Before you grab your kayak and jump in the the nearest pond or creek, you need to make sure that you understand the conditions of the area you plan to float. If you are venturing into a new waterway, make sure you scout first. Click here to read more about the importance of scouting. Even if you know the area well, it is crucial to know the environment and any specific factors that may cause concern.
Look around for buildings, ramps, and other man-made objects that could be a concern. It may seem obvious, but boat ramps are often very busy and populated. This could mean traffic that doesn’t see you. This especially hazardous if you are in a small boat and many other boats are present. Buildings could mean that there are walls along ponds and lakes. While not necessarily a cause for concern, in the event of an emergency, this could make access to land difficult if you don’t have an action plan.
Abandoned structures also have their own set of concerns. Sometimes these remnants are great for fishing, but they can also pose a hazard if they are just below the surface of the water. Many common abandoned structures include old docks. Some abandoned structures could be bridges and piers that have been damaged by weather over the years. Some of these structures were abandoned because the creeks were dammed and caused the water levels to rise as a new pond or lake was created.
It is easy to overlook the fact that your equipment is part of the paddling environment. Your kayak or SUP or whatever your float method, is critical to your safety and cannot be forgotten. Worn or damaged equipment such as paddles, PFDs or boats can have serious impact on your adventure. Ineffective or malfunctioning gear is even more of a hazard in emergency situations. You need to keep your gear in good working condition regardless of the price. All your equipment needs to be treated as an investment. If properly taken care of, a cheap, big box kayak will be as safe as a $2,500 custom build. Mistreated and abused, neither boat is going to help you.
As mentioned earlier, the environment plays a role in your paddling plan. Access points, weather conditions, water conditions, season, water levels and wildlife are all environmental components that play into a decision to float. There is nothing wrong with paddling in water that is shared by wildlife, but your experience level should determine if you float. For example, I wouldn’t want to take novice paddlers to an area known for gators. Just make sure to consider the impact of wildlife on your float.
Paddling in the the mountains where weather can change quickly requires different preparation than coastal kayaking in Florida. Likewise, open water paddling is different than on rivers. Make sure you are fully aware of the environmental factors you are likely to encounter as well as some that are less likely, but possible.
It is easy to remember to do simple SEE inspection before you float. As the headings of this post show, a SEE inspection is Structure(s), Equipment and Environment. If you can account for these three areas, you will significantly increase your ability to plan for a safe and fun time on the water. There is no substitute for knowing your surroundings and having a plan. Just remember to plan your float and float your plan. Be safe, and we will see you on the water.