What can I do? What can we all do?

A recent thread started by paddle safety advocate @MoultonAvery got me thinking. I didn’t want to derail that threads intent away from paddle boat manufactures responsibilities to show their products used properly and possibly educating consumers as to basic paddling safety concerns.

There is really little I can do at my local level for problems on a national scale involving big companies beyond talking about it and supporting efforts to convince them to change and boycotting the product.

What I’m thinking about is what I can do locally in promoting safety and not wanting to preach to the choir and that’s what it becomes when you organize something the most uninformed don’t show up and a lot of like minded and well informed do. As we talked about briefly in the other thread it is a difficult task to come up to people cold and offer advice going against what they were planning to do and it is also hard to be at a place to come in contact with risky boaters as the sport is spread out over many miles of water ways.

IMO the policing agencies here would be the fish and boat commission, coast guard and local fire departments are reactive rather than proactive on these matters. Sure they print a lot of great materials but unless you send for it or stop in their booth at the county fair you are not going to see it.

Every paddle boat here is required to have a sticker that costs I think $22 and for that fee you get absolutely nothing except permission to use the approved launch ramp. People end up dropping boats in some place close by when they don’t have the sticker sliding their boats down a mud bank. The launch ramps fill with silt when river heights are high and they don’t even bother to scrape them off for those that pay the fee.

Here is a thought I’m having. I wonder if the Fish and Boat commission or whoever is in control of these places would allow someone or do it themselves to put a sign up at each launch location showing the current water temp and flow rate/ gage height etc with some explanation as to boating safety surrounding the conditions and risk factors for the time of year. PFD advice etc.

Of course it would be great if this was electronic and updated with information etc, but that’s almost too much to expect. I think it possible to find volunteers to do this once a day and I could see walking over to the launch near me and doing this.

This is just an idea I had and was wondering if others had local ideas on water safety we could do first hand and have maybe an impact.

I was thinking of the case of me walking up to a young couple and telling them I didn’t think it a good idea they go out on the river on a 70 degree spring day when the water is 40f in their inflatable Wal-mart kayak with a couple horse collar orange PFD used as seats wearing shorts and tee shirts. It is a hard sell and likely end in me being told to mind my own business. On the other hand I see them looking at a sign right there that says welcome to the river today the water is 40f and unprotected accidental immersion could cause near immediate drowning. If you have proper immersion dry suit you should be fine have a good day. They may just think twice as one of them may just say to the other this might not be a good idea. There are even a lot of people that don’t know a PFD has to by law be worn during certain days of the year and by certain age people.

I don’t know it was an idea.

On Edit 3/31/22

Here are two links complements of @rival51 to paddleboat safety by the USCG they are the same video just at two different sites. They deal in facts surrounding risk assessment and cold-water paddling. The USCG defines cold-water paddling as any thing under 70F water. They are worth a watch.



Volunteer to become a safety instructor and you have the opportunity to make a difference on a local level.

I teach the CT DEEP Safe Boater program, I average about 80 students a year.


Hi @JohnFH

I’m not saying such courses are not very valuable and that’s exactly the type of course I would seek out and take myself to gain greater insight into safety topics. It might be different here than the rest of the country, but the people that need the most information are not seeking it out. Our river is pretty wide and deep and is fueled by snow melt and rain. It is not very technical but has unknown hazards mostly strainers that can happen any time any place. It is a river people will float with pretty much anything that floats. Last summer I saw a group of ladies going down on a 16’ diameter circular couch assisted by two guys in rec-kayaks acting as tug boats. I had another guy ask me how far to the takeout in a 4’ walmart pool raft with little plastic oars about 3’ long. He had about 10 miles to go and was moving maybe 2MPH. The water was 70f those days and likely sunburn was his biggest danger.

This area paddling is a party activity for many and those folks even though non informed are out on it in warm water conditions. There is another element after doing a few summer floats get ready a month or two early and are attracted to the fast water in the spring when it is cold. Then you have people doing moonlight floats in the summer. Others getting caught by weather changes etc.

It is not a very smart group paddling here on a whole.

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Permitting systems don’t work for education when none is required, like in this state for paddle boats.

A lot of ideas have appeared here in various threads. If there is a local paddling group, doesn’t have to be a formal club, set up sessions for paddlers to meet at a local pond and practice falling out of and getting back into their boats. You don’t need certified coaches, just some people who have had enough training to help others. Pick a stinking hot day and attendance gets pretty good.

That alone will give them a heads up on what their situation would be in a capsize. My local ad hoc group did these for several years and it was very effective. The experience convinced more than one paddler in a rec boat to reconsider where they would go with it.

Our local paddling group still runs one of these each year under a slightly more formal umbrella - they put it on the club page and actually have someone who is certified. But informal works fine.

When pool sessions come back - this can happen there too.

Also said before - as the weather gets chillier and a group of paddlers is doing trips that others want to participate in, add a clothing requirement. Ours was dry suits starting Nov 1. It worked.

If you have people you discover as new paddlers, consider going out with them to show them some place to paddle and showing up as the example. Have spare paddles, have the right gear etc. So you don’t get to do the big stuff you might with others. Possible that is another person or two who will walk away thinking about it.

People often think too formally about this… and there is always the self-education path. My city’s police had to do a water rescue yesterday of four idjiots who had taken off in a cheapo raft from a launch just north of downtown, onto the Hudson River which was running relatively flat but a bit strong after some rains. They couldn’t get to shore and the water is cold. They are probably a lot smarter this morning.


As a lifelong boater (motor and sail), 20 years involved at sea & sea going operations involving personal safety, and 27+ years paddling sea kayaks (including the last 10 years as an active ACA instructor), your idea is laudable.

The target audience would not understand the raw river/water data presented to them unless it was almost embarrassingly blunt such as “Too dangerous to paddle today”. And then they would blow it off out of ignorance of conditions or because they know better than some system that is probably out of calibration anyway…“it’s a beautiful today and we are going paddling.”

Good food for thought, but lots of issues to be worked out. However we need to start somewhere. The only “self help” campaign that I have seen work on a wide basis is the PFD loaner program at many boat launches…and it started as an idea with someone.


Do you know what specific safety issues you’d want to promote? Best to focus in on specific areas of most usefulness for your geography, and then also make sure you understand the rules related to those.

On rules, in most places about the only safety rule is just that we need to have a life jacket on board, accessible, that fits each person. No requirement to wear. So placing it under bungee on kayak would likely meet the rule (where in a hatch may not).

Some places have have rules requiring that kids under x age wear them (in California, under 13 are required to wear PFDs). And some cold weather places have rules saying that in certain times of the year, you must wear a PFD.

I don’t know of any area that requires wearing thermal protection.

Once you target in on the rules and what education is needed, you can then reach out to organizations and see if any already have signage available that would meet your goal. Going in with signs from reputable organizations and asking if it could be posted might be easier than a more general request.


@bud16415 , as I recall, you are a Great Lakes (Erie) person. For an idea, take a look at what the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is doing.


They have been at it for quite a while, and , in some cases, have been “pushing up hill” for a long time to get both people and municipalities to understand and support water safety.


Great topic. A few thoughts…

  1. Maybe you can figure out an appropriate sign for your local launch. On one local pier going in to Lake Michigan they have a big sign with pictures of two young drowning victims plus a few key safety tips. I also remember a thread that showed a sign at a Lake Superior launch that illustrated the difference between a sea kayak and rec kayak (with the big red NO symbol). Focused, poignant signs.

  2. I do like the simplicity of tdaniel’s comment to just focus on PFD’s, swimming ability, and dressing for immersion. One thing this community might be able to do is help new paddlers figure out specific, cost-effective
    (maybe even comfortable) ways to dress for immersion so they don’t blow it off assuming the gear will cost them 4 times as much as their first boat.

  3. I think kayakerbee made a key point…“better to make paddler education easier to find”. I think there’s an opportunity to better standardize the water safety message. CDC.gov has a nice summary that covers most key dangers but it’s light on the cold water risk, doesn’t mention weather, and alcohol isn’t in the top 10. The Red Cross has a nice summary but again it’s light on cold water and weather. Today I accidentally found a site called watersafetyusa.org. It’s the best, most comprehensive site I’ve seen. I think the coldwatersafety.org site is awesome but not sure if it links to key sites that cover the rest of the major water safety risks. Seems like the “definitive” sites need to be agreed upon and linked!

Personally, I took lifesaving and CPR so I could be in a better position to potentially help someone else.


Thanks to all for the ideas and the links I will be going thru them all and seeing what I can learn.

@rival51 Yes I grew up a stones throw from Lake Erie and my whole life was involved in and around boating on the lake. With the exception of a few times or in the Erie harbor in a Jon-boat it has always been powerboats. It is quite rare to see someone paddling in Lake Erie and when you do it is someone with a beach cottage and they are staying within 100 yards of their cottage. Power boaters in the great lakes are for the most part wise to the dangers and well enough educated. They spend a lot of money on boats, trailers or marina slips etc and take the time to learn what they are getting into. After retirement I moved inland from the city of Erie about 30 miles and out of the Great Lakes watershed and our water flows south. When I took up Canoeing it was like a different world of expertise involved and I wanted to seek out proper safety measures in outfitting my boat etc and I found no one much cares about anything. Older people with some money might buy 2 or more OT 10’ rec-kayaks at Dicks and younger people show up with Pelicans or what ever Wal-Mart is selling for under 200 bucks. The new trend is cheaper SOT kayaks and in some ways they may be a safety improvement over an open rec-kayak with no floatation.

I’m not overly concerned with the mid summer bunch that like to have a little party and a 15 mile float. It is a concern PFDs are required to be assessable so they become seatbacks. I see a lot that should have been tossed 20 years ago as well. Spring is more of and issue than fall IMO as people are in a hurry to get summer going as summer is short and the 40-50f water is number one and number two is the fast spring runoff and people wanting some WW experence. Again with proper equipment and proper skill sets I say go for it. Hardly anyone has those two factors.

I agree there is a percentage that will laugh at any warning and jump in. I feel there is a larger group that are clueless or they are following along with the group. Herd mentality.

These people might take the time to read a sign and think a little if the information was straightforward and nothing like trying to read a USGS graph.

Thanks for your thoughtful post, Bud. I think signs at launch ramps are helpful – as long as they’re accurate and well-designed. This one, however, promotes a common cold water myth:

We address that myth on our website here: https://www.coldwatersafety.org/air-water-temperature

When we’re trying to improve safety in our sport, I think multiple approaches are a good idea. The more paddlers who are reached, the better. We make good use of social media to get the word out, and many safety-conscious paddlers help with that outreach by citing us as a reference when they respond to questions raised on platforms like Facebook. It’s easy to insert a URL to a page on our website or link to one of our videos. For example - This short video is a great overview of the safety issue: https://vimeo.com/529139413


The organization that you referenced, WaterSafety USA is interesting. There’s no info on their website about the organization’s history, and no info about membership. I was also unable to find any information about cold water safety on their site. As for the National Center for Cold Water Safety, we specifically focus on cold water and have a primary emphasis on paddlesports - although our information is pertinent to a large number of other recreational activities. See our mission statement here: https://www.coldwatersafety.org/our-mission. I would argue that we are a more appropriate educational venue for paddlesports safety.

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It has been years since I took a Boater Safety course and frankly it seemed to have very little application to paddle craft. It seemed like the greatest portion of the course was spent discussing motorboat compliance with Coast Guard requirements and not drinking and “driving”. Has that changed?

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Just two days ago someone posted a social media warning to stay off the river as there was some warm weather in the forecast and they quoted the 120 degree rule. She saw it on her FB local feed and I told her we don’t go by that I really don’t care what the air temp is I want the water not to kill me. Once I get out of the water I might be cold but I will warm up.

Someone above posted that the message should be blunt and to the point and I can see it could easily become so complex no one would take the time to figure it out. The fact that the correct info changes day to day almost makes it require attention frequently.

I kind of wonder if I look back at the history on water temp year to year if there could be some rough dates to establish dress for immersion specs for any given inland waters? Error on the side of warmer maybe.

The program has developed over the years. The best part, when your the teacher, you get to make sure things like paddle sports and sailing get the attention they deserve also.

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Many such courses are now online, and one of the concerns I’ve voiced is that they aren’t geared towards paddlesports and in fact are developed by people who have little or no understanding of the safety issues that are particular to our sport - thermal protection and rescues come to mind. Online courses look like a cash cow to some companies, and a revenue stream for state government. There’s usually a tipping point on stuff like this. First it’s one state, then a few more, and then everybody jumps on board.

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National Center for Cold Water Safety has been calling out the 120 myth for ten years. As you noted, the issue is the water temperature. The timeline on that varies by a large margin depending on the source of the water and the location,

On our myths overview page, just click on Air + Water Temperatures: https://www.coldwatersafety.org/overview.

Local water temps are sometime easy to obtain, but often you have to dig a little to find the information. We have one article and a link that can help paddlers navigate that terrain on this article index page of our website: https://www.coldwatersafety.org/cold-water-articles. See Guide To Finding US Water Temperatures and Average US Coastal Water Temperatures.

As a general rule, we recommend that paddlers treat any water temperature below 70F with caution. On the same index page listed above, see Why We Use 70F (21C).


I took a look back at our local river water temps and found the following as a general pattern.
So it looks like there are about 4 months here that the water is normally above 65F.
There are also 5 months that are below 45F. Leaving 3 months IMO that could be paddled given proper cold water gear. For me 65F is my cut off number and I understand 65F can be a problem if a longer time is involved immersed.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule and if folks want to invest in the best gear they will paddle as long as the water is in its liquid state.

Jan 1 - Apr 1 below 45F degrees

Apr 1 – May 1 below 55F degrees

May 1 – Jun 1 below 65F degrees

Jun 1 – Oct1 above 65F degrees

Oct 1 – Nov 1 below 65F degrees

Nov 1 –Jan 1 below 45F degrees

I’d say you have 8 months when you can paddle with cold water gear. But as the water temperature falls, you have a greater challenge keeping your hands warm and more insulation is required. Hoods or earplugs are required to avoid “Surfer’s Ear” and vertigo issues.

One thing to note is that most unacclimated people will experience maximum-intensity cold shock between 50-60F. Setting the thermal protection cutoff at 65F doesn’t give you much margin for safety. See: https://www.coldwatersafety.org/what-is-cold-water. Hope you find this helpful.

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None of that surprises me, even years ago the money was to be made with motor boaters who spend more and are more numerous than paddlers.

I also took as a kid in the early 70’s an American Red Cross canoeing course. I guess I should check if that still exists. Time to start educating the grandkids.

I think there is a lot you can do. For one thing you could join the American Canoe Association. Better yet join and participate in a local Paddle America Club located in your proximity. This will give you access to materials (on paddle safety, techniques, insurance for events) and a community of local people to paddle and do projects with.

American Canoe Association national resources include people, training, and materials. You could purchase the materials and make them available to local retailers. This in itself could be a huge step. It should be noted that most of these materials were developed by the ACA with grant money from organizations like the US Coast Guard. If you haven’t checked out American Canoe Association’s education tab on their website, I encourage you to explore a bit.

There are also grant opportunities for paddle safety if you have a specific project in mind. The LLbean money jumps out at me as a possible source.

The best signage I’ve seen is on the Upper James River Water Trail, located at Buchanan Virginia. They included suggested water levels with a link, a map of the river with access points, float times as well as traditional safety info. I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures. You might try contacting them about the signage- how they developed it and paid for it. They maintain a website.

Paddlesport education can be as simple as chatting folks up at the put-in or as formal as planning a clinic. My own preferred mode is mentoring folks who are interested in learning how to paddle ww. No formal classes involved with mentoring. Just taking the time to get others out on appropriate streams and sharing the basics. Most of those referrals come through my local paddling club but I did get together with someone off of pcom this past summer. Taking an aca instructor class will improve your own paddling and your own teaching.

I purposefully will try to get out once or twice a year with rec boaters from local facebook groups. I’ve had some good conversations with folks. I never force the issue but am not shy about saying,
“you know, I always wear my pfd, I’ve noticed the good paddlers with the most experience all wear them. Just something to think about. Stuff happens.” Admittedly, I’m only good for a few trips a year with that crowd. The pace is slow, the shuttle gets dragged out, but folks are generally nice and enjoy the river. Sometimes I’ll get ahead or lag behind on purpose. Unfortunately, some of the rec boater friendly rivers in wv are the more degraded streams- think tires and old mining equipment. I am amazed at how enthusiastic some folks are about cleaning these degraded streams up (coal river group).

If you are concerned about river access American Whitewater will keep you up to date on their initiatives. Better yet, carry extra gear and a boat and invite someone else out onto a river with you. I’ve loaned folks my pfd because they were swimming in the river.

Other events include river cleanups, gauge painting, or a special paddling day to solicit donations for a local food pantry or other charity. Those are great ways to give back, or it can be as simple as taking a trash bag with you to the put in and filling it up.

I do have a saying though, “no good deed goes unpunished”. Which is a nice way of saying, you’ll get bit in the a## a few times and find yourself running out of patience occasionally. After those times, I usually take a break. There’s a reason why I only organize one formal clinic per year. It can be stressful. It is worth doing all this stuff but occasionally I’ve felt river cheated. I’d be driving after work and crossing a creek that I would have liked to have been paddling but instead driving an hour and half to a meeting to help plan some paddling event. Not quite the same as paddling. So balance is important too.

On the plus side, I seldom have problems finding folks to paddle or shuttle with locally. My problem is remembering their name and figuring out what we paddled together.

If of all of this seems a bit “groupy” consider that ww is best paddled in a group- 3 or 4 is optimal. So it is really about self preservation. If you grow your own paddlers then you got other folks watchin’ out for ya. When you make things better and safer for others, then you make things better and safer for yourself.