By George Papabeis, Public Affairs Officer
Recreational Boating Safety is a primary mission for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and it has noted an increase in incidents, injuries and deaths involving paddle craft.
Canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards are all classified as vessels by the U.S. Coast Guard and are subject to federal (and state) regulations.
Unless a paddle board is being used within a ‘swimming, surfing or bathing area,’ it must have a USCG-approved life jacket for each person and a sound-producing device on board while on the water.
Although not required to wear the life jacket while on Florida waters (unless under 6), it is advisable to find a comfortable life jacket to wear or easily carry on the water.
If operating in limited visibility or at night, bring a flashlight or lantern that produces a white light. It should be displayed to approaching vessels in enough time to prevent a collision. Do not be continually display or shine directly onto an oncoming vessel.
The regulations are the bare minimum for safety. Dangers that paddle craft operators should be aware of and precautions to take are:
Paddle craft operators face dehydration, heat related illnesses, fatigue, hypothermia and drowning. Bring plenty water to drink. Wear a hat and sunscreen and consider wearing loose a fitting sun shirt to protect against heat related illnesses. Water temperatures below 60 degrees increase the likelihood of hypothermia.
Environmental conditions in Tampa Bay can change within minutes. Winds and tides can push paddle craft offshore, making it difficult or impossible to return to shore. The slow speeds and small visual profiles of paddle crafts make them vulnerable to swamping and collision with powered watercraft. Have a whistle and flashlight to signal other vessels.
Underestimating environmental factors and overestimating personal capabilities are two mental conditions that can lead a paddle craft operator into trouble quickly. Do not drink while operating any vessel.
Download the USCG boating app on your cell phone and place it in a waterproof buoyant container. Consider purchasing a handheld marine radio and PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). Include your phone number on the paddle craft with a waterproof marker to assist law enforcement and rescue in the case you are separated from your paddle craft. Leave information with friend or relative as to when you estimate returning to shore.
Take a boating safety course and a paddle craft operation class.
For more information, download the USCG Boating App at www.uscgboating/mobile.org or on U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 74, call 644-2894 or visit http://wow.uscgaux.info/content.php?unit=070-07-04.