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Tippy Canoe and Kayaks, too: Small boat and water toy safety

Several years ago, I was asked to serve on the National Boating Safety Advisory Council, which is a group that (as the name suggests) advises and coordinates with the Coast Guard on issues related to recreational boating safety. The council meets twice a year, generally near Washington DC, but during the time I served, I arranged to have one of the meetings at West Marine in Watsonville, which allowed the company to show off our headquarters while supporting boating safety. Terms are three years long, and members of the general boating community, marine law enforcement, and boating safety organizations make up the council.

One of the “benefits” of serving on the council is to receive a weekly summary of boating accidents around the country. The source for the summary appears to be a clipping service that gathers stories from local newspapers and other news sources, so while the general facts about the boating accidents are probably reliable, the article writer’s boating knowledge varies from modest to non-existent. In a given week, there are 10 to 20 accident reports.

If you are a dutiful reader of the weekly BADs (Boating Accident Database reports), you soon recognize trends in the types of accidents. Winter accidents inevitably involve small boat capsizes and cold water, frequently related to fishing, paddling, or hunting. Summer accidents are commonly due to boat collisions (especially on rivers and branches of reservoirs and lakes), personal watercraft collisions, and horrifying accidents involving children being towed on inflatable devices behind powerboats. Inevitably, the parents swing their children into shore obstacles while trying to let the rest of the family see them from shore.

So, that’s the over-generalized annual trend. The trend over a multi-year period is the increase in accidents involving kayaks and to a lesser degree, canoes. As with most recreational boating accidents (around 92%), these accidents occur on inland waters, and frequently on ponds, gravel pits, and small lakes. As you might guess, the majority of the fatalities are due to drowning, and the victim isn’t wearing a life jacket.

Combining the reports from April 10 and April 17, and this is approximate, this is how the fatalities stack up:

Type of Boat

Number of Fatalities


4 (33%)


3 (25%)

All Others

5 (42%)


So, how does this relate to the average CCA member, who is likely to be operating much larger boats and much bigger waters? It’s extremely common to see a couple of kayaks and perhaps a couple of stand-up paddleboards strapped to the foredeck or boatdeck on cruising boats, either for exploration, exercise, or to avoid being cooped up with people with whom you’ve scheduled way too much time on the water. This is also true of charter boats, which have that “yard sale” look as they leave the charter bases.

The following boating safety messages are far from being break thoughs, but bear repeating when you have a high likelihood of ending up in the water.

When paddling:

  1. Wear an appropriate life jacket. Wear it; don’t strap it to the deck of your SUP or kayak, where you can be separated from it.
  2. Dress appropriately if the water is cold. It takes seconds for the gasp reflex to impair your swimming such that you never get a chance to get back on your SUP (stand up paddleboard) or right your kayak.
  3. If you’re paddling in an offshore or variable wind, make sure you have a way to call for help if you get blown offshore.

Have a great, and safe, summer!