Paddling Season is Here - Keep Safety a Priority
Posted: 05/03/2011

It's time to get the canoes and kayaks out of storage and begin the 2011 Iowa paddling season. Before heading to the water, boats and gear stored over the winter should be examined to make sure everything is in top shape.

Safety on the water and preparing for paddling challenges mentally and physically are priorities, especially early in the season.

Even though air temperatures are warming up, water temperatures are still in the 40s and 50s, so wearing a wetsuit in case the boat dumps can protect against hypothermia. It would be a good idea to wear clothing in layers.

A lifejacket should be mandatory every time when paddling, regardless of swimming skills. State law requires children 13 years of age and younger to be wearing lifejackets. Check lifejackets for loose or damaged straps and repair any tears. If it can't be repaired, buy a new properly fitting lifejacket.

Remember that hypothermia can affect motor skills, energy and mental competence. A lifejacket will keep you afloat and help to re-enter the boat, swim to shore and keep the body core warm. Never paddle alone and always let someone know where you are paddling, the expected duration of the outing, and expected return.

Check boat and paddles for damage. Make sure float bags or dry bags for canoes are undamaged and have no leaks. Have all re-chargeable batteries charged and tested and make sure the GPS and weather radios are working properly.

Regardless of weather, always take a dry bag with a dry set of clothes to change into in case you get wet. Fire starting tools, a first aid kit and plenty of drinking water should always be included. If taking the cell phone, keep it in a cell phone dry sack specifically made for cell phones.

Always be aware of changing river conditions. After snowmelt and heavy spring rains, "strainers" and "sweepers" can appear in new locations. Strainers can be trees that have fallen in the river with branches above the surface that can trap you. Sweepers are low hanging trees and branches that dangle just above the surface of the water, possibly grabbing or knocking you out of the boat. And always be aware of low head dam locations. For a list of dam locations, go to http://www.iowadnr.gov/riverprograms/files/dam_map.pdf

Paddling can be a physically demanding activity. Properly warming up with simple stretching exercises can help prevent injuries. Another warm up exercise is to paddle "up" river a short distance before starting the journey downstream. The resistance of the current helps with getting loose and gives the heart a nice work out.

Iowa has 18,000 miles of navigable waterways, and no shortage of streams and lakes to paddle. Paddlers can enjoy water trails that currently span 36 counties across the state via streams and lakes of all sizes and lengths.