Going kayaking? What you need to know to stay safe on the water


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Summer is a great time to enjoy one of the fastest-growing water recreation activities, kayaking. It’s a refreshing and fun way to get some exercise and enjoy local lakes and rivers.

There are few things you need to remember to keep yourself safe on the water, including what to do if you fall out of the kayak.

“A lot of people, even though you’re required to have a life jacket, they store it on their boat,” said Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s Barry Cross. “They don’t wear it.”

Cross, who is TWRA’s Region 2 Outreach and Communications Coordinator, said the life jacket makes a huge difference.

“The kayak is 10-12 feet long. It’s a sail. The wind’s going to grab that kayak and start pushing it. And if you can’t swim fast enough to catch up to that kayak, you’re without the boat. And if your life jacket is in the boat, you’re without that life jacket.”

And getting back on your kayak can be another issue.

TWRA rescue of Kayaker and Paddleboarder on Percy Priest Lake last year in a storm

“You need to have some knowledge about how to re-enter your boat when you can’t touch the bottom,” Cross said. “There are classes that will teach you how to do that. It’s not terribly hard. It does take some upper body strength. But it’s all about technique, technique, technique.”

And there’s always the weather, which can change fast as summer squalls can brew up quickly.

“If you’re away from where you put in and you’re in a kayak and you can’t make it back before that storm hits, you may be sitting out there in water that has become fairly violent,” Cross pointed out. “It will start white capping. And that leads to the potential for you being capsized.”

Remember, if you paddle downwind for a long way, you have to paddle back against that wind. So it’s best to stay close to where you put in.

On rivers, the current can pull you into downed trees and other snags that can be dangerous, like what happened to some kayakers who had to be rescued earlier this month in Smith County.

The Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association and the American Canoe Association have safety information for kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards that can be helpful resources this summer.

So have fun, but be safe!

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