Paddling Safety Tips

Life Jackets

Young couple wearing PFDsWearing life jacket is the single best way to avoid a fatal drowning incident while on the water. Wearing a life jacket while paddling is just like wearing a seat belt while driving – by taking the easy step of wearing the device properly, it may save your life.

Minnesota law requires one U.S. Coast Guard approved, properly sized, and easily accessible life jacket for each person on the boat.

In addition, all children under ten are required to wear an approved life jacket at all times while in a boat.

While not required by law, it is recommended that all individuals wear their life jacket when boating. For more information on life jacket types and regulations, please refer to the Boating Guide.This is a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it.

Tips for selecting and fitting a life jacket

A properly fit life jacket will be snug, but not uncomfortable - it should allow for free motion.

When selecting a life jacket, make sure to wear your paddling clothes while trying it on.

To fit the life jacket, tighten all straps and buckles.

Have another person pull up on the shoulders of the life jacket. If the shoulders move up past your nose, try tightening the straps more. If it still moves, the life jacket may be too large.

Test out your life jacket in a pool or shallow water. It should not ride up on your body or slip while in use.

Helpful paddling safety tips

Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.

Dad helping son with his lifejacket

Never strap a person or lifejacket to a canoe or kayak.

Monitor the weather – be sure to check the forecast before leaving, and prepare for rain even if you don't think it will. Having a weather radio along can serve as an early warning system for inclement weather.

Dress appropriately for the weather. Staying warm and dry makes the trip safer and more enjoyable. Wear quick-drying clothing (non-cotton!) made of material that retains heat even when wet.

Use extra caution when paddling in cold water. Boating accidents are five times more likely to be fatal if the water is colder than 60 degrees.

Avoid paddling under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In areas of high motorboat traffic, stay near the shore, and approach waves head-on or at a slight angle to avoid capsizing.

If you do fall out or capsize, keep your feet pointed downstream and keep them off the bottom to avoid foot entrapment. Stay upstream of the boat to avoid getting pinned between the boat and a rock or log.

Carry a first aid kit and know how to use it.

Paddling in a group is safer than paddling alone. If you are in a group, keep in visual or oral communication with other boats in the group, if possible.

While paddling, scan ahead for hazards like overhanging trees, rocks, low bridges, or rapids.

Take ample food and water, drink fluids frequently to avoid dehydration. If you start getting a headache or have not urinated in a few hours, drink a quart of water. Staying well-hydrated will lead to better judgment and better general health.

family paddling

Plan an alternative take-out point in case of emergency.

Carry a cell phone or radio for emergency communication, but keep in mind you may not have service in a river valley or remote area.

If a section of river appears too challenging for your and your group, don't be afraid to portage around it! This is a much better option than paddling in rapids, or quick currents that you aren't used to. When in doubt, get out and scout!

Wear bright colors or a high-visibility life jacket. The law requires a life jacket per person in your boat, but people die each year because they weren't wearing their life jacket. Buckle up and zip up that life jacket!

Water riffles mean that rocks lie dangerously close to the surface. Follow the smooth water shaped like a "V" pointing downstream.

Be prepared

Be prepared for your paddling adventure. Check out our paddler's checklistThis is a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it. for suggested items to bring with you.

Visit the boat and water safety page for more information on staying safe on Minnesota's waters.