As temperatures begin to warm up this spring, more people will be inclined to launch their kayaks, canoes and boats on local waterways, including Forest Preserve District boating sites.
But with all of the fun that paddling and boating have to offer, there are very serious dangers that should always be considered before launching a vessel, said Angie Opiola, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve.
“People are excited to get on the water and they may be in a hurry to get going, but safety measures must be the first priority,” said Opiola, who is a certified American Canoe Association and U.S. Canoe Association paddling instructor with more than 10 years of experience.
Protect yourself while paddling
Opiola encourages everyone to read these safety tips and put them into action before every kayak or canoe outing, no matter how long you’ve been paddling.
ALWAYS wear a life jacket. No exceptions. The first sign of a rookie paddler is no life jacket; experienced paddlers wear properly fitted life jackets. You should too.
Have the proper boat and equipment for the correct water body type. Most boats on the water are recreation boats, appropriate for small protected bodies of water with minimal currents. Our Great Lakes and larger, faster rivers require specialized boats. Know the capabilities of you and your boat.
Assess the risk for weather, water and your skill level. Know the numbers. Water under 65 degrees can cause hypothermia. In general, the combined air and water temperature should be above 120 degrees for safe paddling. Know the 1-10-1 principle for cold water immersion survival. It takes 1 minute to gain control of your breathing during a cold shock response; 10 minutes of meaningful movement without exhausting yourself as you attempt to self-rescue; 1 hour before becoming hypothermic. This is why wearing a life jacket is so important. If you become incapacitated due to hypothermia, the life jacket will keep your head above water.
Explore limits safely. Practice in safe conditions, and take classes to gain paddling experience and knowledge. The Forest Preserve offers “Kayak Kollege” courses for beginners every year. Don’t assume you know what you’re doing.
Always be prepared for an unplanned swim. It’s a major cause of hypothermia, so dress for it. Spring water is just above freezing and makes muscles unresponsive to brain signals. Wear appropriate paddling gear – a dry or wet suit and a personal flotation device.
Some additional resources include: the American Canoe Association and the Illinois Paddling Council.
Be smart about boating safety
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has numerous rules for boating. Some of the rules don’t pertain to Forest Preserve lakes because only nongasoline-powered watercraft are allowed in Will County preserves. But anyone who is operating a boat – no matter what the power source – should educate themselves about the rules.
Federal and State regulations require that watercraft contain one well-fitting personal flotation device for each person on the watercraft. Children under the age of 13 must wear PFDs when on water. The Forest Preserve District requires all individuals regardless of age to wear PFDs when in canoes and kayaks.
IDNR requires a Boating Safety Certificate for some age groups, but the agency encourages everyone to get certified and educated. For information on obtaining a certificate or signing up for a boating safety course, visit IDNR’s Boating Safety Education page.
Also, the U.S. Coast Guard has boating safety tips and education courses for recreational boaters. According to the agency, the biggest causes of boating accidents and deaths are people not wearing life jackets, the use of alcohol while boating, lack of boating knowledge and lack of the necessary equipment.
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