Paddlesports safety

Canoes - kayaks - stand up paddle boards (SUP) - rowboats - rafts 

All paddlers are urged to boat responsibly to prevent accidents, minimize impacts, and avoid conflicts with other boaters. Following are guidelines to help you prepare before you head out on your paddling adventure:

  • Check the weather, including marine weather - tune into NOAA weather channel for real-time weather information, avoid paddling when small craft advisories are in effect, and look for changes in weather throughout the day.
  • Wear It! - always wear a properly fitted life jacket; even on hot summer days. 
  • Dress appropriately for the weather - including water temperature. Water in Washington is below 60 degrees most of the year and you should always be prepared to capsize. 
  • Never go out on the water under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 
  • Paddle with a group - at least three people, and stay close enough for visual or verbal contact. 
  • Plan your trip - file a float plan, know your skill level and limits, learn your route in advance (including put in and take out), and look for potential hazards (especially those beyond your skill level). It is important to know the waters where you travel and charts, a compass, or GPS can always help you get back to shore. 
  • Carry food and water and two forms of communication that will work when wet. 
  • Know how to rescue yourself and others in the event of a capsize. Consider carrying a throw bag, rescue kit, and a towing system. 
  • Understand and follow the U.S. Coast Guard's "Navigation Rules of the Road."
  • Get educated. Take a course and learn essential information. Regardless of how much experience you have, it is always a good idea to take a course and gain new skills or fine tune your current skills. Prior to heading out, practice your paddling and rescue skills.

1.    It is important to remember that most injuries and deaths result from ignoring 4 key risk factors

  • Failure to WEAR a life jacket (PFD)
  • Cold water (read about cold water immersion to help you prepare)
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Not filing a float plan

On the water

  • Never paddle while under the influence or drugs and alcohol. Make sure to check your prescription and non-prescription drugs for any side effects that could be impede on your ability to be alert
  • Paddle with a buddy (a friend or family member) and stay close (within visual or verbal contact) as much as possible
  • Expect the unexpected - you may capsize or fall out of the boat. Keep your feet off the bottom and pointed downstream to avoid getting snagged or stuck
  • Where there is a lot of boat traffic, stay near the shore. Approaching waves at a slight angle will help to avoid capsizing the boat
  • Scan ahead and look for hazards like overhanging branches/trees, rocks, low bridges or rapids
  • Remember: When in doubt, get out and scout! Don't take a chance of paddling rapids or currents you are not used to
  • Make sure to check for rocks that are dangerously close to the surface

Gear and equipment

Cellphone - in a waterproof bag                                                    Waterproof handheld VHF radio                                                        Charts/compass/GPS - a handheld GPS can get you back to shore in the dark or fog                            Whistle - attach it to your life jacket                                                             
Flares & air horn Throw bag & rescue kit Food & water Flashlight
Dry clothes - in a waterproof bag Repair kit Towing system Life jacket

To find out more information about paddlesports, the American Canoe Association (ACA) has some great material and videos on their website. To learn how to use a stand up paddle board (SUP) correctly, watch the ACA's SUP video.
  1. FREE Online Course
  2. FREE Paddler  App
  3. Paddling Clubs
  4. Ordinances or Restrictions

FREE online paddlesports safety course! 

No matter what – we recommend everyone take a safety course before paddling. Washington State Parks Boating Program encourages all boaters to try an online paddlesport safety course. There are two online courses approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, a nonprofit organization that works to develop public policy for recreational boating safety.

These paddlesport safety courses cover the basics for your adventures on the water, a must for anyone looking to start paddling or to refresh their knowledge. Whether you have a desire to learn the sport for the first time or improve you skills as a paddler, these courses will provide you with important boating knowledge and sharpen your skills. Take a course and gain important information that will help your technique, confidence, and enhance your time out on the waterways!

Get started here:
Paddlesports Safety Course FREE! Paddlesports Safety Course $29.50