One of the biggest things to consider when paddling is actually where you are paddling, so lets try and divide that up roughly. There are Inland water ways which include rivers, lakes and canals and then there are exposed or coastal waterways which include estuaries and the ocean. This a very broad context of course as a river could fall into both categories as its tidal. Or some lakes are that big they are most definitely exposed waters.
So why does this affect our paddling? To begin with we need to start with a risk assessment. What are the dangers and hazards associated with them, and how do we minimise or get rid off them. Below are some key hazards of each type of waterway that we can consider –
A canal is an inland waterway traditionally used a method of transportation for goods and other items. A canal can be a great way to explore more urban environments but does not come without some risks. Although quite a good water way to be used by beginners canal water can be quite dirty and unhygienic. There is no flow to it and it can get exposed to rubbish and other environmental factors given its location. Weil’s disease can be one to watch out for, if you are unsure on what Weil’s disease is it can be deadly and has been known to kill in the past. Caught from rat urine in the water Weil’s disease can be caught through being ingested whether you swallow water or catch it from touching something with the disease on.
Another factor to consider is that a canal can be quite narrow and also be a very busy waterway. You will most likely encounter other water users such as canal boats and fishermen so paying attention to the right of way is best practice. This means keeping to the right at all times. You may also need a waterways license as well. This can be checked depending upon the area you are paddling.
Rivers are a hugely varied body of water, they can go from a gentle picturesque environment to a full raging set of rapids. Probably the biggest safety factor to consider on a river is the flow, as a guide no more than 4 knots should be considered when paddling on a river for recreational use. If you are doing more specialist paddle boarding such as white water SUP then this rule will not apply. It is important to remember however that a specialist type of paddle boarding like this should never be attempted unless with experts who know what to do.
If you are paddling a river then there is usually a lot of information already out there for reference. Most rivers are graded, with grade 1 being a very gentle type of river and grade 6 being much more dangerous to paddle. Rivers can also be defined as navigable or non-navigable which means they can be used by boats or not. This may also affect your decision making process when considering what river to paddle.
Finally a river flows in one direction so you will most likely need to consider this when planning the logistics of your paddle. You may need to drop vehicles to the end point or find some kind of transport home. Having an ISUP you can pack down is a good choice in this instance.
As we mentioned before lakes can really vary in their size, for example Lake Geneva. So planning a paddle on a lake can take some thinking about before you venture out. As with a river or canal there is usually some kind of information already out there on lakes you can paddle. A big thing to keep in mind is the bigger the lake the more intense the conditions might be. You will also have further to paddle to get back to a shore line as well.
The ocean is a very rewarding place to paddle, and can looked at in a few different ways. You can surf in the waves, downwind or paddle a coastal route. We will cover these in another article. The big things to remember with the ocean are tides and wind, there is a high and low tide twice a day which will change slightly in time every day. High tide will mean there is no beach area as the sea will be as far up the beach as it can get. This may inhibit access to shore lines if you get the tides wrong. Low tide is the opposite to that, it will be when the sea is as far out as it can get. As the ocean is in a constant state of movement there will be currents to contend with as well. These currents can be that strong that you may be pulled out to sea or pushed against the rocks in an instant. Understanding the tides and currents is essential if you are considering paddling on the ocean.
The same rule applies to wind, there are off shore winds, on shore winds and then cross shore winds. In general its an offshore wind we want to try and avoid when paddling, the reason for this that even a gentle offshore wind has the capacity to blow you out to sea very quickly. This is especially applicable for inflatable SUP’s. So knowing the wind direction before you head out is the difference between having fun and being rescued by emergency services.
So there you have it, some general guidelines to consider when looking at the location you are paddling. There is of course lots more to consider but we will cover that in other articles. So, if you are unsure of a location to paddle then the best thing to do is not paddle it. Seek local knowledge and get a lesson before you start paddling, at least that way you will have more knowledge and better skills to deal with any potential risks or hazards and remain safer on the water.