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Paddling Safety Tips

The #1 piece of paddling safety advice we can give you can SAVE YOUR LIFE:

Wear your life jacket. 

Like actually put it on, zip it, clip it, and wear it for the duration of your time on the water.

Life Jacket/PFD

When choosing a life jacket or PFD (personal flotation device), try them on and choose a model that is comfortable, fits snugly, and when pulled up on the shoulder straps, the straps can't go above your ears.  Also, having pockets on the front is extremely helpful.  You can store your phone, snacks, VHF radio, or anything that you want easy access to while you're paddling.  In the unlikely event you get separated from your vessel, having a form of (waterproof) communication is important.  At a bare minimum, be sure to have a whistle attached to your PFD.  The USCG requires that all paddlers bring a whistle with them.

Things to Bring

  • Water - a must! (in a reusable water bottle, please!)

  • Whistle - a must!

  • Label your vessel with your name and contact information.

  • Dry bag with the following highly recommended:

    • First Aid Kit

    • Suncreen

    • Bug repellent

    • Snacks

    • Compass

    • Cell phone (better to have in PFD pocket if possible)

    • VHF radio (better to have in PFD pocket if possible)

    • Change of clothes (if paddling in cool weather)

  • Camera

  • Extra paddle

  • Self rescue equipment (essential for trained, advanced and/or solo paddlers, in a sit-in style vessel)

    • Bilge pump

    • Paddle float

    • Paddle leash

Make a Float Plan

Anytime you go paddling, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return - someone OTHER THAN the people you are paddling with!  And be sure it's someone responsible enough to follow up with you if you don't return.  The USCG Auxiliary provides a great fillable float plan form that can be downloaded here.  Another great resource for float plans is the USCG Boating Safety App.

Preparing for your Trip

Check the weather!  If there is any chance of thunderstorms during the time frame in which you plan to paddle, don't go.  Checking the wind forecast is also extremely important.  For beginners, it is recommended to avoid days where the wind is 10 knots or greater.  The National Weather Service coastal forecast is a great resource for wind predictions.

Check the tides!  Some of the kayak launches listed on this website are not easily accessible during low tides.  Other areas are prone to strong tidal currents (this is usually noted on the individual launch page in the notes section).  Avoid these areas during a full or new moon, when the tidal range is greatest.  Tidal currents are also particularly dangerous near an inlet (where the bay meets the ocean), so it is recommended for beginners to avoid paddling in these areas.

Plan your course!  If you'd like to have a specific plan, destination, or paddling route, a GPS tracking app such as GeoTracker, is a handy tool to make sure you're on the course you intended.  Prior to heading out, Google Earth is also a great tool for measuring distances, so you have an idea of how far you can go.

What to Wear

In the summer, most paddlers opt to wear a bathing suit under shorts and a t-shirt.  Cotton clothing should be avoided year-round because when it gets wet, it has no thermal protection.  Closed-toe shoes are highly recommended.  Flip flops can easily be lost or broken if you find yourself walking through some mud.  Waterways are also filled with broken shells, horseshoe crab shells, oysters and mussels, and sometimes broken glass - all things that can lead to a nasty cut if walking through water barefoot. 

Cold Water/Winter Paddling

Hypothermia is no joke - even on a warm day.  If you are paddling in water that is less than 70ᵒF, cold water precautions should be taken into consideration.  Even if you've never capsized in the last 30 years, you still always need to "dress for the swim, not the weather."  Cold water can kill you in under a minute if you are not prepared for it.  For information on how to safely paddle in cold water, please visit the National Center for Cold Water Safety.  They also have a great facebook page with events and trainings.


If you are properly outfitted and trained in cold water gear and you're ready to venture out, please also be aware of waterfowl hunting seasons.  Waterfowling is a huge part of Delmarva's heritage and a popular pastime across the peninsula.  Most seasons occur between October and February.

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