Paddling your kayak, canoe or paddleboard is a great way to get out in nature, enjoy the sights and sounds, and get a great workout. With an increasing number of people discovering a new recreation, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about some things you must take care of before you even hit the water.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, the U.S. Coast Guard started searches for 31 unmanned paddleboats that were adrift without anyone on them from Maine to northern New Jersey. Crews spent 450 man hours and over $425,000 searching for possible people in distress — all of this in just four days.
I’ve told you before, I am retired Coast Guard and spent 20 years running search and rescue cases up and down the coast from Gloucester to Portland. We always treated a kayak adrift with no one in it — regardless of how far off the beach— as someone who possibly fell overboard and needed help. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on a boat, with a helicopter hovering overhead from Cape Cod, searching the quiet waters of the night.
Even though my crew knew it was possibly a kayak that got pushed out to sea without anyone on it, we still treated this search and rescue as if someone needed a rescue.
Every one of these cases was suspended after lengthy searches that turned up nothing. It could have easily been avoided.
For several years now, the Coast Guard has made available “If Found—Contact” stickers to stick in a kayak, rowboat or anything that floats. You write your name and phone number inside of it, and if someone discovers it, the Coast Guard can easily call the owner to make sure they are high and dry, and safe.
You can easily get this sticker at any Coast Guard station or marine store. You can even just use a permanent marker and label the inside of your kayak with a name and number.
My good friend from the Coast Guard, Brian Fleming, is a search and rescue specialist in Boston and says this simple task will save countless hours of searching, and your valuable tax dollars.
"We search every time there is an unmanned and adrift paddlecraft found because we just don’t know if someone is missing or not,” said Fleming. “Help us confirm your loved ones are not in distress by labeling and securing your paddlecraft.
The Coast Guard has some great advice for any mariner, including kayakers and paddleboarders, who take to the water:
* Always wear your life jacket; it can save your life;
* Label your paddlecraft with contact information. You don't need a sticker, just a permanent marker and some clear tape to protect the ink. Check to make sure it's readable every time you go out;
* When you are done for the day, secure your paddlecraft well above the waterline in cases of high tide and strong winds;
* Tell someone where you are going and when you are going to return (and leave a copy in your vehicle), so we have a good area to search if you go missing;
* Have a light for night paddling. A headlamp will do;
* Have a sound making device, like a whistle or air horn;
* Know your limits; paddle in safe areas under safe conditions.
Dave Andreesen is an avid hiker, paddler and fisherman who writes on the outdoors for Seacoast Sunday. Send Dave feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.