All serious paddlers should master a few basic skills to keep themselves and their paddling buddies safe on the water…

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The American Canoe Association’s (ACA) Practices, Ethics and Conducts brochure lists  four of them. We won’t go into great detail here. But we’ll give you an overview of each, along with some resource suggestions so you can dig deeper:

1. Self-Rescue

Self-rescue is just what it sounds—knowing techniques to get yourself out of a sticky paddling situation when you’re out alone. In fact, if you paddle solo a lot, these can be life-saving.

The skills and strength needed for self-rescue depend largely on the boat you’re paddling and the water conditions you’re in. If you’re not strong enough to hoist yourself up from the water back onto your boat, seriously consider staying close enough to shore so you can swim for it instead.

The more challenging the water conditions you paddle in, the more important learning this skill is.

Something else to always keep in mind is the water temps where and when you paddle. If the water’s cold enough to cause hypothermia should you fall in, wear a drysuit. And of course, always wear your PFD.

Some good resources:

2. Proper Paddling Technique

Learn your strokes and when to use them. Be able to maintain control of your canoe or kayak in any conditions, including waves and wind. And practice, practice, practice!

Some good resources:

3. Preparation

To quote the ACA brochure: “Only take on challenges for which you are mentally and physically prepared.” Unless you’re with other more experienced paddlers, stick to waters and situations you’re comfortable in.

Don’t go in over your head, so to speak, and put yourself in the situation of needing to be rescued! Physical preparation includes being fit and having the right gear.

The best preparation is simply to paddle a lot. Take classes. Go out with paddlers who are better than you and learn from them.

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4. Rescue Skills so You can Help Others

This goes along with #1, Self-Rescue. There are definite advantages to having more than one boat out on the water when one of them capsizes.

Take a class or two in rescue skills through the ACA or other source. If you practice those skills until they’re second nature you won’t panic if you find yourself in a rescue situation.

Here are some good online resources:

If you prepare well, keeping these 4 basic skills in mind, and never have to use them—wonderful! But if the unexpected happens, you’ll be glad you prepared.

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