Know Before You Go: Tips for Offshore Paddling

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Photo: Chris Silvester

Paddling offshore can be one of the most exhilarating or terrifying experiences a paddler can have. The determining factor is often linked back to your level of preparation and planning. With some sensible foresight you will, more often than not, have a safe and memorable experience. Here’s a few quick tips to help you achieve that goal.

  • Paddle in a group. If something goes wrong, i.e. an equipment failure such as a broken rudder, you’ll have at least one other person with you to help you remediate the situation and keep your nerves under control. A group of paddlers is also a lot easier for rescue craft to spot than a lone adventurer.
  • Have at least one form of communication and know how to use it. If you have a cell phone, be sure you’ll have reception out at sea. Set your phone up so you can easily make an emergency call. You don’t want to have to swipe through screens and turn on features during an emergency. Carrying a marine radio set to the emergency channel in your area is preferred.
  • Have a float plan and let someone onshore know what you intend to do. Start time and location. Finish time and location. Your planned route. Keep your shore-based point of contact informed so they will know if you are off schedule and need to notify emergency services.
  • Wear a PFD. This should be a no-brainer, but many paddlers in Southern California prefer to simply carry one on their paddlecraft. Remember, you don’t wear a PFD because everything is going well. You wear it for the times when everything goes wrong. 
  • Wear a leash. Wearing a leash will keep you connected to your paddlecraft. Remember, leashes can break, so using a leash should never be a substitute for wearing a PFD. Consider both a part of your essential safety gear.
Shelta Hats, PaddleXaminer
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  • Wear hi-vis colors. White is nice, but can be mistaken for whitecaps from afar. Go for bold, bright, fluorescent colors. My favorite is orange. You want to be seen, so give those around you every opportunity to spot you as easily as possible.
  • Carry a whistle. If you are in trouble and need to signal a nearby craft a whistle can be heard over the roar of the ocean much more effectively than your voice. Outdoor gear stores sell whistles that can be heard from over a mile away. Get one and have it with you at all times.
  • Carry a compass. California has fog and lots of it. It is thick, impenetrable, and will quickly overtake you. An inexpensive compass will help keep you heading in the right direction.
  • Invest in a GPS device. Having a GPS device and knowing how to correctly use it will allow you to quickly give rescuers your exact location in the event of an emergency.
  • Dress for submersion. If the water is cold, then be prepared to survive a dunking and not spend the rest of your paddle shivering your way to hypothermia. There are several good gear options out there and a few great ones. Vaikobi makes a fantastic range for cold weather paddling. Check out PaddleXaminer’s Gear section for insights. 
  • Dress for sun exposure. The ocean will reflect the sun’s rays significantly more than if you were on land. Grab a Shelta hat, some UV paddling gear and get out there! Check out PaddleXaminer’s Gear section for ideas.
  • Check the conditions. The ocean is a dynamic environment and conditions can quickly change. Be prepared for any changes that will affect your float plan.

Be safe, have fun, and heck, while you’re at it, submit an article to PaddleXaminer and tell us about your offshore paddling experience!

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