Picture this: You’re out with your paddling buddy on a large lake in mid-summer. It’s late afternoon and you’ve had a great day so far.
In fact, earlier, you’d decided to check out an interesting island three or four miles further out than you’d originally planned to paddle. You went for it, touched shore, shot a few wildlife photos, and turned back toward the put-in to get back ashore in time for dinner.
Paddling into a light breeze, everything seems fine. The wind on your face is refreshing.
Suddenly, you notice frothy white caps flecking the water ahead. Dark sheets of dimpled waves are racing across the surface and directly at your boats. You hunker down and point into them.
A few seconds later, powerful swells of water begin rolling. One even swamps your boat a bit. The sun is going down fast, the air turns cooler. The gusts only continue, pushing you backwards in spite of your paddling strength. Spray and more white caps dance in all directions.
A strong breeze is now upon you. And the put-in? Miles away in the gathering darkness….Now what?
Luckily, this story is simply fiction and everything turns out fine in the end.
But the scenario is not uncommon: Weather forecasts are definitely useful, but conditions can change without warning.
Physical injury, a damaged boat, an “unrightable” capsize, missing or broken gear and other calamities can all turn a fantastic day on the water into a life-threatening situation where minutes matter.
This is where the Float Plan comes in.
Any time you plan to kayak for more than a couple of miles from shore in conditions that may turn, a float plan is a “must.” It’s a way to let someone onshore know where you plan to kayak, when you plan to return, who else is in your group, and more.
File (or give) a copy of your float plan to a friend or other reliable person before you start your excursion. Some people also leave a copy of their float plan (face down) on the dashboard or front seat of their automobile in the launch parking lot.
Do not file a float plan directly with the U.S. Coast Guard.
If you don’t arrive at your stated destination at the time you’ve indicated and rescue personnel need to be dispatched to locate you, they will have a valuable document to use in the process.
A float plan does not need to be fancy and you can easily download a template from the internet.
It typically includes the following information:
✔️ Description of the kayaks in the group (size, color, make, any identification numbers displayed on the kayaks, material composition of the boats – fiberglass, for example)
✔️ Total number of people in the paddling party
✔️ Your destinations along the way, including a sketch or description of the general route to be taken
✔️ Contact information for each person in the group (full name, ages, genders, any medical conditions or pertinent disabilities, mobile phone numbers, addresses, emergency contact information for each)
✔️ Timeframe of the outing, start to finish
✔️ Name and location of the launch ramp where you’ll put in. You might even wish to take a photo of the put in with your phone for sending later if needed.
✔️ Your auto vehicle’s location, make, model, year and license plate number
✔️ Any emergency gear or flares you will have onboard.
For added safety, the U.S. Coast Guard urges that all paddlers place an “If Found” sticker on their kayaks.
Why? If your boat is found unmanned and/or adrift, the information on this label will allow emergency responders to confirm if someone is actually in trouble and to collect information to help immediate search efforts. First responders deployed in search of unmanned paddle craft divert resources away from actual lives in distress.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get FREE “If Found” stickers to help label your boat.
Safety First – It Could Save a Life
As you can see, a float plan is an extremely easy but important document to prepare and share. Taking that one extra step could save lives and costly rescue efforts in the event your paddling excursion goes off track.
Remember, a float plan is meant to be a description of your general plan for a given outing. Certainly you can still be flexible once on the water. Either way, it’s a great idea, though. Not only will filing a float plan give you even greater peace of mind while paddling, but your friends and family will be comforted knowing they have a way to reach you if the need arises while you’re out there.
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When it comes to being outdoors and enjoying life, the mid-Atlantic region has it all! Centered between the more tropical southeastern states and the cooler, more varied seasons of the north, this area offers dozens of excellent paddling sites for all skill levels.
OK, so you’ve got your kayak, your sleeping bag, a tent and some bug spray. And you’re looking to go camping along a river for a couple of days. The key? Pack light and take only what you truly need. Remember that every ounce you pack is weight you’ll be moving as you paddle. Plan to conserve energy where and how you can.
Fur babies, in general, make some of the best companions on any adventure. If you own a dog, though, and you both love to kayak? Heaven on earth! Just you and your pooch, riding the waves and absorbing the joy of being in Nature makes everything ok.