There’s no doubt that kayaking is becoming a more adopted water sport in the U.S. This, however, means that the community needs to be proactive in recognizing their surroundings and environment before heading out. The United States Coast Guard USCG’s annual boating fatality report states an annual increased kayak [and other boating] fatality in the U.S., which has nearly tripled in the past decade. Kayak fatalities should not be increasing with its popularity as shown throughout the years and there are preventable actions. Majority of kayak fatalities are due to drowning where kayaks capsize or paddlers fall off their vessel. Even with a life jacket, paddlers can drown if unconscious and faced downward. What it ultimately comes down to is being competent about kayaking and knowing before going.
Data retrieved from the United States Coast Guard
Know your kayak. Whether you’re paddling a sit-in or sit-on kayak, these two types are used for different types of activities. Sit-ins are used more for recreational paddling and shallow waters where land access isn’t too far in case of emergency. Sit-ons are used more for guided activities, such as fishing and hunting, and should be used in deeper water where you don’t necessarily need to be on land to get back into your kayak. Of course, re-entering your kayak does take practice, which should be implemented. It is recommended to re-enter getting into your kayak at least twice a year so you’re comfortable with your kayak and know how to maneuver in and out of it. The following link is a video of me and another kayak angler re-entering our sit-on top kayaks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TU_D7rJi04.
Know your life jacket. There are five types of PFD that are defined by the DNR that you can view on their boating regulations per state. Life jackets are a preventative measure to drowning; although it is not 100% drown-proof, it significantly decreases the chance of any fatal incidents. The United States Coast Guard website recorded statistics on 2016 recreational boating and confirmed that a total of 701 deaths occurred during boating activities where 80% drowned; of the 80% that drowned, 83% were not wearing life jackets. Another study by the 2016 National Observational Life Jacket Wear Rate Study at the JSI Research and Training Institute concluded that 45% of adults wore PFDs when on a paddle craft in 2016, a decline from 51% in 2015. Whether life jackets should or should not be worn is a hot topic in the paddle craft community; however, this does not mean you should refrain from wearing life jackets. It means you need to know your life jacket so it’s accessible and can be easily equipped in dire situations.
Image retrieved from the National Center for Cold Water Safety
Know the water. The National Center for Cold Water Safety describes it best on their site, http://www.coldwatersafety.org/WhatIsCold.html, but in general, water temperature below 60°F should be taken with precaution. A dry suit is never a bad idea under 60°F water temperature. As kayak anglers, we fish in all water conditions. Always be prepared for the worst-case scenario and a [contingency] plan if tragedy does occur. Aside from water temperature, also be cautious of your surrounding from fast-wake waves that are caused by winds or boats, and even riptides.
Know the weather. Always be proactive when planning a fishing trip. Of course, this may be difficult for tournaments and in this case, dress appropriately. I’ve fished in rain, snow, hail, and high winds; it’s about knowing how to counter the weather to be able to paddle and fish in these extreme events. Check your forecast on a daily basis to see if weather pattern changes. I am always checking the weather to be readily prepared when I do go out. A common saying that many paddlers say is “rain or shine,” meaning they’ll fish in all weather conditions. If this is the case, be sure to bring extra clothing, a communicated device, and a reminder to someone that you’ll be out and return by ##:## o’ clock. As with awareness to the water conditions, always be cautious of your surrounding from the climate above sea level.
In general, I think we can all agree that kayak fishing is a widespread water sport that’ll continue to rise with its exposure. If you’re inexperienced, be sure to buddy up or fish in smaller, local waters where access to shore is simple. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your kayak, boating regulations, and the environment, it’s a matter of enjoying the outdoors and sharing memorable stories to others. Be safe out there and fish on!
References & Additional Reads
Mangione, T. W., Imre, M., Chow, W., Lisinski, H. E., Heitz, E., Millock, R. (2017). 2017 life jacket wear rate observation study. JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., 1-59. Retrieved from http://uscgboating.org/library/national-live-jacket-wear-study/2016-Life-Jacket-Wear-Rate-Observation-Study-Report.pdf.
Quistberg, D. A., Bennett, E., Quan, L., Ebel, B. E. (2014). Low life jacket use among adult recreational boaters: A quantitative study of risk perception and behavioral factors. Elsevier, 62, 276-284. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2013.10.015.
Stallman, R. K., Moran, K., Quan, L., Langendorfer, S. (2017). From swimming skill to water competence: Towards a more inclusive drowning prevention future. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 10(2), 1-37. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/ijare/vol10/iss2/3/?utm_source=scholarworks.bgsu.edu%2Fijare%2Fvol10%2Fiss2%2F3&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages.
United States Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety (2017, May 22). 2016 recreational boating statistics. Retrieved from http://www.uscgboating.org/library/accident-statistics/Recreational-Boating-Statistics-2016.pdf.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (2017, November 17). Wisconsin boating fatality summary – 2017 season. Retrieved from http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/boat/fatalitySummary/boatCurrent.html.
Zellmer, R. (2016, January 22). The handbook! Of Wisconsin boating laws and responsibilities. Retrieved from http://dnr.wi.gov/files/pdf/pubs/le/le0301.pdf.