Paddling: What does your group need to know?

Kayaking along the coast
KHEKayaking along the coast

Early fall is a beautiful time of year for paddling. The water is warm, the days sunny, and leaf peeping, from your kayak, canoe or SUP (stand up paddle board), is a ton of fun.  Before your next trip, take a few minutes to think about what your group needs when getting on, and off, the water.


The put-in: Everyone is anxious to get on the water. There’s a lot of information to cover before you start any activity. Below is a review of a few paddling-specific considerations before you launch, including:

  1. Ask everyone, “Can you swim?”  As a leader, identifying non-swimmers and/or inexperienced swimmers provides valuable information to help you minimize risk for the individual(s) and group while on the water.
  2. Personal floatation devices (PFDs): Do participants know why we ask them to wear PFDs? Do folks have PFDs appropriate for the activity? Explain the function of a PFD for those new to paddling. Always check to ensure PFDs are zippered, buckled and properly adjusted for fit.
  3. Electronic devices & water = disaster. Electronics are adversely affected by exposure to water, esp. salt water. These devices are expensive to replace & repair. To avoid mishaps, provide multiple reminders about leaving devices behind or securing them in a waterproof container.
  4. An unexpected water event (for example, flipping a canoe): Explain what to do if a person ends up in the water (based on paddling activity & location). This information is especially important for novices paddling sit-in kayaks, who frequently worry about getting “stuck” in the cockpit. A brief overview of what to do in case of a water event goes a long way toward alleviating participant concerns.

It’s been a great day of paddling! As a leader, how do you ensure things don’t go awry at day’s end?

  1. Make an exit plan: Take-out areas can quickly become chaotic, esp. if they are small and there are a lot of folks getting off the water at the same time. Make & share a plan with your group before they reach the take-out point. Don’t forget to have an experienced paddler remain on the water until everyone else is on-land, just in case something happens.
  2. Exiting the area: Access to/from a launch point often entails navigating tricky terrain, including wet rocks, slippery steps and ramps. Dehydration, low energy, and footwear may also be contributing factors to a slip, fall or trip at day’s end. What are some ways to mitigate the possibility of an accident in these situations?
  3. Sprains & strains: Strained back & shoulder muscles are not uncommon when people load their boats (or SUPs) onto/into their vehicles at the end of a day. As a leader, assess the needs of the group, and step in to lend a hand, or identify others to help, and minimize the potential for a late day injury.

SYOTW (See you on the water)!

Ready to go paddling? Check out AMC trip listings here.

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Kristi Hobson Edmonston

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.