Get Back in the Water with Paddling Safety 101

Western Pennsylvania is full of beautiful places to kayak.
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It’s been a chilly winter in Pennsylvania, but wonderful spring weather will be here soon! We’re already itching for the perfect warm day to take advantage of the very thing we were named for – our river towns’ rivers. Western Pennsylvania is full of some of the most beautiful places to kayak.

New and experienced paddlers alike, however, would do well to prepare for the season by brushing up on kayaking safety tips. Emergencies and accidents can happen to anyone, so knowing how to prevent them is key to keeping your paddling adventures safe, warm and minimally dripping wet!

  • Always wear a PFD. A PFD, or Personal Flotation Device, is your first line of defense should you fall out of your kayak somehow. Don’t try to argue your way out of wearing one because you’re a good swimmer, either! A bad spill could make it hard for you to swim. Both regular life jackets and kayak-specific life jackets will get the job done, so take the time to decide which one will be more comfortable (and fits better) during your paddle.
  • Respect your limits. While kayaking is a great way to get moving, you should never push yourself on the water the way you might in a gym. Respect your limits and make sure that you plan on ending your paddle before you’re too tired to continue. Also, never venture into a body of water that you cannot comfortably navigate. (NOTE: 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.)
  • Wait for some sun. Spring and summer days in western Pennsylvania can be beautiful! They can also be dark, stormy, and dangerous. Always check the forecast leading up to your paddle – and reschedule as needed. Your safety comes first!
  • Dress appropriately. The key to a great day on the water is what you wear. Rule 1: never wear cotton while paddling – it dries very slowly and won’t be comfortable if you hit a splash zone. Bring layers as well based on the day’s forecast and your own temperature preferences. And pack up a spare outfit for the journey home, just in case.
  • Respect the water – and its traffic. Always consider the conditions of the water you want to paddle on before you hop in. If the river you want to paddle on is running particularly swiftly or is full of rough waves, spurred on by gusts of wind, it’s time to reschedule your paddle! In addition to respecting water conditions, you need to respect its traffic. A number of Pennsylvania rivers are used by boats carrying people and cargo. Large boats always have the right-of-way on the water, so it’s impossible for kayakers to avoid them for everyone’s safety. The best way to do this is to just paddle along the shoreline, no matter how tempting the middle of the river may be.
  • Drink up! Kayaking, like any exercise, can lead to dehydration – especially as temperatures begin to rise. Bring a couple of water bottles on any river trip, and take breaks every 15 – 20 minutes to stay hydrated.
  • Bring a buddy. We recommend kayaking with at least one other person, if not with an entire group. 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.

Sticking to these tips will make your paddling adventures safer and more enjoyable. And if you’re looking for beautiful places to kayak this year, there’s no need to google “kayaking areas near me!” Our website includes an entire section dedicated to local river recreational options – just what you need to plan your next day on the water! We just ask that you leave no trash behind in our gorgeous rivers. Happy paddling!