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Getting ready for spring kayaking: safety suggestions

(David Park)

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As Spring is arriving and the days are getting warmer, it will soon be time to dust off your kayak and take it to the waters of Long Island Sound (LIS). But, please pay attention to the following outfitting and safety suggestions before heading out to make your boating trip safe and fun.

Check the marine forecast and water temperature before heading out at this link: https://www.wunderground.com/MAR/AN/335.html It may appear to be good weather on-shore, but that may not be the case off-shore and the weather can change quickly. Dress for immersion and not the air temperature in case of a capsize, a common mistake on warm, beautiful spring days is not being dressed properly. Consult staff at a specialty boat shop on proper outfitting suggestions for cold water, such as a wet-suit, and never wear cotton, which will absorb water and not dry out. When the body is immersed in cold water without proper protection hypothermia will occur. The first signs of hypothermia is the loss of the ability to use your arms and legs as the blood rushes to the torso to protect vital organs. The ability to swim or tread water is lost and drowning will occur if not wearing a life jacket (personal flotation device or PFD). The current water temp of coastal LIS is about 42.

Wear a tightly fit, zipped up and snapped life jacket all year long. If a capsize occurs, you will need to hold onto your boat and paddle and putting a life jacket on while treading water is nearly impossible.

In early 2018, there were a few boating fatalities on Connecticut interior bodies of water and on LIS. The combination of high winds with rough surf (wave height) causing a capsize; improper dress, such as wearing cotton shorts and tee-shirt; and not wearing a life jacket, were the contributing factors. Let’s try to avoid these tragedies in 2019!

Other suggestions include, purchasing a hand-held, waterproof marine radio in case of the need to call for help. The radio will fit into a life jacket pocket and other boaters in the area are required to offer help as well as the local marine police and USCG will hear the call. A cell phone kept in a waterproof bag and pocket flares are other options, but not as effective in an emergency. Also, paddle-boats in Connecticut are required to carry a warning device, a USCG approved whistle, similar to other types of boaters that may use an air horn.

File a “Float Plan” with someone on shore which should include where you plan to launch from, your destinations, and when you plan to return. If you don’t return as planned, a responsible person on shore can contact authorities. It is also recommended to not paddle alone.

The USCG and CT DEEP Boating Division urge paddlers to place a “Vessel Identification Sticker/If Found Contact” on your boat. If your kayak becomes loose and is found floating on LIS, the contact info will allow would-be rescuers to contact you and determine if a search of a person in the water is needed and will save valuable resources. The waterproof stickers are available by contacting the CT DEEP Boating Division in Old Lyme, CT.

Kayakers should also be aware that they do not have the right-of-way in boat navigation channels, such as in the Saugatuck and Norwalk harbors, and the Five Mile River. Self-propelled boats are required by rule to move out of the way of all boats under power navigating in a channel. A nautical chart will indicate channel locations marked by buoys, and it is recommended that self-propelled boats cross channels at right angles only and not paddle directly in them.

Kayakers are urged to further their education on kayaking and kayak safety and become familiar with their boat before heading out onto the water. Whether paddling a sit-on-top-type kayak or cockpit-type sea-kayak, kayakers should learn how to re-enter their boat in case of a capsize, which may include taking lessons on the various types of self and assisted rescues.

After citing all this scary safety stuff, kayaking the greater Norwalk area and around the Norwalk Islands is an awesome recreational sport. The Norwalk Islands are considered the jewel of Norwalk and Westport, and Shea, Grassy and Cockenoe islands are open to the public for day trips and overnight camping.

For more useful information on local kayaking throughout the year, go to my Facebook page, “Kayaking in and around the Norwalk Islands”  https://www.facebook.com/KayakingNorwalkIslands/ 

Stay safe and have fun!

 

David Park

Author of “Kayaking in and around the Norwalk Islands”

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