When most paddlers venture out onto the water in their kayaks for a day, they have no specific destination in mind and no specific paddling plan and, while there is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, it can pose a problem. After all, all avid outdoorsman are well aware of Murphy’s First Law which states…
Anything that can go wrong, will
Thus, while taking the time and putting forth the effort to plan a paddling trip may seem like an oxymoron to many paddlers, the fact is that being out on the water exposes you to Mother Nature’s whims.
Thus, it is wise to have a paddling plan in place before you set out on the water so that in the event of an emergency, you will already have anticipated the situation and planned how to handle it and thus, you will already know what to do.
Picking A Safe Paddling Location
Thus, the first step to developing a paddling plan is to choose a paddling location that is appropriate for your skill level or, the skill level of your group. This means accepting the fact that your group is only as strong as the weakest paddler in it.
So what makes an appropriate paddling location?
Well, as mentioned, that will depend on your skill level or, the skill level of your weakest paddler. But, it will also depend on your physical condition or, the physical condition of the least able paddler in your group.
Thus, if you or anyone in your group is unable to roll in either calm or rough conditions and/or is unable to participate in an assisted rescue, then you would be wise to choose a protected paddling location such as a large pond or small lake where you will experience a minimum amount of wind and motor boat traffic and thus, are the least likely to capsize.
In addition, being unable to roll or perform a self rescue or, having paddlers in your group who are unable to roll or participate in an assisted rescue, seriously limits the distance which you can safely travel from shore which should also be taken in to account when choosing a paddling location. But, if you are able to roll or perform a self rescue and/or, if all of the members of your group can roll or participate in an assisted rescue, then the distance from shore over which you can safely paddle is unlimited.
Plan Your Route
Then, once you have decided where you will be paddling, the next step is to decide on a route so that you will know where you are headed next and what direction you need to paddle in to get there. However, it is also important to provide yourself some leeway when planning your route because the weather conditions may or may not cooperate with you and thus, your speed may be a bit slower or faster than you anticipated.
In addition, it is also extremely important to develop an alternative plan just in case the weather, broken equipment, or an injury to yourself or one of the members of your group makes your original plan unsafe to pursue.
Thus, you should look and note places along your route where you can get off of the water and take shelter in the event of bad weather or unsafe paddling conditions because paddlers often get into trouble when they believe they have no other choice than to follow their original plan.
Create a Float Plan
Then, once you have planned your paddling route and come up with one or more alternate routes as well as possible emergency takeout points, then you should use that information to create a float plan which you should leave with someone who will not be paddling with you.
While your float plan does not need to elaborate or fancy, it should at the very least indicate where you will be paddling, a general outline of your planned route, a tentative paddling schedule, and your alternate emergency plan in case you are forced to abandon your original plan.
However, when it comes to simple day trips, many paddlers will choose to forego the extra effort required to develop contingency plans or float plans. But, approaching day trips in this manner can actually make them just as, or more dangerous than, multi-day trips because paddlers face the same issues on day trips that they do on multi-day trips.
But, due the short duration of day trips, many paddlers may feel more inclined to push to get back to their launch point in the event of an emergency and, especially so if they have no contingency plans and are unprepared for an overnight stay when no one knows where they are or when they are due to return.
Thus, being prepared for unexpected paddling situations and emergencies as well as having a float plan for both day trips and multi-day trips will provide you with an invaluable sense of security and, in the event that you need help, you can rest assured that it is on the way which, in turn, leads us to the subject of emergency gear.
MUST Have Emergency Gear
Last but not least, it is also imperative that you carry emergeny gear anytime you venture out on the water regardless of the duration of your trip.
For instance, you and every member of your group MUST have a personal floatation device, a spray skirt, a bilge pump, a paddle float, marine flares, a whistle and a good PFD knife at the very least. In addition, a Personal Locator Beacon and/or a marine VHF radio can also prove to be invaluable in an emergency situation. Plus, if you will be paddling in an unfamiliar location or, if you are directionally challenged, then bringing a Global Positioning Satellite unit along can also relieve a tremendous amount of anxiety.
In addition, your emergency gear should include both extra clothing in case you have a need to change and, warm clothing such as a fleece jacket and pants, rain gear, heavy wool socks, and a warm hat in case the ambient air temperature drops significantly after sundown.
Plus, you should also include both extra food and water in case you are unexpectedly forced to spend the night as well as a light tarp and cord to suspend it and, a bivy sack or single person tent. In addition, you will also find that a headlamp, fire starter, and matches are a wise inclusion.
Thus, while having emergency camping gear along may not make for the most comfortable night you have ever spent in the wilderness, it can prevent it from being absolutely miserable.
So, as mentioned above, while you can certainly paddle without a paddle plan or a float plan and many paddlers do so frequently, the fact is that the one time that you really need a paddle plan or a float plan, you will find that the extra effort to create them was well worth it.
In fact, paddle plans are a lot like car insurance in that respect because most of us don’t give our car insurance a thought until we are in an accident but, to be without it would be ludicrous and, the same is true of a paddle plan and a float plan.
Consequently, regardless of whether you are planning a simple day trip or an extended multi-day trip, you should take the time and put forth the effort to develop both a paddle plan and a float plan as well as carrying emergency gear because doing so can literally make the difference between surviving your paddling adventure and not.