The following article was published by Dr. Steve Selin, Professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism, School of Natural Resources at West Virginia University and an active member of the Mon River Town Program.
Think that it’s too late to get out on the water this year? Think again! Many paddlers love kayaking in the fall even more than the summer. Cooler temperatures and fall foliage create a beautiful ambience for a day of paddling this time of year.
If you do have plans to paddle this season, however, you should hold off on googling for beautiful places to kayak. Before planning any water activities, it’s important to brush up on the safety tips that will keep your river trip safe, warm, and relatively dry. That means always obeying the following paddling guidelines:
- Always wear a PFD. A PFD, or Personal Flotation Device, is a critical part of any kayaking trip. PFDs are your first line of defense during an emergency spill into the water. Even the best swimmers need to wear PFDs, just in case. (Pro-tip: If you find regular lifejackets particularly uncomfortable, you can purchase a kayaking specific life jacket!)
- Don’t try to push your skill level. You should never go kayaking in an area or environment that you are not comfortable with; for example, a beginner may not want to paddle in an area with a stronger current. (Another pro-tip: the ideal kayaking environment has protection from wind and waves, a good access point for launching and landing, lots of places to go ashore, and minimal motorized boat traffic.)
- Check your paddling forecast. While autumn is a beautiful season, weather can be unpredictable. If you have plans to go kayaking, make it a priority to check the forecast the day of your trip and to dress accordingly. By the way…
- Dress appropriately. It’s important to never wear cotton while paddling, as this material dries much too slowly to keep you comfortable after a paddle-related spill or splash. It’s also important to not trust a single layer of clothing with the job of protecting you from winter temperatures and chilly river water. A base layer, and insulating layer, and an outermost waterproof layer is the minimum dress recommendation for paddlers right now. Ultimately you’re better off overdressing and removing some layers of clothes than being too cold on the water! Having a change of clothes waiting for you at the end of your trip is also always a good idea – just in case.
- Stick to the shore. River traffic is always something to watch out for while paddling. Depending on the river you paddle on, there can be a variety of bigger boats passing by at any time. These boats always have the right of way, so avoiding them and paddling along the shoreline is a safety must.
- Always check on conditions ahead of time. Rough waves and overly chilly gusts of wind are telltale signs that it’s not a good day to go paddling. If you can, it’s also best to compare the speed of the river on paddling day versus its normal flow. If the river is running faster than normal, conditions may not be optimal for a paddle.
- Stay hydrated. Temperatures may not be as brutal as they were in the summer, but kayaking is still an activity that can lead to dehydration if you’re not careful. Bring a couple of water bottles on any river trip, and take breaks every 15 – 20 minutes to stay hydrated.
- Never paddle alone. Always head out onto the water with at least one friend, if not in a group! It’s important to stay with that friend or group at all times – kayaking is a very safe activity, but sometimes emergencies happen. Having a buddy with you will ensure that, should an accident occur, help is ready to pull you from the water.
For safe, warm, and dry river adventures this fall, keep these tips in mind!
Ready to hit the water? Visit our website today for more information on boat launches and marinas, paddling trips, and guidance on navigating locks and dams. We can’t wait for you to join us on the water and to explore the gorgeous kayaking areas near you this season!
Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau has completed a comprehensive, in-depth look at visitors to the region, including the counties of Fayette, Somerset, Westmoreland. This research area overlaps with much of the Mon River Valley.