There are many ways to enjoy nature, and one of them is canoeing, a popular recreational water sport. It involves a small, lightweight boat propelled by paddles that move across a body of water. You can enjoy canoeing with other people or do it alone — is it safe to canoe alone, though?
It’s not always safe to canoe alone. Although canoeing can be a relatively safe and relaxing activity, there are always risks and hazards involved when canoeing alone. Typically, people who paddle solo have years of experience and yet, still face the underlying dangers.
Despite the risks of canoeing alone, you can avoid many potential paddling hazards by ensuring you understand the mechanics of canoeing, the different waters, and general safety guidelines to keep in mind. Read on to learn why canoeing alone isn’t safe and tips for your first or next canoeing adventure.
Risk Factors To Consider When Canoeing Solo
Even in the calmest water body, danger may be lurking nearby. Preparing for all scenarios can mean the difference between a fun, memorable experience and experiencing risk or injury on the water. Some risk factors to take note of are the following:
The Possibility of Drowning
All on-the-water activities can carry the potential risk of drowning. Canoeing is no different.
The danger of paddling alone in deep water bodies, unprepared, or when you’re not a good swimmer is the possibility of falling off your canoe and drowning. Knowing how to swim is a significant advantage, but even certain instances like rapid waters or harsh weather conditions can cause even the strongest swimmers.
Drowning prevention begins by always wearing the correctly fitted personal flotation device (PFDs), conducting capsize drills, and participating in self-rescue training in a potentially life-threatening scenario.
The Risk of Hypothermia
Some individuals like the idea of cold water paddling. However, avoiding hypothermia is crucial to enjoying this type of paddling. Hypothermia can occur if wet, wind and cold conditions overwhelm the body’s ability to produce and retain heat.
If your boat capsizes, there’s a chance of cold shock from the sudden immersion in cold water. When this happens, your temperature continues to drop, causing confusion, exhaustion, unconsciousness, and possibly death.
When treading water, it’s best to paddle in a group, wear appropriate water gear like a wetsuit or drysuit, a PFD, a helmet, and always pack a change of clothes.
When you canoe in open waters, although it can be mesmerizing, there usually are no landmarks, and it can be hard to understand how far you paddled and your sense of direction without a compass.
It’s crucial to canoe in a group whenever you’re heading towards large bodies of water, stay in sight of the shoreline, and keep track of time and distance with some GPS or compass at your disposal.
The Sudden Oncoming of Adverse Weather Conditions
Heavy rainstorms, thunder, lightning, strong winds can all happen at a moment’s notice while you’re canoeing. Adverse weather conditions can lead to poor visibility, temperature drops, or even winds that can capsize a canoe. Always double-check the weather forecast, and take to land as soon as the weather starts to change.
Heat Exposure Risks
Too much sun can put you at risk of dehydration or even heat exhaustion. Make sure to keep hydrated during your adventure and wear sunscreen. I recommend carrying a lightweight water bottle and sunscreen with at least SPF 30. You can always wear a breathable jacket while canoeing to protect yourself from the sun.
Hazardous Obstacles and Unpredicted Waves
When paddling, vast amounts of blocks can come your way, including:
- Tidal waves and rip currents have the potential to steer you off course far from where you started.
- Sweepers, also known as low-hanging branches, can run across the surface of the water.
- Strainers such as fallen trees and undercut rocks can affect your path while canoeing.
Complications From Inexperienced Beginners
Individuals learning canoeing techniques may be more prone to accidents or injuries as they don’t have the skills to steer the canoe and cause the boat to tip over. In addition, poor form in a canoe can lead to unnecessary strains on your joints and muscles. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to avoid canoeing alone until you’re extremely comfortable and confident with your skills.
Safety Tips To Keep in Mind
Understanding the risk factors is only half the battle in canoeing. Preparation is a crucial component before you start to tread those waters. Before folks explore the adventure of canoeing, it’s imperative to ensure education and knowledge of the proper safety equipment and protocols.
Keeping these rules below in mind will make the journey more smooth.
- Always wear the correct gear and learn how to put it on correctly. Wear clothes appropriate for the weather. PFDs and helmets are essential safety equipment and should always be worn when moving water. Ensure your PFDs fit you right and can be fastened easily. They shouldn’t be too tight, either. Check out this video on how to select and put on your PFD correctly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V47BirF0AtM
- Don’t head out alone. If you’re a beginner, never take a chance of going canoeing on your own. You’ll never know what accidents can occur while you’re exploring the waters solo. Having a group of folks looking after you’d be an advantage and can help continue to build your knowledge on what to avoid when kayaking.
- Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol at all costs. Make sure to keep your hydration levels in check by drinking plenty of water. Never mix alcohol drinking and canoeing as you need a clear mind to tread waters.
- Bring devices for communication and navigation. Don’t forget to bring communication devices like a fully charged mobile phone, radio, or any device that can send distress signals if ever you’re caught in a compromising situation. You’ll also need a navigational compass or GPS to ensure you can always find your way back to the shoreline.
- Bring a first aid and repair kit. Bandages and wound disinfectants are a must as you never know if you’ll get a cut or scrape. In addition, never forget to bring the repair kit, as holes and leaks may occur in a canoe, and a kit can have tools to help mitigate the damage and quickly repair any holes and punctures.
- Don’t paddle in extreme conditions. That means don’t paddle when there are high winds, extremely hot or cold temperatures, fog, or thunderstorms.
- Plan your route and tell a friend. Take your time to plan your route. Make sure to ask local guides of any hazards or conditions that you should be aware of and alternative courses for return. Before going out to the water, check the weather and conditions before you paddle. Never paddle at night as you want a clear vision of the route ahead.
- Take a basic safety techniques course. Always be prepared for the unknown by taking courses on a safety, canoeing basis, developing your paddle skills, and recovering from a capsize. Try to also get in touch with local canoeists for tips on routes you’re planning to explore.
Remember, canoeing carries certain inherent risks. However, it’s only as dangerous or safe as you make it. For your outdoor adventure, make sure to do your research, wear your safety gear, go in a group, and know your limits.