How to Play Safe
Canoeing is great fun and the number of serious incidents is tiny compared to the number of people out paddling every day of the year. This is because we train hard to learn the right techniques to stay safe so that we can enjoy the exciting stuff knowing we are in safe hands. Safety isn't just about relying on other people to sort you out - you need to learn the best way to look after yourself so that minor incidents don't become "epics", so learn your rescues and capsize drill. The combination of safety training and experience gathered over a long time under the guidance of experienced leaders is the best way to be safe.
The causes of accidents while canoeing can be put into three broad categories:
Lack of Knowledge – Ranging from inadequate or incorrect use of equipment, to lacking knowledge for a balanced judgement to be made.
Over-estimation of Ability, underestimating dang – particularly with young or inexperienced canoeists.
Carelessness – may affect both novice and expert. Ensure you have sound knowledge of the skills, techniques and equipment you are using by undertaking adequate training. With the types of canoeing activity ranging widely it would be impossible to cover all the aspects of safety here, but a few golden rules to follow are:-
- Be able to swim at least 50m. You do not need to be able to swim vast distances but the ability to remain confident in and under the water, without panicking, is important.
- Use a buoyancy aid. This should be worn whenever you get into your boat.
- Stay with the boat - In the event that you do capsize stay with the upturned canoe. A canoe is easier to spot than a swimmers head and its in-built buoyancy will ensure you remain afloat.
- Never paddle alone. Always paddle in at least a group of three. If anything does go wrong it is vital to have someone else along, to help you and to fetch help, it's also friendlier! 'less than three there never should be!'
- Go equipped and trained. Make sure you are properly equipped for the water and weather conditions you will expect to encounter. This includes food and drink, clothing, rescue equipment and a first aid kit that you know how to use. Attend a first aid course and get qualified.
- Find out about the venue before you go - know the grade of water, get out points, emergency contacts, weather forecast, swell, tides, and any other dangers.
Common sense and reading the relevant sections of the 'Canoe and Kayak Handbook' published by the British Canoe Union will give you more help with maintaining personal safety whilst canoeing. If you are not sure then ask someone more experienced. Any of the leaders in the club will be happy to chat about your plans and give you the benefit of their own experiences on the water so that you can stay safe. We would rather be phoned beforehand than to read about the lifeboat call out in the paper!
Blue-green algae - This takes the form of a very visible blue green "mist" in the water and it affects slow moving rivers, canals and lakes in warmer weather. It can be fatal if you drink the water. If it is present in a stretch of water then avoid it until it is declared clear. This is necessary normally only for a short time whilst the algae blooms, but follow the advice of the local authorities.
Weil's Disease or leptospirosis is an infection carried in rat's urine which can contaminate water and wet river banks. The bacteria which causes it does not survive long in dry conditions or salt water. It can be present in any water, including fast flowing streams and rivers but the risk of infection is greatest in slow moving and stagnant water. Bacteria can be absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes, or through cuts on your skin, particularly the feet.
So, the ways to avoid contracting Weil's disease are very simple: Avoid capsize drill or rolling in stagnant or slow moving water, particularly where rat infestation is obvious. Wash or shower after canoeing. Cover minor cuts and scratches with waterproof plasters before getting in your boat. Wear trainers or wet suit boots to avoid cutting your feet.
Thankfully Weil's disease is rare, but it can be a very serious illness requiring treatment in hospital and it can lead to kidney or liver failure. If you become ill within a three to 19 day period after canoeing then you should see your doctor immediately. The most common symptoms are: a high temperature, flu-like illness, joint and muscle pain, often particularly noticeable in the calf muscles. If you have flu like symptoms after canoeing go quickly to your GP and tell him/her you are a canoeist and where you have paddled, and that you are concerned about Weils disease. Mention it specifically as it is a rare disease and some doctors will not be aware of it as a possibility. Quick treatment with antibiotics is essential and make sure you receive a blood test. An 'ELISA' test at the local laboratory can normally give a result within a few hours.
Earning a welcome
Canoeing involves using other peoples space, be it their town, beach, car park, farm, river or whatever. The following ideas will help us to build a good relationship with other people so that we are welcomed and can continue to enjoy our sport.
- Be friendly and polite to local residents
- Avoid being an intrusion on local life
- Say "Thank You" for any help you receive
- Support local businesses if you can
- Get permission before going onto private property
- Drive slowly with care and consideration and take special care on country roads
- Park sensibly without causing any obstruction
- Make no unnecessary noise
- Unload kit tidily and don't obstruct paths or gates
- Get changed out of public view (Your body may cause offence!)
- Avoid wildlife disturbance and environmental damage
- Enjoy the countryside and respect its life and work
- Be considerate to other water users
- Take all litter home even if its not your own so you leave no trace of your visit
- Leave livestock, crops & machinery alone especially while getting changed!
- Guard against all risk of fire
- Fasten all gates you open
- Keep to public paths across farmland
- Use gates and stiles to cross fences, hedges & walls
- Help to keep all water clean
Transporting Kayaks and Canoes
Most canoes can be carried quite easily on a car roof rack or in larger quantities on a canoe trailer. A roofrack needs to be strong to carry a canoe safely. Those comprising of two separate bars are the best. Place the bars as far apart as possible and make certain that the securing clamps are tight. Tie canoes on using strong rope across each bar or, better still, self locking straps, available from retailers. Tie the ends of the canoe to the car as well. 'Uprights' and 'J-Bars' are also useful additions to a roof rack to allow the Kayaks to be placed on their side on the rack or within a cradle and this makes them more secure against sideways movement.