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Educate Yourself and Trust Your Judgment

Learning the basics from more experienced boaters is a safe way to begin in any of the boating sports – whitewater and touring kayaking, rafting, SUP, canoeing, etc. However, you can learn only so much from following others. To fully master your sport, you need to develop independent skills and learn to trust your own judgment. Here are some tips for doing this.

There is a wealth of information out there, books, videos and the great resources of the Internet. To become a better boater, become a “student of boating.” Find resources that deal with boat control techniques, safety considerations and rescue/recovery expertise. Study guidebooks of specific waters that you plan to boat.

A couple of good websites for whitewater boaters are www.boatertalk.com and www.mountainbuzz.com. Both have forums for different types of boaters, including ones for people looking for boating companions. A site more applicable to flatwater kayaking and canoeing is www.paddling.net, with articles on a wide range of topics and several types of forums.

A good source of information on specific waters you want to boat are retailers in your area. Check our Dealer Locator for stores near you. Outfitters who run trips on these waters can be a good resource. Remember, they make their money taking paying customers, so don’t abuse their kindness. However, within reason, most outfitters will help you out; they’re boaters too. Check for boating clubs in your area.

Take time to practice the skills you learn from your study. For kayakers, time spent in a pool in the winter can sharpen roll and paddle handling skills. Kathy & Bill Schneider recently wrote us a good suggestion - on the water, in a pool or lake, take a soccer-size beach ball and bat it back and forth between two or more paddlers. They say it really helps you practice balance, bracing, paddle strokes, etc. Plus, it’s good exercise and fun!

Really learn to “read” water. Take time to study rapids, analyzing the flow patterns and eddy lines. Look from both up and down stream and study from close to river level. Mastering this important skill of the river runner’s art will boost your confidence in your own abilities and make you less dependent on following the lines of others.

For touring boaters, practicing paddle float and other types of recovery techniques is essential, even if you have a roll. This can be done in a pool, but it’s more realistic to practice in conditions similar to what you’ll be boating in. Roger Schumann, co-author of Sea Kayak Rescue, covers this and other tips in Sea Kayak Safety Begins at Home.

Learning and practicing the skills that give you the confidence to trust your own judgment will make you a better and a safer boater. You’ll be more relaxed and you’ll have more fun!