Remember to always use good judgment and do not be out in conditions that could capsize you or cause you harm. Knowing your local waterway and possible dangers that exist are important for good safety on the water. It is always best to paddle with others especially for beginners.
Always use proper safety equipment which includes wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD (it’s PA law that all children 12 and younger must wear a PFD while underway in a canoe or kayak or on any boat 20 feet or less in length), using the correct-sized paddle, a sound-making device capable of making a 4 to 6 second blast which could simply be a coach’s whistle, and various types of lighting if paddling at sunset or in the dark. Know your abilities and your limits. Know the rules and regulations of the state, the park or the waterway you are on. Be sure to have your boat properly registered if needed.
Always portage around low-head dams because they cause reversing currents called hydraulics, which rescue teams often refer to as drowning machines. Also, avoid fallen trees which can create what is called a strainer. They let the water through, but they stop everything else and can trap a canoe, kayak or swimmer under the water.
A good roof rack or a trailer using cam straps are the best way to transport a kayak or canoe. Vehicles with factory luggage racks may also work, but be sure to check on the maximum capacity rating in your owner's manual. For safety, it's always a good idea to use appropriate bow and stern tie downs secured to the bumper or frame of your car or trailer. Never use shock cords or bungees to secure boats or gear on a rack.
Padding on the bars or appropriate saddles or J-cradles will help keep the hull from deforming, especially in warm climates. Racking the boat upside down also helps, especially with canoes.
If your boat hangs over the rear of your vehicle more than four feet, a red flag is required. PA law states: If the load on any vehicle extends more than four feet beyond the rear of the vehicle, a red flag or cloth not less than 12 inches square shall be displayed at the end of the load. During hours of darkness, a red light shall be displayed in the same position in lieu of the flag or cloth.
When picking up a paddling vessel, be sure to always lift the boat with your legs, not your back. It would surely suck to get injured before getting out on the water.
Also, before getting on the water, adjust any foot braces or seat components that need adjusting. Always balance your boat by evenly distributing any weight which includes you and any gear. Never overload your boat. Waterproof bags for cell phones or keys are a great thing to use as well.
There are several ways to enter a kayak and not all experts are in agreement. Some say use your paddle as a crutch or kickstand while others disagree saying this may damage or break your paddle. Learn different entry methods and use the appropriate one in the right situation.
To launch a sit-in kayak from a gradual sloping beach, put the boat in the water stern (rear) first and make sure the boat is floating. This is especially true for kayaks with rear rudders. Then simply straddle the kayak, sit down, bring your legs in, placing your feet on the foot braces and your knees against the knee pads. Then, push off in reverse.
For a sit on top kayak, float the boat, wade out to one side of the boat, and simply sit down. Swing your legs on board and you're good to go.
For a canoe, keep your weight down and put one leg in the boat. With one hand on each gunwale, swing the other foot in and settle down in your seat. If there is more than one canoeist, one person goes at a time.
When one end of the boat is stuck on high ground, the boat can be very tippy. From a dock or a rocky shoreline, you'll need to position any boat parallel to the dock or shoreline and then carefully climb on board while steadying the boat. Keep your center of gravity as low as possible.
You can also use the paddle as a support to prevent the kayak from capsizing while you get into the kayak. However, paddles can’t take the full weight of a body pressed down on them while bridging across the boat to the shore. The lighter the paddle the more careful you must be in using the paddle as a brace when entering and exiting. Never sit on the paddle shaft.
Position the kayak so that the cockpit area is in shallow enough water to stand in. It may be a good idea to position the kayak alongside of the shore. Be sure to keep contact with your free hand and the boat at all times. Start by placing one end of the paddle across the deck of the kayak perpendicular to the shore and just behind the seat in the kayak and up against the cockpit rim. Then put your closest hand across the kayak and on the paddle. The palm of your hand should be on the paddle and your fingers should be holding onto the cockpit rim. Steady the kayak.
With the paddle bracing between the kayak and the bottom or shore, lift the leg closest to the kayak and place it into the kayak. Keep the majority of your weight on the extended paddle side of the kayak. The tighter a grip on the paddle and cockpit, the better the brace will be. Lower yourself into the cockpit by straightening the leg already in the cockpit. Slide your butt off the back deck and into the cockpit. If you have a large cockpit and can get your legs in and out when you are seated, let you butt drop into the bottom of the cockpit. The stability of the kayak will be much better if you can. Lift your other leg over the cockpit edge and place it into the cockpit. Get your paddle out from behind you and you are ready to paddle.
Whichever technique you used getting into the boat, use the opposite to get out. Practice makes perfect.
Wet exits should also be learned by all kayakers especially those using rivers. Seek out canoe and kayak clubs who offer classes with qualified instructors who can teach proper paddling techniques, boat safety and learning how to roll.
Also, one final tip dealers never tell you to keep your kayak shiny and protective from UV rays, is to apply several coats of Armor All to a clean boat.