5 Safety Keys to BWCA Paddling

By on November 11, 2015

Every year there are remarkably few safety-related incidents in the Boundary Waters wilderness.  For instance, in 2015, a boy had to be rescued after going over a falls in a canoe.  (He will be fine.)

A wilderness paddling adventure is unique in that it has many aspects of safety.  Certainly water safety is involved.  But so are safe camping and cooking skills, bear and other wildlife safety practices, basic first aid knowledge, and wayfinding skills so you don’t get lost.  Each of these skill areas are important so one has an incredible experience in the Boundary Waters and Quetico. Today, let’s talk about water safety when paddling

  1. Wear Your PFD (life vest)

Did you know that 85% of canoe fatalities are in part the result of not wearing a life vest?  Every canoer leaving our dock at Williams and Hall is issued a life jacket.  We will help you make sure you have the right size so you will have a snug, yet comfortable fit for all day wear.  You should never (and I mean never) be on the water in a canoe without having your vest on.  If you capsize, your life vest will allow you to concentrate on your own situation and to help you help others.

  1. Know your Limits

We see all levels of canoeing experience in the Boundary Waters and Quetico.  Whether you are a Boundary Waters rookie or seasoned paddler, you need to know your limits and paddle smart. The Boundary Waters and Quetico are wildernesses with lakes, wind and storms.  Keep an eye on the sky during time on the water.  If you see threatening weather coming, head for a vacant campsite and take a break.  Also, watch for wind, particularly in the afternoon.  If the lakes start getting too choppy or rough, it may be time to find a campsite and call it a day.  Part of the adventure is handling unexpected itinerary changes.  Build a little cushion into your plans.

  1. Cold Water Safety

Most of the Boundary Waters and Quetico lakes freeze over in the winter.  As a result, the water, particularly early in the season, can be pretty cold.  Cold water (usually considered 60 degrees or less) can be extremely dangerous.  Once immersed, cold water quickly robs the body of strength, diminishes coordination and impairs judgment.  Dress in layers on cold days.  Always have extra clothing and a sleeping bag stowed in a dry bag.  Travel with others so that they can help you if you unexpectedly end up in the water.  Make sure you know the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it.

  1. Pre-Trip Planning 

Planning ahead is always a way to avoid disaster.  This is definitely true for a wilderness canoe adventure.  Select an outfitter to work with who has a lot of experience in the area you are paddling in.  They are your best source for planning a safe and fun trip.  Make sure you understand the route you will be taking and have maps of the area.  It is always good to have two sets of maps within your group.  Try taking a practice trip or two in a canoe in your local area before arriving the Boundary Waters.  This is a great way to tune up your canoeing skills.  Finally know about any conditions that have recently come up in the area you will be paddling through (fire bans, etc.)

  1. Have fun!

Don’t forget to have fun on your paddling adventure.  Safety and fun are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, it is the other way around.  A safe trip is always a precursor to a fun trip.  So follow these tips and have a fun and safe trip!

For more information check out the American Canoe Association website here.

Paddle On.  Be Free.