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Preventing Paddling Injuries

Forrest Wells // June 12, 2019

Forrest Wells

General Manager, Guide & ACA Instructor
Forrest is a BCU 4 star paddler, ACA open water advanced instructor, ACA SUP instructor, Alaska Kayak Guide and has his 200 ton Master's ship license. In addition to keeping the OOC ship headed in the right direction and running efficiently, he is an avid outdoorsman and kayak/SUP racer. He also helps coach water polo, plays a mean guitar and can cook up a tasty oyster on the half-shell.


Kayaking is an outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and levels of fitness. Injuries can occur, however, if your skills and equipment are not sufficient for the type of paddling you plan to do. With preparation and common sense, you can avoid many potential paddling hazards.

Types of paddling activities:

On water activities can include a wide range of activities such as paddling on rivers or lakes to enjoy the view, battling white water rapids or sea surf, sprint racing or competing in marathons. Competition and specialized activities, such as sea kayaking or white water canoeing, provides a more challenging experience and may require particular equipment, skills and experience.

Make sure your preparation and skills are adequate for the paddling activity you have planned. 

Types of injuries:

  • Shoulder – the muscular force required to push the paddle through the water can cause an injury, such as a strain or sprain.
  • Wrist – the repetitive motion of moving the paddle can, over time, lead to overuse injuries of the wrist joints.
  • Impact injuries – for example, a person who has fallen into the water risks getting hit by the canoe or another object such as a floating log.
  • Heat stress or dehydration – canoeing and kayaking are outdoor activities that often take place in summer or on open water, where shade is scarce and sun exposure can be extreme.
  • Sunburn – overexposure to the sun can cause sunburn and skin damage. Reflected radiation from water can increase the levels of ultraviolet (UV) exposure for canoeists or kayakers.
  • Hypothermia – falling into cold water when not wearing the proper clothing can cause hypothermia, a dangerous and potentially fatal drop in body temperature.

Risk factors:

  • Inexperience – beginners may be more prone to injury because they do not have the skills or technique to meet the demands of the sport. For example, canoes, kayaks and SUP's are tricky and can tip over.
  • Poor technique – holding or moving the body incorrectly can put unnecessary strain on joints, muscles and ligaments.
  • Choosing an inappropriate waterway – accidents and injuries are more likely to happen if you attempt a waterway that is beyond your skill level or for which you are ill-equipped. Seek local knowledge if paddling in a location for the first time, consider air and water temperature, currents, tides and wave action.
  • Failure to wear protective equipment – life jackets, or personal flotation devices (PFD), and helmets are essential safety equipment. In Washington, the law requires that life jackets are always worn. Helmets should be worn when on or walking near moving water and rapids.
  • Overtraining – training too much and too often can lead to a wide range of overuse injuries, particularly those of the wrist and shoulder.

Health and fitness suggestions:

  • Exercise regularly to keep yourself in good physical condition.
  • Warm up thoroughly before activity. Include slow, sustained stretches.
  • Cool down after activity. Stretching is also an important part of your cool-down routine.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after activity.
  • Dress for the conditions. A wet suit or thermal clothing can protect against the cold, while a loose, light-coloured, long-sleeved shirt and a hat provide protection against heat stress and sun exposure.
  • Wear layers of clothing that you can remove one at a time when necessary.
  • Be SunSmart. Protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation and sun damage. Wear a hat and suitable clothing. Apply 30+ (or higher) water-resistant sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin and reapply regularly.
  • Don’t go in the water if you’ve been drinking alcohol.

Develop your skills:

  • Don’t paddle unless you are a competent swimmer.
  • Don’t paddle by yourself.
  • Don’t overestimate your skill or physical fitness. Choose a waterway that’s not too difficult for you to manage.
  • Take lessons to improve your paddling and safety techniques.
  • If you fall into the water, stay with your craft. Keep a firm grip on your paddle.
  • Learn first aid to ensure you have the skills to deal with an emergency situation.

Check weather and conditions:

  • Check weather and conditions before you paddle – including marine or mountain weather forecasts, relevant river flow levels (for inland waters) and wind warnings (for lakes and ocean).
  • Don’t paddle in extreme conditions such as high winds, a large swell, extreme temperatures, fog or thunderstorms.
  • Avoid heat stress by paddling early in the morning or late in the afternoon (particularly in summer) and using sun protection measures.
  • Don’t paddle at night unless you are experienced and only paddle where you have a clear vision of the route ahead and a light.

Possible hazards:

  • Check out the waterway from land first, if you’re paddling in a waterway for the first time.
  • Look out for and avoid possible hazards such as overhanging or submerged tree branches, a high volume of water, unpredictable currents or a large swell, low water temperature, other craft, or marine life.
  • Talk to locals for information specific to the waterway you plan to paddle.

Using the right equipment:

  • Make sure your craft is secured safely to the roof rack of your car when driving.
  • Wear a helmet designed for water sports, with sufficient drain holes to allow instant drainage.
  • Wear a life jacket that is the correct size for you, even if you think you are a competent swimmer. It’s not enough to carry one inside or on your craft. If you’re not wearing the life jacket, it will simply float away if you capsize.
  • Use a paddle that’s appropriate for your size, skill level and type of paddling activity.
  • Consider fitting a whistle to your life jacket so you have a better chance of attracting attention if you need help.
  • Never overload your gear. Respect the load limits.
  • Keep all equipment in good repair.

In conclusion always wear your life jacket, know before you go, be honest with yourself regarding your abilities and get properly trained. 

Happy Paddling!


    how-to   safety  




    Forrest Wells

    Author

    General Manager, Guide & ACA Instructor
    Forrest is a BCU 4 star paddler, ACA open water advanced instructor, ACA SUP instructor, Alaska Kayak Guide and has his 200 ton Master's ship license. In addition to keeping the OOC ship headed in the right direction and running efficiently, he is an avid outdoorsman and kayak/SUP racer. He also helps coach water polo, plays a mean guitar and can cook up a tasty oyster on the half-shell.



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