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Summer canoe safety

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As our intrepid team member Dan made his way across New York State on the Erie Canalway path by bike, we thought about other ways people can explore their beautiful natural surroundings. Viewing the landscape by water is also a great way to explore, especially with the rivers, creeks and lakes that we are lucky enough to have spread across the eastern portion of America.

Canoes in particular are a fun way to travel. Often fairly flat-bottomed and with plenty of space to bring along fishing gear, picnic lunches and even furry friends, canoes are also pretty easy to transport to many locations – just tie one on the roof of your vehicle and carry the lightweight vessel wherever you have water access.

Canoes were developed by different cultures all over the world. Until the mid-19th century, the canoe was an important means of transport for exploration and trade. Where the canoe played a key role in history, such as the northern U.S., Canada and New Zealand, it remains a big part of popular culture.

Today, canoes are used for everything from competition to pleasure, including racing, whitewater, touring and camping, freestyle and general recreation. Historically, canoes were dugouts or made of bark on a wood frame; then materials evolved to canvas on a wood frame, then to aluminum. Most modern canoes are made of molded plastic or composites such as fiberglass, Kevlar or graphite.

Our littlest mascot, Elizabeth, enjoying some time on the water this summer. Photo by Becky Mauk

As with any outdoor activity, though, before grabbing your paddles and heading out, you need to focus on safety first. Although flat water canoeing is pretty safe, it’s still important to pay attention to avoid any mishaps. Here are some tips before heading just around the river bend:

  • Stretch! We’ve talked about the importance of this before in our National Gardening Exercise Day post, but seriously, you should do at least a little stretching before engaging in any activity.
  • Inspect your canoe before heading out. While fiberglass, the most common material for the small boats, is incredibly sturdy, a tiny hole or crack can lead to big problems later on.
  • Always wear a personal floatation device. Seriously, always. Even if you feel that you’re a strong swimmer, you never know what could happen. It’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.
  • Dress appropriately. Out on open water, you’re much more exposed to the sun and therefore have a higher risk of getting a sunburn. Under trees, you’re probably going to have to deal with more insects and spiders. Long sleeves and pant legs may seem like a bit much on hot days, so either dress in layers or bring along extra clothes to protect yourself.
  • Watch out for strainers. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s an important one to know. Fallen trees can be dangerous because they can create strainers when they’re stuck in a current. They let the water through but they stop everything else and can trap a canoe under the water.
  • Plan ahead. As with other outdoor activities, check the weather. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of a lake in a thunderstorm. Know where you’re launching from and how to get back. And, as always, bring plenty of water! Hydration is important no matter what you’re doing.

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