COVID-19 and Paddlesports

Unfortunately, Canoecopia did not happen this year due to the rapid changes that have come about due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  Like everything else, concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have affected paddlesports.  What kinds of activities are safe?  Can we hold classes, symposia, guided trips, or races this summer?  With questions like these in mind, one member of our PaddleSafely team, John Browning, has collaborated with several other experts in the fields of health care and paddlesports to create a research paper that addresses the issues of risk assessment and risk management.  The  lead author was Steven Henkind MD, PhD., John Browning, EMT, was a co-author, along with Jacqueline Whitaker, RN, Robin Pope, PA, PhD and Timothy Finkenbinder, JD. This was an exhausting effort to try and keep up with the  daily changes occurring while doing research and writing. All of the team members are, in addition to their professional titles and degrees, active in the ACA, and are at various levels, instructors in the ACA. Nice job Dr. Henkind, and all the co-authors! This research paper has been linked on a new page of this website devoted to information on COVID-19 as it relates to kayaking and paddlesports.  You can find the page listed below the “Resources & Links” page to the left. 

Dr. Henkind and his colleagues have done a nice job of putting all the relevant information from a variety of sources together into one document making it easier for paddlers to find and digest what we know and how it may affect what we do going forward until a vaccine or definitive treatment is developed.  Some larger group events may very well be cancelled this season due to the difficult logistics of trying to deal with infection control, but many paddling activities may be able to go on with some prudent modifications.  Knowledge and planning is key.  Ignorance and fear are counterproductive.  While this is a long document, I think it is well worth the time of any paddler to read through it.  You may not be organizing any large-scale events, but it is worthwhile to consider what you can do to keep you and your friends safe on the water this summer.

Here’s hoping we will be able to remove this new page from our website next year because it is no longer a concern.  In the meantime, stay informed, plan ahead, and stay safe!

PaddleSafely at Canoecopia 2020

If you’re in the vicinity of Madison, Wisconsin, from March 13-15, 2020, please consider visiting Canoecopia at the Alliant Energy Center.  The crew from this website will be on hand for the entire weekend.  You can visit us anytime at the American Canoe Association/PaddleSafely table in the lobby area.  There will also be several presentations put on by the authors of this site.  Pool demos last 20 minutes.  All other presentations are 45 minutes.  All presentations are included in the price of admission to the event.  Hope to see many of you there this weekend!

Recreational Kayak Rescue Reality – pool demo, Saturday, 2pm

Your very stable rec kayak has just capsized.  What do you do now?  See a demo of what happens when recreational kayaks capsize and what your realistic options are when it does.  Presenters:  Jeff Adler, John Browning, Sherri Mertz, & Dick Silberman

Paddling Safety for Recreational Kayakers – Friday, 4:30pm & Saturday, 3:30pm

Everyone wants to be a safe kayaker, but sometimes what we don’t know puts us at serious risk.  The PaddleSafely crew will discuss safe paddling practices.  While the focus is on recreational kayaking, everything we discuss applies just as much to other kayaking and paddling disciplines.  Presenters:  Jeff Adler, John Browning, Sherri Mertz & Dick Silberman

What Can Go Wrong? – Friday, 6:30pm & Saturday, 11:30am

Have you really thought about what can go wrong on a paddling trip?  We’ll examine three categories where things go wrong and discuss how to prevent incidents, as well as how to manage problems when stuff does hit the fan.  Presenter: John Browning.

Dressing for Paddling – Saturday, 9:30am & Sunday, 10:30am

New paddlers frequently ask, “What should I wear?”.  The short answer is to always dress for immersion, but what does that mean?  Find out why you need to dress for a swim and get guidelines and suggestions on how to do it safely.  Presenter:  Sherri Mertz

Sea Kayaking into the Golden Years: When is too Old? – Saturday, 11:30am

As the population ages, people still want to remain active and try new things.  Dick Silberman, who is a retired cardiologist in his 70’s, did not start kayaking until his mid-50’s.  Dick will share the challenges and rewards of kayaking as we get older.

Canoecopia 2019

On March 8-10, 2019, the largest consumer paddlesports event in the world, Canoecopia, takes place at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Jeff Adler, John Browning, Sherri Mertz, and Dick Silberman will all be at this event staffing the PaddleSafely/American Canoe Association table as well as giving several presentations and pool demos on a variety of topics – many safety-related.

If you have yet to purchase important paddling gear such as a wetsuit, drysuit, or life jacket, there is no better place on the planet to do so. You will never see a larger selection that you can see, feel, and try on in any store. On top of that, you get a discount! You can also find safety gear such as throw bags, tow belts, and helmets.

Life jackets and immersion clothing in every shape, size, and color!

If you already have your gear, take the opportunity to attend one or more of the over 180 seminars that will take place over the weekend, and don’t forget to stop by the PaddleSafely/ACA table to introduce yourself.

Hope to see you in Madison!

Everyone Needs to Follow the Rules

Sadly, two more young men have died on Lake Michigan this past week.  I don’t know these men personally and I don’t know their story, but what I do know is that they both broke all three simple rules that I have written about in past blogs and have discussed in other articles on this website.

  1.  Always wear your life jacket (PFD)!
  2. Always dress for the water temperature (that means a wetsuit or drysuit when the water is 43°F as it is right now)!
  3. Never paddle a recreational kayak on large bodies of water (like Lake Michigan)!

Had these two men followed even one of the three rules above, there is a chance that they might have been saved since they were being observed from shore and emergency help was summoned quickly.

I received a shipment of kayaks this morning for my upcoming summer programs.  Attached to each one was a small pamphlet from the American Canoe Association and the US Coast Guard urging people to “Be Smart, Be Safe, Have Fun”I don’t know where the two young men got the kayaks that they were using when they died, but there is a possibility that information about these 3 rules was attached to the boats when they were purchased.  Tragically, someone wasn’t paying attention.

If you have purchased a recreational kayak, read those safety pamphlets that are attached.  It won’t take much time and there is important information that you may not be aware of.  Don’t assume you know it all.  If you let someone else use your boat, make sure that they are aware of these rules, as well, so that they don’t put themselves at risk unknowingly.

Two families are grieving over a tragedy that didn’t have to happen.


Recreational Kayakers Rescued From Lake Michigan

Yesterday we had another example of why recreational kayaks do not belong on Lake Michigan (or any other large body of water), and why it can be so dangerous to buy a kayak from a home improvement store or other big box retailer where there is no safety information passed on to the customer.

These paddlers considered themselves “experienced” kayakers which shows how completely uninformed they really are about what kayaking on the Great Lakes is all about.  No “experienced” kayaker would ever take a basic recreational kayak like the Menard’s “Viper 10” out on Lake Michigan, let alone 5 miles offshore.  There is no inherent flotation built into these kayaks.  The rear hatch cover on these boats does not cover a sealed compartment.  You can reach around the sides of the seat into the rear portion of the kayak.  They were obviously ignorant of how waves are formed or they would have expected to see larger waves that far offshore.  They are also quite lucky that they were able to obtain emergency help quickly as it looks like neither man was dressed for prolonged immersion.  Thankfully for them, this late in August the water is a little more temperate making cold shock less likely, but hypothermia is still a concern on Lake Michigan even in the summer.  The “waterproof” pouch that the one man was using to protect his cell phone was pretty flimsy and could have just as easily leaked making it impossible to call for help.

An awful lot of money was spent to send out a helicopter to rescue these kayakers.  Buying the correct equipment and getting appropriate instruction would have been a lot cheaper, not to mention the fact that this incident could easily have resulted in a much less “happy” ending.  Once again, the 3 simple rules that everyone needs to remember are:

  1. ALWAYS wear a life jacket!
  2. ALWAYS dress for the water temperature (and potential immersion)!
  3. NEVER paddle a recreational kayak out on large bodies of water!

Let’s stay safe out there.


3 Simple Safety Rules for Paddlers

As a response to some recent kayaking accidents and fatalities on Lake Michigan, there are three very simple safety rules that I would like to emphasize to anyone considering taking a kayak, canoe, or SUP out onto the Great Lakes.

ALWAYS wear a life jacket.

Following this one rule has saved paddlers who broke just about every other safety rule.  In those cases where it didn’t save the life of the paddler, it at least allowed rescuers to recover the body quickly putting giving the family of the deceased some closure with less risk to the responding emergency personnel.

ALWAYS dress for the water temperature.

No matter how stable you think your boat may be, there is always the possibility that you will end up capsizing unexpectedly.  Regardless of how warm the air temperature may be, you need to be dressed for immersion in the water.  If water temperatures are below 70°F, you need to be wearing clothing such as a wetsuit or drysuit in order to prevent a cold water gasp reflex (cold shock) and/or hypothermia.

NEVER paddle a recreational kayak out on large bodies of water.

Recreational kayaks are not designed to be paddled in big waves such as are found on large bodies of open water like the Great Lakes or the ocean.  Despite their apparent stability on flat water, these kayaks can flip very easily in waves.  Once capsized, recreational kayaks are not designed to allow the paddler to re-enter the boat from deep water.  Swimming to shore is your only rescue option.  DO NOT BE DECEIVED by marketing materials from manufacturers and retailers that make claims to the contrary.  Too many paddlers have died after taking recreational kayaks out on large bodies of cold water like the Great Lakes not realizing the tragic mistake they were making.

While there is a lot more to learn about paddling safety, if you can just follow these three simple rules, you will likely have a long and safe paddling career.

Stay safe!

Sherri Mertz, ACA L4 Coastal Kayaking Instructor