to read the article by Alan Sorum on canoe and kayak safety. The American Canoe Association and the Coast Guard Auxiliary partnered together to produce this in pamphlet form. Statistically, we paddlers are far more likely to drown or be injured than a recreational boater. Do not underestimate the danger and do not over estimate your strength and personal capabilities - especially in rough water, cold water, windy conditions, and strong currents.
Paddlers are as careful planning their trips and having the right safety equipment available as are recreational boaters. In some states, kayaks and canoes must even be registered and pass safety inspections. The Coast Guard Auxiliary now does Vessel Safety Inspections of paddle craft! Contact the Auxiliary using the link on the menu bar above or visit SafetySeal.net.
Here in Maryland when I take my kayak out I always have my life jacket on and properly secured to my body and the following:
1. A hand-held water pump and bailing sponge.
2. An air powered horn of the type available at a marine store.
3. A visual distress flag that can be tied to a paddle and three flares in a waterproof dry bag.
4. A portable, dunk proof, marine VHF portable radio and a cellular telephone in a dry bag.
5. A paddle float. This is a necessity if you do not know how to do a rolling rescue. Practice!
6. Sunglasses, reading glasses, a hat for UV protection.
7. Sunscreen for exposed skin. Do not put it on your forehead.
8. A GPS in waterproof bag especially if I am going to unfamiliar places.
9. We use spray skirts in rougher water to minimize taking on water.
10. Take a trash bag you can stow in a water proof compartment to take out your trash and any that you find along the way.
11. Wear the proper clothing for air and water conditions. Weather can be the enemy of returning safely.
My spouse and I only paddle alone when we are in water we can stand in if we turn over and exit the kayaks, otherwise we are always in pairs. Having a partner allows a safe and quicker reentry. Regardless, we have always learned to be mindful of currents and wave heights. When the Bay is rough it takes quite a bit more strength to stay afloat and focused.
Use caution entering private harbors in a kayak, canoe, or other small boat. Larger boats do not often see you or they don’t slow down to minimize the effect of their wake. The entrances to some harbors along the Bay can be churning cauldrons when the Bay is rough, tossing a small kayak side to side. Stay as far to starboard as you can, clear of any recreational motor vessel traffic.
Report any intentional attempts by recreational boaters to swamp your craft. Obtain the vessel registration number and contact the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police or the Coast Guard.
Be safe in your kayak. Think about arriving alive. Don’t take absurd risks. Use caution in unfamiliar waters. Watch for submerged objects. Maintain an awareness of your depth while in back creeks. Have the skills necessary to get yourself out of a sticky situation.
You might want to consider taking lessons from a certified instructor. The American Canoe Association’s website has information about learning to paddle. Locally there is the Chesapeake Paddler’s Association. This group is affiliated with the ACA. CPA is a safety-first organization for paddlers of ALL skill levels. I (the webmaster) am a member of the Auxiliary and of the CPA. The Chesapeake Paddlers Association. CPA offers paddling instruction.
Jellyfish: aka/ Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles
(DISCLAIMER: The following information is NOT INTENDED to be a substitute for medical advice that you are responsible for obtaining from your own medical doctor. The information regarding the use of colloquial remidies was taken from personal experience and research and Internet sources. The United States Coast Guard does not endorse nor recommend specific medical treatments but rather encourages boaters to plan ahead for expected dangers associated with any and all boating and water activities. If you expect to encounter jellyfish during a boating excursion you should wear appropriate protective clothing. You should obtain medical advice prior to your trip and follow the instructions of your doctor if stung. You should be prepared to boat, paddle, or swim from danger and be able to call for assistance using a marine radio. In any life threatening situation you should always call for medical rescue. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for planning and common sense.)
Should you kayak in the Chesapeake Bay or one of its many creeks and harbors you WILL encounter jelly fish. Jelly fish sting. The sting is quite painful to exposed arms and legs. The pain can and will cause great fatigue and frustration and could be life threatening.
The Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettle is special in that conventional sting remedies are just a little different than those remedies for other kinds of jellyfish.
First you need to know how and why jellyfish sting. When your bare arms and legs brush up against the tentacles of a jellyfish the chemicals on your skin trigger the warning mechanisms of the jellyfish. When the chemicals are not present the jellyfish does not fire the stinging barbs.
When the jellyfish does sense you, it releases what are called nematocysts. These poisonous barbs inject venom into you, the swimmer or unfortunate kayaker. The poison causes extreme pain. I experienced a kayak roll over in bay waters and was stung over most of both legs and feet. Walking to shore was no fun and running home with searing pain was even worse.
Some of the colloquial remedies for sea nettle stings are the same as offered for all jellyfish stings. Internet medical advice has not caught up with the sea nettle’s sting. Many sites repeat the same general jellyfish information. Some pharmacists even provide copies of generic remedies to customers that is not applicable to the sea nettle sting. Our sea nettles are special as you will soon discover.
The jellyfish nematocysts trigger or fire after sensing natural chemicals on your skin. Some of the jellyfish barbs fire right away and others on your body or attached to tentacles stuck on your skin wait to be triggered. By treating your injury incorrectly you can actually compound your discomfort. More on this in a minute.
You will capsize someday. When I did, I just happened to be near shore. My partner was not trained in rescue and at first did not understand the urgency of my situation. The sheer number of stings were preventing me from attempting a self rescue. I had the paddle float and was ready to use it but I didn’t want to spend any additional time in the water!
As in very cold water where hypothermia can set in the severe painful distraction of repeated jellyfish stings is a powerful demotivator. All I could think of was the easiest way out of the water. There wasn’t an easy way of course. The seventy-five foot walk in neck deep water was slow and tedious, but I was still able to move faster than the person attempting to tow me!
I thank my lucky stars that:
1. I kayak close to shore.
2. I kayak with a partner.
3. I did not lose my head.
4. I was wearing a life jacket.
It is easy to understand how a capsize in sea nettle infested waters could lead others to a more tragic end.
Southern Marylanders should plan for sea nettle stings. There is a lotion called “Sea Safe” that is supposed to mask your skin chemicals from the sea nettle. Wearing the lotion, you won’t trigger the jellyfish stinging mechanism. The best protection, however, is a wet suit.
As far as sting remedies go, I personally encourage you to read the Mayo Clinic page on the subject. Remember that the Chesapeake Bay sea nettle is a special little devil. Washing your skin with vinegar can actually trigger barbs on your skin that have not already fired. Upon exiting the water you should wash your skin with sea water and scrape it with a sea shell or sand while doing so. Washing with fresh water can also trigger remaining barbs so use SEA WATER. The products that finally calmed my skin were topical numbing sprays and Adolph’s meat tenderizer. As with any colloquial advice your mileage may vary so I strongly advise reading and understanding the dangers posed to kayakers by sea predators. Kayak fishing is increasing in popularity so you really should understand what you are getting yourself into.
In short, know in advance if jellyfish stings present an allergic hazard to you. See your doctor! Carry your eppy pen and make sure your partners know how to use it when you cannot. Find out if the sea nettles are in season and where they are currently concentrated. Wear appropriate protection against the stings.
When will the Coast Guard or DNR Stop a Kayaker?
The most common reason for law enforcement contacting a kayaker are:
1. Paddling without a life jacket.
You will be escorted to a safe port, not necessarily to where you embarked. You may also receive a citation.