Essential tips for safe paddle boating this summer

Essential tips for safe paddle boating this summer

A paddleboard race takes off in Port Jefferson Harbor during the annual Boater's Maritime Festival on June 6, 2015. File photo by Bob Savage

By Herb Herman

There is something special about being in a paddle boat quietly gliding along in the water without disturbing wildlife and taking the opportunity to think about nature.

Additionally, paddling represents a great opportunity to exercise the arms and the upper body. However, all of this growth in paddle sports has a dark side. Unlike power boats, with the growth in paddle craft, the number of fatalities has gone up. In 2015, 29 percent of boating deaths were paddle craft related. In 2016, fatalities climbed even higher. The Coast Guard Auxiliary Strategic Plan for 2018 focuses efforts on addressing the problem by extending information to the paddle craft community.  Additionally, the USCG has generated a Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check, which is administered by a USCG approved vessel examiner, such as Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel.

USCG vessels. File Photo

The problem with paddle boat safety starts at the retailer from which the crafts are purchased. In sales of power and sailboats, a safety package is commonly included with a new boat purchase, and there are, more likely than not, state’s boating regulations requiring boaters to take state sanctioned courses. This is certainly true of New York state. This has led to more knowledgeable boaters on the water.

In the case of paddle boating, crafts can be purchased online or at big box stores where little or no concern is given to handling and safety on the water.

“Safety equipment offered for sale may be generic rather than specific to location, and the sales personnel may or may not be knowledgeable about local needs,” said Don Goff, the national commodore’s senior advisor for paddle craft. “Many retailers do not have safety equipment specific to paddlers, including distress flags, floatable marine radios, personal locator beacons, and deck lines.”

Paddle craft boating is especially dangerous in a crowded mooring field, where all sorts of craft are maneuvering, and the paddle boater can be surprised by a power boat leaving or seeking a mooring. This problem can also occur in areas that are popular for anchoring. Channels used by ferries can present special challenges for paddlers, due to the limitations in maneuverability of large crafts. It should be remembered by paddlers and small boat operators generally that sailboats underway have limitations in their ability to maneuver and this can lead to collisions. Small fishing boats are frequently overloaded and positioned in the vicinity of harbor entrances and channels, where there is considerable boating traffic. Dangers exist for such boats to be overwhelmed by passing power boats. Of course, all small crafts are particularly vulnerable to changeable weather conditions, and just as any boater should, one must exercise extreme caution in developing bad weather conditions.

“Safety equipment offered for sale may be generic rather than specific to location, and the sales personnel may or may not be knowledgeable about local needs.”

— Don Goff

To alleviate many problems faced in these small craft, users should at least wear personal flotation devices and have a sound-producing device, such as a whistle. Among other requirements, each paddler 13 years of age or older must have a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or appropriate Type V personal flotation device. It doesn’t have to be worn, although that’s certainly the wisest plan and one that is strongly recommended. A child 12 years old or younger must wear a USCG-approved personal flotation device. The jacket must be in “serviceable condition,” without rips, tears or deterioration that will diminish its performance. A Type V jacket can be used as long as it’s USCG-approved and applicable for the activity. Belt pouch-type inflatable personal flotation devices, must be worn on the person to meet the life jacket regulation.

Those on the water after sunset need to have a flashlight, or similar lighting device, to warn other boaters. As the operator of a vessel, you need to follow the navigation rules. Boaters are also required to report any boating accident or injury to the local reporting authority, either the USCG or other agency that has been delegated that authority.

Above all, when you’re on the water in any kind of craft, be alert and exercise awareness of your environment. Boating can be a highly pleasurable activity when common sense rules are adhered to.

To have your vessel inspected by an Auxiliary member contact the Port Jefferson flotilla by email at [email protected] or by calling 631-938-1705.

Herb Herman is the Flotilla Staff Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Southern District of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.