Early spring paddlers need to take extra precautions to remain safe

With warmer temperatures of spring, restless paddlers are ready to put canoes and kayaks in the water. Early spring paddling can provide solitude, exercise and an opportunity to see amazing wildlife, but extra precautions are needed to stay safe.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends paddlers wait for warmer weather to allow water temperatures to rise slowly. It could be several weeks before water temperatures are ideal and safe as water and air temperatures continue to change.

“Air temperatures may feel warm in early spring,  but the water is still dangerously cold and can be deadly to boaters,” said Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs Water Trails Coordinator. “We have not had enough consistently warm days to raise water temperatures. Cold water shock and hypothermia can set in quickly if you are not dressed and fall into the cold water, so dress for a swim.”

Stay away from strainers and sweepers - wood or branch piles - deadly hazards that can pull a paddler under or pin them underwater. These are usually found on outside river bends where currents are strongest.

Review these simple safety tips before heading out on the water:
• Check canoes or kayaks for any needed repairs or maintenance after being stored for several months. Look for holes and leaks, make sure all hatch lids fit snug and securely and check paddle blades for signs of cracking or splitting.
• Wear a lifejacket at all times when underway. Dust off life jackets and make sure all buckles and zippers work properly, and look for holes and tears. Replace the life jacket if it has damage that cannot be repaired. Wear a life jacket at all times while on the water, regardless of swimming ability. Not only do they help keep a person’s head above water, they help maintain warmth.
• Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Paddlers should plan as if they were to be in the water at some point because “paddlers are just in between swims.” A wet suit or dry suit is a must. Do not wear cotton clothing - it fails to insulate when wet. Choose synthetics or wool. Dress in layers in order to be able to peel a layer off if overheated.
• Paddlers should always bring along a dry bag with a complete set of extra clothes they can change into if they get wet, a first-aid kit and a protected cell phone or weather radio. Get out of wet, cold clothing as soon as possible. Pack plenty of water to stay hydrated.
• Paddlers need to let a friend or loved one know where they are going and when they are expected to return. It will be easier to find them if they need help.