Northern Waters - Safety
Safety and 10 Tips
Safety is in your own hands, but here are some things I've learned over the many years of wilderness adventure and paddling.
Develop your experience and skill over time by starting easy and building up in difficulty. Start with easy 1-2 day trips. Then do a few easier week-long trips until you are ready for longer and more remote trips. Planning a river trip? Start on something really easy (day trips) with no hazards where you can play and learn to ferry, catch eddies, and take a river bend w/o getting drawn to the outside. If you can, join a local moving water canoe paddling club and attend their training events and trips.
Minimize the risk of flipping. Let's get this straight. If you flip far from shore on a northern lake, you are screwed. Don't imagine that you are going to be able to climb back in the canoe. It is much much harder than you might imagine even in calm water and if you flip, it won't be calm. Also northern water is cold and even with your pfd on, you will be in trouble fast. So you need to minimize the risk of flipping, take precautions, and not do long crossings especially if you have 1 canoe in the party.
* get up at dawn and plan to be off the water by noon to avoid winds if winds are an issue (sometimes they are not, sometimes they are)
* do not plan routes that involve crossing a big lake. The wind kicks up fast on big lakes and then you'll be screwed.
* practice your paddling skills; esp. practice in wind and waves to learn how to quickly turn the boat into the wave so as not to be broadsided and to learn to pop the bow over the waves so you don't get swamped (so much).
* learn to brace the boat. After you get down the basics, practice in waves and wind in a safe situation.
* pack the weight at the bottom
* have the kids lay on the bottom in rough water
* don't paddle in water above your comfort level. Always assume you will not be able to get back in the canoe if you flip.
* with kids in the boat, you need to stay well, well within in your comfort level and stay strong (you don't want to get exhausted)
* stay within easy swimming distance to shore
* stay with a buddy boat on crossings and when you need/want to paddle away from shore
* buy a good life vest (pfd) that is comfortable to wear
* wear your life vest and if you won't follow that advice, then at least ALWAYS wear it when paddling cold water. Hitting cold water unexpectedly forces the air from your lungs and can cause even strong swimmers to drown.
* have a plan B in case you get pinned by weather that way you are less tempted to head out into rough water
* pack the boat so that things stay dry and tied in if you were to flip. Also keeping everything tied in means you minimize knocking something into the water and then automatically lunging after it and destabilizing the boat.
* have equipment on your pdf to make a fire if you were separated from the boat
* sure, practice your T-rescue (2 boat rescue) but don't imagine you'll actually be able to do it in a real situation: a) rough water, b) loaded canoe, c) chaos/adrenalin, and d) hypothermia which can set in in under 10 minutes in cold water. I practice getting into the canoe while another braces. This is pretty tricky so it's good to practice.
A comment about group dynamics If you are with a big diverse group, you'll need to tone down the trip right from the planning stages so that everyone stays in their comfort level. One of the most dangerous group dynamics arises when an athletic beginner is in a group of highly experienced people because the temptation is over-whelming to run a trip for the experienced folks. You have to tone down the trip for the beginner--which you will find difficult to do in a social group even with a designated leader (as opposed to say a guided trip).
10 Tricks and tips we have learned over the years
1) Tie everything down when you are on the water. On trips with a lot of portaging, we have everything in backpacks that are bungied into the boat (see pictures in the photo gallery) and any misc is put in a duffel bag that is clipped to the boat.
2) Keep weight low in the boat for stability. If the kids are not paddling, we have them sit on the bottom on the rigid sleeping pads.
3) If it rains and you need to paddle, use the tarp to cover backpacks and kids.
4) Never take cotton. It'll never dry after it gets wet on day 1.
5) Divide the food and treats into first 1/2 half of trip and last. That way you won't high-grade leaving only the unappealing food for the end.
6) Train in the months before the trip so you are strong and less likely to injure yourself from suddenly doing multiple days of paddling.
7) Bring one 2-gallon bucket with lid (we actually take a bear bin but a bucket is better). Pack your bread and chips in that.
8) Practice jumping out of the canoe and getting in (kids love this). Getting in from the water is a lot harder than you would imagine -- especially with a pfd on. Practice flipping the canoe and see if you can bail it or paddle to shore. You'll quickly learn why to stay close to shore in rough or cold water. Rescues with another canoe (pulling the swamped canoe over the other) are good to practice, but perhaps a bit impractical with a loaded canoe. Learning to climb into the other canoe and learning to brace to stop a flip are more practical skills.
9) If paddling with a strong tail wind, put extra weight in the stern to pop up the bow. You'll have better control.
10) Bring your own high quality, light-weight paddles. Your arms will thank you.
Wild animals: Generally speaking, wild animals are the least of your safety concerns on trips where drowning, hypothermia, and medical emergencies far from help are a distinct possibility. Nonetheless, wild animals seems to be something people always ask me about. The trips listed here are in areas where there are lots of bear, wolves and cougars. These are wild predators which are certainly capable of hurting you and your kids, so you want to take precautions.
First keep a clean camp and leave nothing (food OR equipment) out at night to attract animals to your camp. Animals don't just like your food, they also like your sweaty socks and shoes and shiny stuff. We remove all food scraps nights by eating everything and then burning or tossing to the river all scraps. We wash all dishes and pack them away for night. ALL gear and clothing is secured overnight by putting in secure bins or hanging. We do not camp near streams which could have fish, as these are prime places for feeding bears. We don't make a habit of wandering up such streams or wandering through the brush. When we do, we make lots of noise. If bear sign is common or fresh, we keep bear spray handy, however we have only rarely felt the need to do this, e.g. in Turner Lakes where there were clearly grizzlies about. We generally leave our dog at home. When we have taken her, it is either to a place with low bear density or we keep her on a short leash at all times. Our one near run in with wild animals happened when we had her in an area with wolves. Nothing happened but they did visit our camp and howl for an hour in the middle of the night while we quaked inside the tent with Fido. When we visited areas with cougars (with a history of attacks on kids), we kept the kids under surveillance at all times and had them carry whistles in addition.
Food Packing List
Kenai Wildlife ...
Powell River Fo...
12/8/2013 11:43:00 AM