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Intro to Kayaking
Always wear your lifejacket: Even if you're in shallow, warm water, your personal flotation device is your link to safety. Make sure it's Coast Guard-approved, fits snug (so someone can pull you out of the water by grabbing its shoulder straps) and doesn’t get in the way of your paddling movements.
If you capsize: First off, don’t panic. If you're paddling a sit-on-top, tip the boat back upright and climb back on, using a scissors kick with your feet to help gain upward momentum. If you're in a closed-cockpit boat, get your partner to help you tip it back upright and hold it steady from the side while you climb back in. Then use a bilge pump to rid the craft of water. Another trick: have your partner pull it upside-down over his or her kayak to empty it of water using a gentle rocking motion.
Bring the right safety gear: In the rare event that something goes awry, follow the Boy Scouts and be prepared. Make sure you have a spare, break-down paddle, bilge pump, paddle float, first-aid kit, whistle and spare clothes. For the latter, always prepare for potential immersion in the water, not the outside air temperature. If paddling far from shore in cold water, wear neoprene or other next-to-skin insulation layers (not cotton). Also, wear proper footwear for traction, support and safety.
Avoid the sun: When you're kayaking you're constantly surrounded by sun-reflecting water. Even in cold-weather climates, take steps to avoid exposure by applying sunscreen liberally before heading out, and wearing a visor or sun hat while on the water. Keep lip balm and sunscreen handy so you can re-apply without having to head to shore.
Avoid hazards: Stay away from low-head dams and tree snags on rivers, and shipping channels, shore break and other hazards on the ocean.
Save your strength/know your limits: You'll likely be using muscle groups that haven’t been worked in a while. To avoid fatigue, tour instead of sprint, using and rotating your entire torso with each stroke. This will put some of your arms' strain on your back, shoulder and stomach muscles. And recognize your own limits. Stay within your abilities and don’t bite off more than you can handle.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: A) You're exercising; B) You're doing so outside, without a hint of shade. Stay hydrated by keeping water bottles either strapped to your deck or within easy reach inside your cockpit. Better yet, get a hydration system that either fastens to your back or the deck, ensuring cool water is never more than a lip-purse away.
Stay sober: Save your celebratory libation for after the paddle when you’re back safely on land. Never drink and paddle.
Know your route: Even when travelling with a guide you can get separated from the group. Know where you're heading each time you’re out on the water by going over the route beforehand and finding it on a map. When paddling, keep landmarks in sight as points of reference and take occasional readings from a compass.
Know the weather: Check the local weather forecast before you head out. If it looks bad, save it for another day; the water will always be there. And be prepared for sudden squalls to appear at any time.
Paddle with a partner: Team up with a friend or loved one. Not only does this let you both share in the sport's beauty, but it creates a safety valve should things go awry. And always tell someone where you’re headed and when you plan to return.