sea kayak safety

Photo: Aaron Schmidt

By Alma Kenneally Certa, Commander, USCGR

America has gotten hit pretty hard the last few days with record low temperatures across the country. As we know, weather plays a significant role in our daily lives and at times it is weather that determines our sea kayak safety for an upcoming adventure.

With easy, 24-hour accessible weather info, the weather channel and websites makes it easy to say “check the weather.” But checking it “smartly” does not necessarily mean from a smart device. With any on the water activities it is prudent to understand the weather for the specific environment you plan to operate in. A “smart” check of the local forecast in preparation for canoeing or kayaking includes a review of a marine forecast with acknowledgement of the winds. Knowledge of both current and forecasted conditions will help you make safer decisions before launching and indicate what you may be paddling through.

Here are a couple quick questions to ask yourself first:
Are you headed out to open water versus protected water?
What are your comfort level and ability in cold or hot temperatures?
Are you prepared physically and with safety equipment?

As defined by Webster's dictionary, weather is the state of the air and atmosphere at a particular time and place. Currents aside, weather-related factors such as sun, rain and fog may pose challenges. Beyond these factors, wind often plays the most significant challenge for paddlers.

Even if you smartly checked the weather, awareness of how winds are generated (and that temperature, landscape or obstructions affect wind) is important to learn and keep in mind while on the water. Wind easily shifts direction and speed, and either one can easily impact your paddling ability.

A Beaufort scale judges how wind is blowing on water and land. Boaters also often consider "wind pick-up." If you're on the water and there is no wind and at some point you notice wind picking up and ripples on the water, typically the wind will increase even more than that initial breeze, prior to it fully subsiding.

Fatigue on the water can be dangerous. As with many on-the-water activities, understanding and interpreting wind and weather information takes practice, as one develops a “weather eye to the sky.” That experience along with today's "smart" tools can all help for a safe and successful outing.

With winter upon many, hopefully it includes conditions in your area that are comfortable to venture out in, but remember to please be “smart” before you get paddling. A thorough check of the weather and marine forecast for the area you plan to paddle, along with your safety gear is critical to a great day on the water. As my friend, CWO Jon Adams, USCGR Ret. routinely commented, "Safety never takes a holiday!"