When paddling in a local creek or river, you may never encounter any large boats or other traffic. But for those of us that paddle in busy channels, near river mouths or on flatwater lakes, it is important to know your paddling environment. For more on the specific environment and what to look for, click here. Today, however, I want to talk a little bit about other boats and high traffic conditions.
High Traffic Areas
High traffic areas are easy to identify. Basically if you have to question if the area is high traffic, it is. One of the key things for any paddler to realize in high traffic areas, is that you are hard to see. If there are waves in the area, you are even harder to see. And no, obnoxious colored kayaks are not easier to see. When every you have the ability to float with a group in high traffic areas, you should. Being in a group increases the likelihood that you will be seen by other boats in the area.
Rules of the Road
Make sure you follow the rules of the road, or water. In narrow channels, always hug the starboard (right) side of the waterway to avoid any traffic from larger boats. In this case, the right side is relative to your direction of travel and not a fixed side as in “river right.” Pay attention for one long blast from a horn as this could indicate a boat leaving the dock.
Make sure to give way to larger vessels moving faster than you. Be cognizant of unseen tow lines that may be pulling another barge or boat. Sometimes these lines are hidden under the water. It is best to avoid other boats. If you cannot see the pilot of the other boats, chances are good that he or she cannot see you either.
Always remember to wear your PFD and have a float plan that you leave with someone. Make sure you have some sort of signaling device. Although you can paddle after dark, it is highly recommended that you don’t if you are in a high traffic area. Even some of the most elaborate lights on a kayak are not enough to help keep you safe after dark. It just isn’t worth the risk. Likewise, don’t paddle alone if you can avoid it and never paddle unfamiliar high traffic areas after dark.
Safety. Education. Adventure.
Before you head into high traffic waters, focus on your safety first. Once you have assessed the risks and made a plan, use the skills and knowledge you have acquired from a boater safety course or other instruction you have received about rules, regs, and best practices for boat traffic and safety. Boat US is a great online resource for classes and courses in boater safety. Once you are ready, and educated, it is time for your adventure. Just remember to follow the rules and make sure you know of any special regulations on the location or body of water you are exploring. Be safe, and we will see you on the water.