Lights, PFDs and Float Plan make for Safer Paddling

–  Nicki Polan, Executive Director, Michigan Boating Industries Association

Paddle sports, especially kayaking is one of the fastest growing segments of the boating industry and Michigan has some of the best paddling opportunities in the country. Paddlers can enjoy quiet inland lakes and rivers as well as miles of water trails, and more than 3,200 miles of freshwater coastline. For those lucky enough to be lakefront property owners your amazing paddle adventure is right outside your door.

We own two kayaks and don’t use them nearly as much as we would like to, but when we do we always bring along two very important things – a life jacket and lights, and we always let someone know we are headed out.

We see kayakers almost every time we are out on the lake. I notice that many choose not to wear life jackets, which surprises me. I’m hoping that they do however follow the Michigan law which states that, “Vessels less than 16 feet (including canoes and kayaks) must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or IV PFD for each person on board.”  The Michigan DNR reports that more than 70% of boating fatalities are caused by drowning.  So, it is prudent (and legally required) to always paddle with a life jacket just in case you or someone else needs it.

Equally important for kayakers are navigation lights at night. One recent evening, when out on the lake to see the cherry moon, we came across a group of five paddlers who were completely in the dark.  We could not see them until they were about 40 feet away. They had no lights on their kayaks, or persons. This could be very dangerous.

Check with the Michigan DNR for updates to this law but the information I found states that all human-powered vessels (canoe, kayak) or for a sailing pleasure craft of less than 23 feet in length not under power, when underway, the operator shall, from sunset to sunrise, display, if practical, sidelights and a stern light, but if the operator cannot, he/she must have at hand, a flashlight or lighted lantern emitting a white light which must be lit in enough time to prevent a collision.  Whether it is a headlamp, white glow necklace, or an aftermarket kayak light mounted on a suction cup, magnet or rigid pole – making yourself visible at night to other boaters makes all the sense in the world.

And finally, before heading out for your paddling adventure, let someone know who is going, where you are going, and when you plan to be back. This is called a float plan and serves as a back up should you get stuck, injured, overturn, or just get too tired to make it back.

Happy boating and happy paddling, we all share the water together.