Hi, my name is Dave and

I don’t “ALWAYS” wear my PFD and I sometimes paddle alone.

I know these are the definitive “musts” of paddling. However, “definitives” don’t account for the almost endless variables and situations that include “paddling”.

Yesterday was a perfect example of when paddling, I didn’t wear a PFD. My wife and I took a canoe to a local lake for some paddling and swimming. It was hot, and the water was warm, and we knew that swimming was part of the plan. We spent 3 hours at the lake, and split the time almost in half between in the boat and in the water. A PFD was not called for nor necessary.

Now to the paddling alone. I love being out in nature and enjoy the solitude it affords me. I have done numerous trips canoeing, biking and hiking solo. While I’m not totally against traveling with others, the enjoyment I find solo is different and simply not possible with a group. The self-sufficiency, independence and solitude makes going solo IMO worth the “risk”.

One final note, I never cross the Definitive lines at the same time. I always wear my PFD when paddling alone.

Not trying to stir controversy (there will be some for sure), just conversation. Perhaps some will consider that some situations, desires and individual capabilities allow for some “coloring outside the lines”.

Hi Dave I will take a swing at a comment to your post and likely some may not agree with me as well. Sounds like you are an adult and it sounds like you live in the USA and last I checked most states if not all require you have a PFD in the boat for each person and some northern states require them to be worn during late fall to early spring months when the water temp is severely cold and with going in the temp alone will likely negate even the best swimmers skills within a minute or two. So you are out on a nice day in warm weather with warm water you are breaking no laws.

Last I checked we live in a free country still and our lives are for us to live as we want within the laws. It is surely not my job to tell you what to do. You could also smoke a pack of cigarettes and depending on the state even some grass and be breaking no laws. It is your life and your body to take any risk you want. IMO.

Lately we have been having people post videos of people in extreme predicaments in ocean kayaks with massive waves and jagged rocks darting in and out with PFDs on but besides that IMO what they are doing and even putting themselves close to those dangers let alone doing it is insane to me, but it is their right to do it if that’s their thing and members here respect their mad skills when they pull it off and feel sorry for them when they don’t. People do motocross and jump out of airplanes.

I live in a area where at least 98% of the people on our river wear no PFD. Half of them are in boats with no floatation and I have no idea how many can swim. The scary part is they have no clue about river dangers like getting sucked into a down tree. They pay no attention to the water levels and all kinds of other things. It is a free country

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Yes, I always observe the legalities and have my vest and signaling device. I definitely don’t want my fun ruined by receiving a citation and paying a fine. However, the “musts” aren’t about legalities, they’re about what you should do or you’re unsafe and dangerous according to the experts.

I think your point about risk and the risks individuals have a “right” to take is valid. It also raises the point that risks of an activity are individual. That assessment of risk isn’t limited to conditions, equipment and skills directly associated with the activity. Fitness, and skills associated with the activity, e.g. swimming capability with paddling, need to be part of that risk assessment too.

There are certainly many who take risks that they’re unaware of simply due to ignorance. Making arbitrary statements about PFDs or paddling alone doesn’t resolve that ignorance.

Yes there are some things that are almost universal truths one being you are safer in any boat with a PFD on and adjusted properly than you are without it. So the simple suggestion to always wear it is sound. The option to not wear it is IMO always an option as long as the law says it is an option. In most states I believe it is not an option in the case of young children. It is still an option for the adults but a strong case can be made for the adult to have one on as rescuing the children in the event of something happening are improved if the rescuer is made more buoyant, along with kids follow by example.

The bottom line to the logic for me is you don’t need a PFD until you need a PFD and almost always the need is not predictable. There is the probability of need although to be considered and I believe that is what you are talking about. General probability and individual probability based around individual skill sets.

Again IMO it is up to you.

Last week I paddled with a group and one lady it was only her second time and she mentioned to me she could not swim. I told her you will see a lot of people without PFDs today and I would suggest strongly you keep yours on when in the water. Our river in some spots is 6” and some places 10’ deep. Well it was a very warm day and she started having a hot flash and told me she had to take it off. I asked her if she swims better during a hot flash? I took my hat off and dunked it in the river and put it on and told her to try that first. Then I took my bleach bottle bailer and scooped up some water and poured it around my neck and handed it to her. I told her just don’t fill your kayak with water to the top.

We could expand the topic into many more similar questions when out with nature on the water. Do you always carry a spare paddle, first aid kit, bug spray, sun block, drinking water, etc? Can you solo reenter your boat? Can you assisted reenter your boat? Can you empty your boat if swamped?

The world is full of variable risk none of us really know but some people understand them maybe better than others and then there is the rewards of doing an activity as we would all be safer staying at home in bed. The fact you are asking the question tells me you are thinking about all this so pick the risk reward level you are comfortable with and enjoy. If sometime the risk wins out and at some point risk always wins to some degree. Then just be happy with knowing it was your individual freedom that brought you there and own it. :canoe:

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Interesting stuff, and a lot to unpack. First thing, just to get it out of the way, I am happy with my choices, and I’ll definitely “own” them.

Let me ask first, since we seem to be concentrating on wearing a PFD; would you apply the same principles to paddling alone?

You said something that caught my eye,

while admittedly I can’t argue the truth in that statement, I would say that sometimes that “safer” is so negligible that it isn’t actually a risk.

I find your story of the woman interesting. I lived in Germany for awhile, and they had a list of recommendations for paddling just like the US, but in addition to suggested PFD wearing they recommended that non-swimmers should never be in a kayak or canoe. This might be a case where a PFD isn’t better. She probably shouldn’t have been on the water, but a PFD made that possible.

Sounds like you really count on your wife saving your ass out there.

People make choices they sometimes regret later. Newspaper is full of them daily.

Not going to get drawn into the larger part of this post. But to clarify, no many states do not require that a flotation device be present for each person in a paddle craft year round.

NY only says so year round for anyone 12 or under in a paddle craft. For adults it is required November thru April or May, forget the ending month but it is one of those.

All of that is if anyone is around to check. In many smaller ponds etc for canoes, the rangers have enough trouble stopping the illegal swimming. They don’t have time to motor out in a putt putt rowboat and look inside everyone’s canoe.

We paddle together a lot and started off thinking a tandem boat was what we maybe wanted. For several reasons safety being the least at the time we liked the idea of separate boats for us. One being she liked the ease of a rec-kayak and I liked a solo canoe better. That opens the next can of worms here concerning rec-kayaks and there place on the safety concern list. Our personal safety plan relies factors in that we are lots of times paddling together and can assist each other in different ways. She rarely goes alone just by choice for her kayaking is more of a social event although she doesn’t always go with me as her friends also have rec-kayaks. I like to fish out of the canoe and being retired and she still works and doesn’t care for fishing I solo, solo.

I have no problem being out alone in the canoe and I will go up back waters where I likely won’t see anyone. I took my canoe to a level most don’t find necessary for the calm lakes and easy rivers I’m on. I added bow and stern flotation I have everything lashed in. I have bow and stern painter lines with floats attached and I wear my PFD. In addition 99% of the locations I’m at I have cell service so I stay in touch if needed. I stay a reasonable swimming distance from shore including swimming the boat in with me if needed. Air/water temp factor in also. I’m never out in really cold water.

For the most part I’m more likely to help someone else out of trouble than getting in trouble myself and if I get in trouble I like to think I put myself in the position of being fine without outside help.

Solo boating IMO is fine as long as you factor in being on your own.

I also bike and often bike at night alone on remote country roads. All kinds of risk there as well and for me they are all calculated to some degree. Once I was out late and realized I was on a road that had fields on both sides and I could hear coyotes calling from 4 directions all around me. That’s one I never factored in. Lucky for me they were hunting a whitetail deer I figured out from the sounds as I was peddling as fast as I could.

We don’t know what we don’t know until we know it. Being ready is key. Things change fast on a bike ride and on a boat ride.

Good info. I really only know Pa regs on this. Strange thing is NY is normally more regs than Pa. In Erie county we are so close to NY and Ohio there is lots of commingling with outside activities it often gets complicated.

The CG has been trying to get states to enact year round requirements for years. For excellent reason. But they have yet to fully succeed.

I don’t think that we’re really that far apart. I think we both realize that there are risks to be considered and ways to mitigate those risks. We just may arrive at slightly different conclusions.

I’m not sure how you inferred that from what I wrote. This dogmatic almost militant approach (I should add insulting) is what I have a problem with. “Always” and “never” are ridiculous statements considering the innumerable variables involved in making these choices.

What changed in your decision to wear a PFD when alone your wife not being there?

So now we live in a country where people insist on the Freedom to do stupid things.
Okay go ahead. Just don’t do stupid things on a trip with me.


FWIW, I paddle solo probably more than is wise. But when in Maine I would barely paddle if I did not. But the PFD is always on me, solo or in a group. Not the least of why is that otherwise I have to go thru the pockets and figure out what of the small crap to put elsewhere - whistle, C-light, compass etc. In sum I get the solo part.

If I get hot I dump water on myself.

I understand that you felt a PFD was optional in that case. It is just not my habit, don’t know that it was even as a kid. I was borrowing other peoples’ canoes and the PFD rule came with my right to use their boat.

That all said… not sure that to PFD or not is worthy of an entire conversation either. That one gets beaten to death regularly here.

We are not far apart at all. I believe in what I believe and I respect your right to lead your life as you wish even if I agree or disagree with you. Like I said we live in a free country and your rights end when they infringe on mine. You wearing or not wearing a PFD or paddling alone only affects someone you may be with or someone attempting to help you if you were to get in trouble and no one is forcing them to help you.

Now I feel differently as a couple weeks ago we had a lot of rain and our river was 7’ higher than normal and the powers to be posted everyway they could think of to stay off the river and the river was closed to boating. People of course liked the idea of now we have WW boating so they didn’t listen to logic. Next thing the fire companies are making all kinds of dangerous rescues and people are getting hurt. In that case their actions are directly putting other people into unnecessary risk.

It is no different than driving and speed limits. They are there for everyone’s protection not just the driver as we are all in it together. Someone’s action can harm me. If a person wants to go to a drag strip and dive as fast as they want I could care less.

I have a nephew that thinks seatbelts don’t work and he takes the air bags out of his cars. He is an otherwise smart guy and I don’t get his opinion on this, but it’s his choice. It is ironic because he rides motorcycles and is in favor of helmets and he complains when he sees Harley guys without helmets. I have another friend that has a roll cage in his car and wears a 4 point harness. Then we pile our kids in a school bus without belts and the seat in front of them has a steel back.

If you are asking for advice mine is wear a PFD when on the water. If you are asking if I care that you sometimes don’t I say I don’t have an issue with you doing that.

No, the circumstances go beyond simply that my wife wasn’t there. Not to mention, my wife wasn’t wearing a PFD either, so by the “always” statements she couldn’t rescue herself let alone me.

Do you ever paddle solo/alone? If so, why ignore that “absolute” and not the PFD one?

Great point. We have always lived in a country where people have the right to do stupid things. It is only recently we want to live in a place where we want to be told we are not allowed to legally drink a 32oz soft drink. Bacon and red meat is being questioned if it should be legal and replaced by veg-meats.

It will be a matter of time someone will say WW boating is a dangerous activity and serves no use to humanity lets just make it illegal to do.

That’s kind of how China works.

I agree if someone is hosting a boat outing you have every right to make your rules. I ride in bike rides where the rule is you wear a helmet or you don’t ride. I go to Wal-Mart and they say no masks unless you want to wear on. A block away there is another store and you can’t get in the door without a mask. It is their store if I want to shop there I have to follow their rules.

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I appreciate your sentiment.

Speaking of personal habit, perhaps that’s why I don’t wear one when the plan includes deliberately swimming. Since I was a kid in Michigan (many years ago), the canoe was at times a swimming platform as much as a paddling vehicle.

Additionally, canoe racing was always a thing, and PFDs weren’t worn.

It is interesting to me that the one “always/never” of never paddle alone seems less strict than the one of always wear a PFD.

You do realize many Americans would say you’re stupid for simply paddling, especially whitewater or ocean kayaking or wilderness canoeing, don’t you? In other words, stupid is subjective, and perhaps you’d be more convincing if you were less insulting.

Additionally, if I was joining a group paddle that required a PFD, I would wear it. Granted, it is unlikely I would join because I usually paddle solo or with family.

Do you require people that paddle with you, know how to swim? What level of swimming ability do you require?