Other’s Opinion: Paddling sports wonderful, but training necessary

Published 6:41 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2022

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The Free Press, Mankato

One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that more people connected or reconnected with the outdoors.

Bicycling, simple walks, gardening, visits to parks, bird watching and other outdoor pursuits surged.

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Paddlesports was no exception. A record 38 million people took to lakes and rivers to kayak, canoe and use stand-up paddleboards in 2020, according to the latest data from the Outdoor Foundation.

The number includes 2.5 million paddlers who were new to the sports.

But the increase also brought a surge in accidents. There were 331 accidents and 202 fatalities, also a record. Paddling deaths accounted for about one-quarter of all boating fatalities in 2020.

The U.S. Coast Guard said virtually all of the fatalities were among less experienced paddlers: 75% had less than 100 hours experience in the activity and 39% had less than 10 hours experience.

Most accidents happen in flatwater due to falling overboard or capsizing. Untrained paddlers usually don’t know how to get back in once they’ve fallen out, aren’t wearing a life jacket and aren’t prepared for cold water exposure.

The increase in motorized boat and jet ski traffic and ever larger boats, including wakeboarding boats that create massive waves, only increases the risks of capsizing.

Those taking up paddle sports or who have little experience can protect themselves by taking advantage of the many free or inexpensive safety training resources, including many online safety training programs.

Paddlers also need to remember they are subject to boating rules that require them to obey navigation rules and carry the required safety equipment for their size and type of vessel.

Experts say paddlers can also minimize risk by wearing a lifejacket, dressing appropriately for the weather conditions, checking weather forecasts and paddling sober.

There are, of course, risks to taking to the water. But paddling is a wonderful experience that is accessible and inexpensive. It’s easy to get your craft to the water, no license required and great exercise is involved.