Boating Safety

There are some inour ranks who use canoes and kayaks for everything from goose hunting onwinding rivers to coastal halibut fishing. It can be risky business, andenthusiasts need to know not only how to fish from the boat (and shoot, wherelegal), but also how to handle the paddled crafts and how to stay alive whenthings go awry--like getting upside down. When a spill happens, surviving theincident involves mastery of both equipment and technique.

The mostimportant item of equipment is a personal flotation device (PFD). If you're tohave any chance of saving yourself and your boat, you must be able to stayafloat and relax on the surface. Specialized PFDs made specifically forcanoeing and kayaking provide greater comfort and arm freedom than traditionalboating life vests. The other vital gear is your clothing. If you hit coldwater, you need to be wearing something that will preserve your bodytemperature, ward off cold shock and allow you to work out the rescue.

In a capsizesituation, it is generally best to stay with the boat. In calm conditions, evena flooded boat will float, and hanging onto it will help you stay on thesurface. The boat also has all your supplies, so don't abandon it unless youabsolutely need to. If the boat is caught in a fast current, and staying withit means you'll be swept into danger, let go and swim for the nearest solidground. Otherwise, stay with the boat. This is especially important if you'reoffshore and search efforts by aircraft and other boats are underway. Rescuerscan spot a capsized canoe or kayak from a distance far more easily than theycan a person floating alone.

When a canoerolls over and fills with water, you need to drag it ashore, or at least intoshallow water, so you can stand up and empty it. It's extremely difficult to dothe job in the middle of deep water.

Kayaks, on theother hand, are made for self-rescue. Some are covered by a deck, waterproofhatches and a spray cover that surrounds the kayaker. Other kayaks are a"sit-upon" type, like a surfboard with a molded seat. After capsizingeither type you have a good chance of righting the boat and getting back aboard[see sidebar, page 22].

Using a canoe orkayak is like scuba diving in one respect--you should always have a buddy alongfor safety. With a second vessel alongside, you can extend the paddles acrossboth boats to create the ultimate in stability--a catamaran. Or, if you're tooweak to climb back aboard, your partner can tow you ashore and begin treatmentfor hypothermia or any injuries.

Back in the Saddle

If you get upside down in a kayak, forget the Eskimoroll and use this technique.

1. GET YOURSELF OUT of the kayak, turn it upright andthen stabilize the boat by using your oar with a paddle float stuck on one end.Secure the other end of the paddle beneath a set of straps on the deck so thepaddle sticks out perpendicular to the direction of the kayak, forming alow-tech outrigger for lateral stability. Once this is accomplished, it's afairly easy maneuver to crawl back aboard.

2. COME ALONGSIDE amidships on the same side as theimprovised outrigger. With your hands on the midsection of the kayak, kick hardand do a "struggle up" maneuver to boost the upper half of your bodyinto a facedown position on the kayak. From there, it's just a matter ofcrawling and hauling yourself back on top of the boat.

3. SIT UP AND STRADDLE the kayak just behind thecockpit. Then carefully bring your legs into the cockpit and lower yourselfinto the seat.

4. ONCE YOU'RE SITUATED in the kayak, head for thenearest land to take inventory and assess your situation. You probably won't beable to do this correctly on the first try, so practice it under safeconditions before you use the kayak for hunting or fishing.

Keep Your Gear Dry

A dry bag is a great place to stow extra clothing whencanoeing or kayaking. Also be sure to include a survival kit, a first-aid kitand some high-energy food.

When you pack and seal the dry sack, leave some airinside so you can use it for additional flotation if the need arises. Securethe dry sack to the boat, but either use a quick-release device or keep a knifehandy so you can cut the bag free and take it with you if you have to abandonthe boat in a hurry.

Dry sacks are available from canoe and kayak outletsand some sporting-goods stores. Pictured are models from SealLine ($13--33;sealline gear.com) and Outdoor Research ($16--24; orgear.com).