Many of kayakers out there are under the impression that are people out there avoiding this amazing sport due to safety issues. Funny thing, but there are kayakers that tend to undermine the risks of kayaking, whereas other simply get scared by the mere thought of kayaking on a river (if your mind is set on this type of kayaks, check this solid selection https://truthreels.com/best-fishing-kayak-reviews/for-river/).
Let’s learn how to walk before we start runnin’ though so let’s begin by making a difference between the possible and the real dangers when kayaking.
Actual danger vs. actual risk
What we see as a possible risk and what it is true danger isn’t always the same thing. Some of us simply see dangers where they’re not there.
A perceived risk is what we use for describing a possibly dangerous scenario, whereas an actual risk depicts how dangerous that scenario really is. For instance, your grandma may think that flying is really dangerous, whereas your 20year old cousin may simply love flying. How they perceive the whole situation (the perceived risk, that is) has nothing to do with the true risk related to flying.
Kayaking on a flat water lake has a low perceived risk and a low real risk too. However, if you’re using a stand-up kayak on some class V rapids, may actually present a high actual risk (and the perceived risk should be just as high). Not all stand-up kayaks were created equal, so take a look at some of the best choices out there https://truthreels.com/best-fishing-kayak-reviews/stand-up/
Most of the time, the danger is caused by the un-matching between the perceived risk and the actual risk. It’s when people don’t see the true risk and get trapped in a dangerous situation.
Knowing when a risk is real is going to help you stay away from the danger. This doesn’t mean that you should only play it safe, but to be aware of the dangers and prepare for them the proper way.
What are the real risks when kayaking?
even if some of the following risks are going to look minor to you, it’s best that you take a look at them. Not realizing the nature of the risk is what makes kayak dangerous in the first place.
Here are the most common real risks and the solution for each of them:
This definitely sounds minor to many out there. If you’re only going for some quiet paddling, you may stay safe, but if the sun is out, things can get ugly pretty fast. Not wearing sunscreen when kayaking for an hour may not be a tragedy, but any amount of time longer than one hour is going to become a true threat. Heat stroke, sunburn, heat exhaustion, dehydration- they’re some of the effects of not protecting yourself against the sun.
Solution: always put on the sunscreen before kayaking. Take also a hat and remember that the sun exposure may pose a risk even if it’s not warm outside. Chances are you’re going to get the ugliest sunburn when you’re not feeling its warmth, but only its light.
One of the signs that you’re under the sun for too long, without any protection, is the dehydration. Kayaking involves a lot of energy so staying hydrated is fundamental. Pack enough water when you go for a ride. The longer the ride, the more water you’re going to need. Fatigue, dizziness, extreme thirst are the signs of dehydration.
Solution: always grab a lot of water when you go kayaking. The hotter the weather, the more water bottles you need. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty and stay hydrated the whole time.
Severe weather and lightning
It goes without saying that kayaking in a storm is a lousy idea. However, you may end up on water when the storm begins. Some rain drops aren’t going to hurt you, but you should worry when you hear the thunder or see the lightning. The safest solution is to try get off the water asap. Water and lightning is never a good combo and the risk for getting electrocuted is quite high.
Solution: the moment you see lightning, you should get to the shore asap, waiting out on dry land. Never paddle in severe weather. Not only that the heavy rain and winds are going to make it impossible for you to see or move, but you may actually worsen the whole situation too.
Hypothermia and cold shock
Cold shock and hypothermia are never to be undermined when paddling in cold water. Even if it’s not very cold outside, cold water is an important risk to consider when kayaking. The moment you hit the cold water, you may develop a cold shock, which translates into blood pressure change, breathing problems and even loss of conscious. The situation is even more serious if you’re in a fast moving water.
When you stay in cold water for a lot of time, the risk for hypothermia is impressive. Hypothermia may happen also when the weather is too cold as your paddling and you’re not wearing the proper clothes.
Solution: make sure that you’re always wearing the right clothing when you’re paddling. Go with wetsuits and dry suits so that you’re prepare for a capsize. If the water is cold, it’s best that you don’t paddle alone.
You’re not using your PFD right
Not wearing your life vest when kayaking is one of the most common mistake among kayakers. Even if you’re kayaking on salt water, you should always stay safe and use your PFD (now that we’re on it, here’s an interesting selection of kayaks for inshore-salt water https://truthreels.com/best-spinning-reel/inshore-saltwater/)
Packing your PFD and not wearing it counts also as a misuse. Wearing your PFD, the wrong way is also something to avoid. If there was only one safety to follow religiously, wearing your PFD the right way would be it.
Solution: always go paddling with your PFD on. It should fit snugly, without blocking your ability to breathe in any way.
The irregular rock formations underwater, aka the undercuts, create quite some traps for debris or fallen trees. They may easily trap the unexperienced kayaker as well. It’s quite a common scenario for the fast-moving whitewater, where you’re not going to be able to see under the water.
Solution: Knowing the whitewater before you go paddling is the best solution. Go with a guide, take a look at the sources and do your bits and bobs about the water before paddling. Try to steer around when you see an obstacle. However, not paddling alone whitewater may be the best way to stay on the safe side.
Strainers and sweepers
Sweepers and strainers are highly risky when paddling. Strainers are the obstacles in the river that only let water pass through and not the solid objects. Made of rebar, grates, branches or logs, the strainers are pretty dangerous as they can trap you underwater. Not even a lightweight kayak can go through, most of the time.
The fallen trees, not entirely detached or submerged make the sweepers. The branches create this strange obstacle which poses a safety risk for the paddlers.
Solution: always avoid an obstacle the moment you notice it! Don’t paddle through or over a strainer as you may simply end up dead. That’s how it is. Get a friend as you may need help for getting out of the strainer.
Weirs and dams
The horizontal barrier across the river is known as a weir. Water may also flow over that weir, forming a cascade down to a lower level. Weir is pretty dangerous for a paddler as the undercurrent at the bottom may trap you. Getting out of the weir or dam is really difficult.
Solution: Staying away from them is your best choice, but if you really need to pass them, it’s best that you simply take the kayak out of the water and portage around them. Why take the chance?
Ships and other boats
Even if your kayak seems big to you, a kayak is in fact small and not that easy to spot on. It’s not a problem when you’re on a small river or pond, but it’s definitely more dangerous when you’re on a big lake or open ocean. Big ships, motorboats and even jet skis may be dangerous for a kayaker.
Solution: staying visible is your best shot. Attach some bright lights especially if it’s foggy or dim, so that you’re easier to spot. Wear some bright colors and avoid the main boating routes for staying on the safe side.
Lack of experience
Not being well trained for what’s out there may increase your danger when kayaking. Many accidents occur because the kayakers didn’t have the right level of experience. An experienced kayaker is going to find his/her way out of a risky scenario, but it may not be the same for one lacking the experience or the skills.
Solution: taking out your kayak and see what happens isn’t going to be a good way to learn how to paddle your boat. You should always take a kayaking class first. Take a friend with you in the beginning and don’t stop practicing. Don’t go paddling on difficult weather and never undermine the possible dangers. It may cost your life per se.
Is kayaking dangerous?
Kayaking isn’t the safest nor the most dangerous sport, for sure. As long as you’re aware of its related risks, kayaking shouldn’t be more dangerous than other water sports. Pay attention to the weather and play it safe. That should keep you safe and sound while paddling.