In 2006 guidebook author Janice L. Green joined several kayak clubs in California in an effort to find a paddling companion for several beautiful lake destinations most thought too remote to safely paddle alone. Once she realized these clubs were mainly into sea kayaking, hosting paddling trips herself became a goal.
Since that time, Janice has perfected the art of solo paddling, enjoying as many as 50 lakes a year; consequently, the role of leader to a fleet of kayakers and the pitfalls often encountered with participants, opened up another unexplored territory in her paddling experience. She shares here her valuable findings. All Lake photos are by the author. More can be enjoyed along with her trip reports & e-guidebooks at KayakandCanoeGuidebooks.com
What Are The Risks?
Determining the safety of a situation is the logical conclusion in everything we do in life. At least I hope it is. You need to access whether the situation you are placing yourself in is safe, or too risky to your wellbeing. Hopefully you wouldn't ride in a vehicle when the driver is intoxicated, because it is too risky.
The same would apply to participating in a paddle that is too risky for you. If you have doubts about your physical capabilities, or doubts about the weather conditions, etc. it is placing all of the other participants in the group at risk, so please make an honest assessment of your capabilities and convey them to the group before departing.
After giving it some thought, I kept coming back to: Whose responsibility is it for my safety while participating in a paddle? The answer I arrived at was: It is mine. I should not expect anyone to know what my paddling capabilities are; how far I am comfortable paddling; whether I am able to swim, paddle in gusty wind, or to roll. Nor should I assume that the Host (or Leader), has good judgment in making vital decisions, just because they are hosting or leading a paddle.
If I have any doubts about the length or conditions of the paddle, it is my responsibility to make inquiries so I can access whether or not I feel confident in participating in the group paddle. I would have to make the same determination if I paddle alone. Therefore, when you are in doubt about the paddle someone is hosting, it is up to you to inquire, to avoid placing yourself (and/or the group) in harm's way, or in a situation you are physically unable to do. If you have any doubts about whether you can handle the speed and distance of the paddle, it is best that you decline, or be confident you can paddle back alone if you feel yourself tiring.
A Few Rules
Here are a few rules of thumb I take when paddling on a lake whether I paddle with a group or alone.
Always take a map of a lake with you, (unless you have paddled the lake
frequently and know it well) so you know where the narrow areas are on
the lake to cut across encase you begin to tire, encounter gusty wind
conditions or it begins to rain etc.
2) Knowing the number of shoreline miles around a lake is crucial information for a paddler's safety. A bad scenario is to underestimate the size of a lake only to discover halfway around just how big the lake is and how tired you are. Knowing the number of shoreline miles will also help you determine how long it will take you to paddle a lake.
3) Surface acres are the number of acres the lake covers when it is full. Always call prior to paddling a lake to find out the present number of surface acres of water. By comparing the number of surface acres when the lake is full to the level the lake is presently, you will know how high or low the water level is on the lake, and if there is a reduction in the miles of shoreline.
4) Before you leave to go on a trip or begin paddling, always check the current weather conditions with the local weather station, a park official, or with the weather web site www.weather.com. There is nothing worse than driving a long distance to a lake only to discover bad weather, or a forest fire. Unless, of course, you get caught halfway around a lake in a thunderstorm!
5) On the majority of the lakes, during the late spring and summer, the wind is normally calm in the morning and tends to pick up around 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. unless there are strong winds or storm conditions, when the wind can often be gusty throughout the entire day.
6) Some lakes have a tendency towards consistent strong wind conditions, which are hazardous to paddlers. During high winds conditions, a number of lakes and reservoirs have wind warning lights. A yellow warning light indicates the wind is blowing between 15 to 29 m.p.h. A red warning light means that the lake is closed because the wind conditions are too unsafe to paddle.
7) If you are out on a lake when it begins to rain or when a lightning storm begins, get off the water immediately.
8) Hug the shoreline when there are fast-moving powerboats on the lake. Kayakers don't realize how difficult it is to see a kayak low to the water surface, especially when there is glare from the sun.
9) Stay in sight of the group at all times and within 100 feet of the shoreline, unless crossing over. When crossing over a main body of water, stay grouped together to help boaters see you more easily.
Your safety is your responsibility. It is up to you to determine what your limitations are, and to take the appropriate action.
The moral of the story is to be as prepared as possible at all times, because your chances of survival increase immensely when you are prepared, and to remember at all times your safety is entirely up to you and the decisions (or lack of them) you make. This applies to anything you do in life and the decisions you make.
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