zaleski

By LCDR Bill Walsh, Commanding Officer, Station New York

The weather is getting warmer, and spring is just beginning to emerge, which means paddle sport enthusiasts are knocking the dust and cobwebs off their boats and are ready to hit the water. But before heading out, remember a few very important notes to ensure a safe time on the water.

Make sure you fully understand how to use your equipment properly and safely. Taking a course will increase your knowledge about the sport and will better prepare you to handle an emergency situation, should you find yourself in one. All paddlers should know what to do and be prepared for some of the following situations:

o Low-light conditions
o Medical emergencies (Dehydration, cold water immersion)
o Weather (Know the current and future forecast)
o Vessel traffic (Know where you fit in the hierarchy of vessel right of way.)

Always wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket. According to statistics from 2011, 85 percent of canoe fatalities and 48 percent of kayak fatalities were not wearing a life jacket. Also, life jackets are useless if stowed or not worn.

Help rescuers find you. One of the best ways to ensure you will be located is to buy a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). These beacons are not only very effective but they are also more affordable than ever. Better yet, take a buddy and ensure they also have a PLB.

Don't be fooled because it is a sunny and seemingly warm day. Remember the water may still be cold. The average water temperature for the New York Harbor in May is about 55°F while the air temperatures can be around 71°F.

o Cold water shock: 50-60 degree water
o When a paddler is immersed in cold water, the body's first reflex is to gasp for air, followed by increased heart rate, blood pressure and disorientation. Immersion can even lead to cardiac arrest.
o Remember the 1-10-1 rule:
• 1 minute to gain control of breathing
• 10 minutes of meaningful movement to perpetuate self-rescue
• 1 hour before becoming hypothermic and losing consciousness.

Finally, make sure you have your contact information on your equipment. This will help in case you lose a piece of gear and can save the Coast Guard and other emergency response resources from responding to a false distress call.

Works Cited: Americancanoe.org, Uscgboating.org, Coldwaterbootcampusa.org