David and Goliath

Paddle craft dos and don’ts

Chris Holmes

January 17 at 9:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Visibility is vital to staying safe in a kayak, so brightly colored models are recommended.
Chris Holmes
Visibility is vital to staying safe in a kayak, so brightly colored models are recommended.

One of the lures of kayak fishing is the ability to launch in remote places and fish areas generally not accessible to powerboats.

However, that’s not always where the fish are.

Kayak anglers are increasing in numbers, and so are the instances where they are fishing and traveling the same waters as the powerboat crowd. 

As a general rule, paddle craft will have the right of way. However, you can’t bet your life on the other guy following the rules; there’s no consolation in being “dead right.”

The two biggest concerns for fishermen in paddle craft are collision and being swamped. The best way to avoid these situations is to stay vigilant and do what you can to increase your visibility to boaters.

If buying a new kayak, consider choosing a bright color like red or yellow which will stand in stark contrast to most natural backgrounds.

Wear bright clothing, and fly a safety flag. The flag offers movement in the slightest wind and helps get you noticed. The height of the flag also helps boaters see you around blind turns if it’s high enough to stick up over the surrounding marsh.

Since kayaks are not powered, they are not required to have traditional red and green running lights for night time use. The only requirement for dusk-to-dawn operation is a handheld white light that can be used to signal other boaters. Stationary white lights tend to blend into the background and become indistinguishable from other lights. A handheld light can be flicked and moved around, and garners more attention. Purchase a quality waterproof flashlight, and check the batteries before each use.

The addition of reflective tape or stickers also helps your kayak show up during low-light conditions.

Kayaks can travel in shallow water closer to the bank, and that generally keeps you out of the direct path of powerboats. However, the increasing use of surface-drive motors allows many powerboats to run in mere inches of water. Areas that were once safe travel havens for paddle craft can now get you run over. This is especially true if you fish in areas frequented by duck hunters.

During duck season, it’s a good practice to launch a little later in the morning to allow the sun to come up and hunters time to get set up in their area. This also helps you steer clear of them and not interfere with their hunt. They’re usually gone by mid-morning.

Carrying a whistle or small air horn gives you an extra way of alerting boaters of your presence. If they don’t see you, maybe they will hear you.

Practice defensive ’yaking at all times. Consider where you travel and anchor. Stay out of blind spots and hard turns.

If a boat is approaching, don’t assume the operator sees you. Yell, blow your whistle, wave a paddle or whatever is necessary until you know for sure you have been seen.

Boat wakes, even from a small boat, can be enough to tip or swamp a kayak. Practice proper positioning of your boat to ride through the waves. Always angle the kayak into the oncoming wave and continue paddling. The paddle adds another contact point with the water and allows you to make immediate corrections for the best possible handling. Each kayak maneuvers differently and with a little practice you’ll learn how best to handle yours.

Power boaters are notorious for throwing large wakes at slow speeds. Rather than throttling back to full idle, many plow slowly through the water, actually pushing a larger wake than if they passed you on plane. If you encounter a boater running past you, you are generally better off signaling them to maintain planing speed rather than having them throttle back right next to you.

Hopefully you and your kayak will never be parted. However, practicing self rescue is highly recommended. The time to figure out how to get back into or even right a swamped kayak is not after it has happened. The summer months are a great time to practice self rescue, so use that time to figure out just what you need to do in case of an emergency. 

Wearing a PFD is the best insurance. Accidents happen quickly, and you don’t want to be searching for a PFD or struggling to put it on while in the water. A PFD immediately removes the fear of drowning and allows you to calmly enact your self-rescue procedures.

Many kayakers are new to using boats in general, so it is highly recommended to take a boater’s safety course. While the course is geared toward powerboaters, much of the information is practical and very helpful for paddle craft users. 

Kayak fishermen are apt to encounter a wide variety of power vessels. Sport-fishing boats, commercial fishing boats, tugs and barges, and even ships are found across coastal Louisiana.

So you’ll likely be the smallest fish in the pond. Being prepared for these encounters helps ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Remember: Safety is no accident. 


*Free paddle sports safety course

In addition to a regular boater’s safety course, paddlers can now take a free online safety course designed just for paddle sports enthusiasts.

The course can be taken at your own pace, with unlimited sign in/sign out capabilities.

Highly detailed illustrations and characters bring the course to life. You even have the choice to read the material yourself or listen to voice-over narration.

Log on to www.boaterexam.com/paddling.

This cruise ship/kayak encounter might be a rarity, but the fact is that ’yakers in coastal Louisiana frequently encounter larger crafts.
       



View other articles written Chris Holmes

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