Paddlers sometimes take avoidable risks: kayak safety

backpacker_magazine_2009-05I have read Backpacker Magazine for more than a decade.  “Backpacker Magazine is an American publication whose mission is to provide readers with practical information on wilderness hiking and adventure. With 2009 marking its 36th year of publication, Backpacker magazine is currently published by Active Interest Media and is based in Boulder, Colorado.

The topic in the Skills section of Backpacker Magazine’s May 2009 issue covered how hikers can avoid risks.  That got me thinking.  The commonsense skills that work on land also work on water.  Consequently, I adapted the article for safety on the water.  I changed little from the original article, because the writing staff does a great job.    —Jeff

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Below are five traps that kayakers can avoid to stay safe.

  1. Trap: Familiarity
    • I paddle here all the time and I have never capsized, so I am not going to inconvenience myself by wearing a PFD
    • Look at every time on the water with fresh eyes. If you are tempted to be relaxed with safety, answer this question. “What is the worst thing that could happen?”
  2. Trap: Commitment
    • Looks like a storm is coming, but the weather report said it would be a calm day; anyway, I told everyone I would paddle until the end of the day. I cannot stop early and make camp.
    • It is good to stick to a float plan, as long as; safety is the foundation of your plan. Your float plan should also have a plan on what you are going to do if weather conditions change.
  3. Trap: Expert halo
    • I am not sure we are going the right way, but they are a better at navigation than I am.  I do not need to check my chart; they are probably right.
    • Remember that guides and your friends can make mistakes.  Polity discuss your concerns and be honest about your paddling strengths and weaknesses.  Always commit to making decisions together.  When you are unsure about your partner’s reasoning respectfully ask for a clear explanation.  And never be afraid to suggest an alternate plan.
  4. Trap: Conformity
    • Everyone else is excited to paddle down this rapid, so I should be fine.
    • “If you feel uncomfortable, there is probably a valid reason.”  Speak up – there probably is someone else in the group that feels as you do.  When safety issues arise, seek everyones’ opinion, choose the safe path, and always trust your gut.
  5. Trap: Scarcity
    • The forecast calls for a hurricane, but this is my only time for a kayaking trip this year because I have taken time off from work.  I cannot reschedule.  The weather will be fine.
    • Prepare an alternate trip location that has less of a chance to be influenced by severe weather.  There is always a better choice than paddling into a predicted severe weather.


  1. I have taken a look around your site, and it looks quite good. I am disappointed that I didn’t find it before ECCKF. You probably walked right by my booth on your way to the H20 compound. Paddler meet-ups are always fun.

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