What is the Leading Cause of Death for Paddlers in Small Crafts Such as Canoes Kayaks and Rafts? How to Avoid It and Stay Safe on the Water

Paddling is a popular recreational activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. However, it also comes with certain risks and challenges that can be fatal if not handled properly. In this article, we will explore why drowning is so common among paddlers, what are the other causes of death for paddlers, and how to prevent them and stay safe on the water.Why is Drowning the Leading Cause of Death for Paddlers?Drowning is the leading cause of death for paddlers because many of them do not wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) or life jackets when they are on the water. PFDs are designed to keep the wearer afloat and prevent them from sinking in case of an accident or emergency. They can also provide insulation and protection from hypothermia, which is another common cause of death for paddlers. Some of the reasons why paddlers do not wear PFDs are:

  • They think they are good swimmers and do not need them.They find them uncomfortable, bulky, or restrictive.They are not aware of the legal requirements or the benefits of wearing them.They do not have access to them or do not know how to choose the right one for their activity.
  • However, these reasons are not valid excuses for risking one’s life. Paddling can involve unpredictable and changing conditions, such as strong currents, waves, wind, weather, and water temperature. Even the most experienced and skilled paddlers can encounter situations where they can fall out of their boat, capsize, or get separated from their craft. In these scenarios, a PFD can make the difference between life and death.What are the Other Causes of Death for Paddlers?Besides drowning, there are other causes of death for paddlers that can be attributed to various factors, such as:
  • Lack of experience or training: Paddlers who do not have the necessary skills or knowledge to operate their craft safely can make mistakes or poor decisions that can lead to accidents or injuries. For example, they may not know how to balance, steer, or maneuver their boat, how to read the water conditions, how to avoid hazards, or how to perform self-rescue or assist others in distress.Bad weather or water conditions: Paddlers who do not check the weather or water conditions before they go out or who do not adjust their plans accordingly can face dangerous situations that can overwhelm them or their craft. For example, they may encounter storms, lightning, fog, wind, waves, rapids, or cold water that can affect their visibility, stability, or mobility.Hypothermia: Paddlers who are exposed to cold water or air for a prolonged period of time can experience a drop in their body temperature that can impair their physical and mental functions. Hypothermia can cause shivering, confusion, drowsiness, loss of coordination, and unconsciousness. It can also lead to cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.Trauma: Paddlers who collide with objects in the water or on land, such as rocks, logs, bridges, or docks, can suffer from injuries such as cuts, bruises, fractures, or concussions. Trauma can also result from animal attacks, such as bites or stings from fish, snakes, or insects.Medical conditions: Paddlers who have pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart problems, diabetes, or allergies, can experience complications or emergencies while on the water. For example, they may have a heart attack, a stroke, a seizure, or an allergic reaction that can affect their ability to paddle or to seek help.Alcohol or drug use: Paddlers who consume alcohol or drugs before or during their activity can impair their judgment, perception, reaction, and coordination. Alcohol and drugs can also increase the risk of dehydration, hypothermia, and drowning.
  • How to Prevent the Causes of Death for Paddlers and Stay Safe on the Water?The good news is that most of the causes of death for paddlers can be prevented or minimized by following some simple safety tips and precautions, such as:
  • Wear a PFD: This is the most important and effective way to prevent drowning and to increase your chances of survival in case of an accident or emergency. Choose a PFD that is appropriate for your activity, size, and fit, and that is approved by the Coast Guard. Wear it at all times when you are on or near the water, and make sure it is in good condition and working order.Get proper training and education: Before you go paddling, make sure you have the skills and knowledge to operate your craft safely and to handle any potential situations or challenges. Take a paddling course or lesson from a certified instructor or organization, such as the American Canoe Association or the American Red Cross. Learn how to paddle efficiently, how to exit and enter your boat, how to perform self-rescue and assist others, and how to use safety equipment and communication devices.Check the weather and water conditions: Before you go paddling, check the weather and water conditions and make sure they are suitable for your activity and skill level. Avoid paddling in extreme or unfavorable conditions, such as storms, lightning, fog, wind, waves, rapids, or cold water. If the conditions change while you are on the water, be prepared to adjust your plans or to return to shore as soon as possible.Dress appropriately: Wear clothing and footwear that are suitable for the weather and water conditions and that can protect you from the elements, such as sun, wind, rain, or cold. Wear layers that can keep you warm and dry, such as synthetic or wool fabrics, and avoid cotton that can absorb water and lose heat. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. Wear a helmet, gloves, and shoes to protect yourself from trauma.Plan ahead and be prepared: Before you go paddling, plan your route and your itinerary and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Carry a first aid kit and a survival kit with essential items, such as water, food, fire, shelter, and signaling devices. Carry a communication device, such as a cell phone, a radio, or a whistle, that can help you contact help or alert others in case of an emergency. Carry a spare paddle, a bilge pump, a paddle float, and a tow rope that can help you in case of a capsize or a breakdown.Paddle with others: Paddling with others can increase your safety and your fun on the water. Paddle with people who have similar or higher skill levels than you and who can help you or support you in case of an emergency. Paddle in groups of at least three boats and stay within sight and hearing distance of each other. Follow the rules and etiquette of the water and respect other users and the environment.
  • ConclusionPaddling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and to experience nature, but it also comes with certain risks and challenges that can be fatal if not handled properly. Drowning is the leading cause of death for paddlers in small crafts such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts, and it can be prevented by wearing a PFD and following other safety tips and precautions. By being aware of the other causes of death for paddlers and how to prevent them, you can stay safe and have fun on the water.