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Safety on the Water

By Greg Taylor

SO, now that we are dealing with this lifestyle-changing, pandemic virus lockdown, I’m hearing on the street and in the news that personal watercraft and bicycles are flying off the shelves. Go to any Walmart and try to buy a bike, or Menards for a kayak, or Dick’s for a canoe. These places are making a killing selling them. Tires and inner tubes for bikes are virtually non-existent. I know most of you who are reading this are highly interested in personal propulsion watercraft. So there is now definitely a fairly large new group of paddlers plying local streams, lakes, and rivers. We are now looking at a large potential group of people not following highly suggested guidance on safe paddling, such as not drinking while enjoying their easy going paddle down a wide beautiful river like the Fox in Illinois. I am not going to say it is not tempting, yes it surely is, but two things should make you think twice: first one is about as easy as the second one. First, I wouldn’t want to have to be forced into a decision-defining moment such as a strainer while inebriated. The second is just as easy. I am not driving home buzzed.

Newbies to our time-honored fabulous sport need a tremendous amount of training and time in the saddle to paddle safely. So while writing this article, I was unfortunately disturbed to open my Facebook feed and find a video of a man at Hammel Woods caught in a low head dam. Commentators stated, “he just wanted to go fishing.” Later I opened up Facebook again and a gentleman that I found I’ve met before at PSC training session posted an article about a family of six that were rescued from the DuPage River near Channahon on Sunday. Their rafts became deflated and they luckily found shelter on a tree in the water. Some of the individuals were found with personal floatation devices, others were not. Sorry to be such a downer during an even more depressing social disaster we are all having to live through, but potentially life-ending situations like this are absurd to be happening. I can only fear that they are only going to increase through the summer into late fall. The uninformed in our sport are also creating an unnecessary danger to themselves. I am thinking it is time to make it mandatory that people must pass a test and become certified before buying a canoe, kayak, stand up paddle board, etc. You need a driver’s license before you can buy a car. You have to have a pilot’s license to fly a plane. You need a FOID card before you can buy a firearm in this state. Anyone can discharge a firearm like anyone can successfully paddle a boat? Although possible, not the wisest decision without the proper training.
Editor’s note: IPC has been working with the WSF to address the issue of newcomers to the sport by contacting the big box stores to give out safety information.  Please see more about their latest work here.

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