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Scottish Canoe Association - safety


Scottish Canoe Association - safety




Paddlesport is an amazing way to get outdoors. There are many reasons to get out paddling. For some these include:

  • Excitement
  • Sense of freedom
  • Get close to wildlife
  • A way to keep fit

As a sport there are many different environments that we can access from the calm waters of the local canal through to experiencing the amazing coastal journeys around the country and the awe inspiring rivers that carve their way through our stunning landscape.

However you decide to go paddling you should look to keep yourself and your paddling companions safe. This article is all about those important decisions that you should be making at the start of your paddling career . This is not meant to be a tick list but more about ensuring that your paddling experience is an enjoyable and ultimately a safe one.  

Choice of Craft

Choice of Craft

Canoe or Kayak? / Sit in or Sit on? / stand up paddle? 

Choices are varied and often it will be a compromise. To help with this many manufacturers make boats that are able to cross over and be used in multiple environments. You first need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where do you want to go?
  • How many people out at a time?
  • For travel / fitness / fun?

By asking yourself these you start to shape what your choices will be and ultimately what boat you will choose.


These are craft that can be enjoyed by many and be used in multiple environments. They are generally open top and paddled using a single blade paddle. Typically they can be paddled:

  • Solo
  • Tandem
  • Three persons ~ Two adults plus one child / three adults
  • Four persons ~ Two adults plus two small (under 10) children

They come in many sizes but in the UK typically you will find the following readily available:

  • 12 foot solo canoes
  • 14 foot solo / tandem canoes
  • 15 foot solo / tandem canoes
  • 16 foot solo / tandem / three or four person canoes
  • 17 foot tandem / three or four person canoes

Once you have decided where you want to go and how many of you there are then you can make an informed choice what you need to get.

The canoe is only the start of it. You will need to consider whether you add additional buoyancy to the canoe. Canoes are generally inherently buoyant but additional buoyancy added allows for the canoe to be paddled swamped and form part of your what if it goes wrong plan. This is an easy addition to make where airbags / blocks can be added to the inside ends of the canoe.

The only other addition would be that of a swim line. This in essence is a length of rope tied to an end and tucked out the way until needed. 


These are sit in or on and are propelled using a double bladed paddled. You will be sitting either inside where you will have a foot rest and knee / thigh grips to help you control the kayak or on top of it and have areas for your feet to press against. Depending on where you want to go will be dependent on what type of kayak you choose.

Sea ~ Sea or Touring Kayak
Rivers ~ Touring Kayak / White Water Kayak / Sit on Top
Canals ~ Sea Kayak / Touring Kayak / General purpose kayak / Sit on Top / Open cockpit kayak
Lochs ~ Sea Kayak / Touring Kayak / General purpose kayak / Sit on Top / Open cockpit kayak

Some of these you have options of either solo or tandem. There are sit on tops and open cockpit kayaks where you can take up to three people which is usually maximum two adults and one child. 

Again the kayak is only the start of it. You will need to consider whether your craft should have additional buoyancy in it. This is as easy as putting some airbags in the empty space. Most of the kayaks will have inherent buoyancy built in already but as with canoes having additional will aid if anything were to happen.

You may also need to consider whether you need a spraydeck or not. These are covers which go over the cockpit area. These will keep you warmer and drier. However, they also need to be known about as if you do capsize you will need to do something else to get out of the kayak. These would be advisable in general purpose / white water / sea kayaks and some of the touring kayaks.

Sit On Tops / Stand Up Paddleboards

These craft are becoming increasingly popular as time goes on. If you are going to get into these craft then there are some important things that you will want to ask about.

Do I need to add additional buoyancy?

Some of the sit on tops need the addition of extra buoyancy if you are going to take them out onto the sea or rivers. You would want to check at time of purchase.

Do I need a leash for either me or the paddle?

When paddling on the sit on tops or stand up paddle boards. You may need to consider the use of either a paddle leash or boat leash. These ensure that if you fall in you have a means of not loosing your paddle or boat. Consideration needs to be of how long and where to attach it to. This is something that you should be asking before going afloat.


These again are becoming more available and are a great way to get you or your family out on the water. If choosing these ensure that they will be able to support the weight you intend to use. They are very susceptible to the wind and therefore consideration as to where to use them should be high on the agenda. With these you should be aware of where you are going and have a plan to be able to deal with a puncture.


Paddling can be a very rewarding sport / pastime. To get the most out of the sport you would be well placed to get some training before taking it up and once you have started.

Training providers are available right around the country in all the disciplines. They should be able to find either a skills course or safety training suitable for you or your family. 

Clubs are another great way to get into the sport and are again available throughout the country. They can offer a schedule of trips and training for their members which will ensure that you have people to paddle with as well as enhancing your skills.


To get the most out of your time on the water choosing the right clothing is vital. What to wear is subject to many things including:

  • Time of year
  • Type of activity chosen
  • Skill level
  • Environment

Whatever the answer to these questions you have choices to what you wear. Whatever the choice you should be able to stay warm enough if there is a capsize until you can get back to the side / car or base.

So choices are:

  • Wetsuits - full length type which will keep you warm if you are going to be in the water lots but otherwise isn’t the most comfortable for paddling in.
  • Alternatively you could have the long john type. These offer warmth and comfort for paddling. On top you would need to wear some good quality thermals and then a waterproof / windproof cag. These cag’s come in several different types from full dry cags which have latex seals at the neck and wrists to keep the water out through to walking type jackets.
  • For the legs you have waterproof / windproof trousers that again can be paddling specific or general walking waterproofs.
  • For the feet you have a range of choices from wet suit boots to specific paddling shoes to crocs.

For all of these activities you should choose dependent on many factors but chief amongst these will be ensuring that if you end up in the water you can contend with difficulties until you get to the side and can change.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

There are different types of flotation devices available for those that are taking part in paddling activities.

Buoyancy Aid or Life Jacket?

Buoyancy Aids

Buoyancy Aids are designed to be used by those that can swim and are close to help. They do also have many features that we require as paddlers. 

  • They have permanent buoyancy in them. So you don’t have top do anything at any time to benefit from this. 
  • They offer protection around the body from any impact.
  • They also offer protection from cold. As they wrap right around the upper body they can keep some warmth in.
  • They allow us to train in rougher water including going under the water and through waves.
  • They also have space to carry some vital equipment such as whistle, knife and extra food.

Some buoyancy aids, especially for the children have leg loops on them. These ensure that the buoyancy aid doesn’t ride up when in the water and stays in place. 

Life Jackets

Life Jackets also come in a range of different types again for different activities on the water. 
The main difference is that they have a collar that will turn you onto your back so that your mouth and nose are held out of the water.
Some of the life jackets need either you to do something to inflate them or they self inflate on hitting water. These types don’t offer any of the advantages listed for the buoyancy aids and therefore wouldn’t be suitable for paddling activities.

If however, you can’t swim or have young children (under 7) then there are life jackets that may be better suited.
These have fixed buoyancy that is similar to a buoyancy aid but with the addition of a fixed collar on the back.
This means that similar to a buoyancy aid there is always buoyancy there with the advantage that if you end up in the water then the jacket will turn you over onto your back so that your mouth and nose are clear of the water.
These are available for both children and adults.

While these life jackets would aid those that can’t swim or the young children. They would suffer if you are looking to progress in your paddling and are doing rescue or rolling work.

Whatever you choose you must ensure the following is considered:

  • That it fits well. You start at the bottom and ensure that it is comfortably tight round the middle and work up to the shoulder straps. This will ensure that it will not ride up if you are in the water.
  • It has high visibility markers on it.
  • It has a whistle attached.
  • You don’t overload it with extras in any pockets. An overloaded PFD can prevent you from getting back in your craft if there is a capsize or might not even float you.

Acknowledgement of Experience

When paddling it is important that you recognise your own abilities and experience. 

To get the most enjoyment out of your paddling it is vital that you take some key steps to ensure that you stay safe as well as progress at the right pace.

These steps are:

  • Environment ~ choose one where you are not pushing yourself beyond your capabilities. This could be the weather that you go out in, the type of water and how far from help you are. Ensure that you do this progressively and that you have strategies to deal with the problems.
  • Staying within depth ~ depending on your ability this is a lot to do with how far of shore you go. Could you still swim to the side if you needed to? How far from help are you? These are vital in your development and enjoyment that you get from paddling.
  • Length of session ~ When first starting don’t get too excited and take on a big journey. Develop your fitness for paddlesport and gently increase the time on the water and the distance travelled. Start of slowly and build up. If you are out with young children then keep the sessions short so that they can stay warm and enjoy the activities.
  • Spares ~ carry them with you. These could include spare clothes, hats and gloves through to having a spare paddle. These will be dependent on the time of year and type of activity that you are doing. You should also consider some food and drink especially taking the means for getting a hot drink as well. If you are intending on going out for long and taking a break during the session you can become cold very quickly. Having a shelter with you is a great way to keep out of the elements. Things such as tarps or group shelter help greatly here.
  • Float plan ~ before going afloat have a plan on what you are planning and where you are going. Does someone else know where you will be? Do you have the means to contact others in case of an emergency? Having thought about these things will give you the piece of mind that you have things in place to deal with any unseen issues.

Where to Go Paddling

Finding locations for paddling can be a daunting task for those new to the sport. The best way to get started is through joining an SCA Affiliated Club or by taking a course at an Approved Paddlesports Provider. If unsure first use the website or contact the SCA office directly.