Our safety record
What went wrong
In our groups history there were only 6 on-water incedents that were risky enough to be worth remembering, the 2 of the 3 worst incidents were in kayaks. Considering that 99% of our paddling miles are in canoes, that's significant. In all off the incidents, all the paddlers were using double bladed paddles. I'm not trying to frighten anyone. Only one of the incedents was even close to life threatening, yet the pattern is clear. There is more risk when paddling kayaks and when paddling with double bladed paddles.
This information is not presented to frighten anyone. It's to show just how easily mishaps can be avoided. All but one could have been avoided by learning the proper way to use a single bladed paddle, the other by checking equipment before using it.
Here's the breakdown, from almost a close call down to minor mishap.
The worst was in a kayak. The paddler could eskimo-roll a solo canoe, but tended to over-power the roll in a kayak. After going from upside-down past rightside-up and back to upside-down repeatedly during a practice session, he couldn't get it up one last time. On attempting to bail out, he found the release ball was tucked inside under the sprayskirt. He had a few long moments to worry before being assisted. Cause: Improper equipment checkout, lack of experience with the equipment.
The second closest call in a canoe was on ice cold class 2 whitewater in a blizzard. The bow paddler went to take a stroke and his paddle met with no resistance. He thinks that the canoe was up on a wave and the paddle was in a trough, but it's far more likely that his blade was rotated 90 degrees from where he thought it was. He lost his balance and fell over the side. His boot got stuck under the seat, so the stern paddler had to roll the boat to release him. It took only a few minutes to swing the boat and occupants into shore with a throw bag, but the bow paddler was nearing hypothermia. Cause: Training error. Habitually paddling with an unfeathered double caused the missed stroke after he feathered it because of the wind. Insufficient single stick skills to use the proper paddle under the conditions. Failure to wear a wetsuit.
The next was on brownwater river. The paddler was told by his friends that kayakers didn't need to wear PFD's because kayaks are so safe and stable. He clipped a stump on a tight turn and rolled right out of the 12 foot Old Town kayak. He panicked and tried to claw his way up on top of the overturned kayak with his fingernails. We tossed him a throwbag so he would have something to grasp and had him stable inside of 20 seconds, back in the kayak in 3 minutes. Cause: Dificulty of drawing a kayak directly sideways with a double bladed paddle, misinformation on safety and lack of paddling skills (No low or high brace, weak draw) Lack of single paddle skills, he was in the kayak because he couldn't handle a canoe alone.
A solo paddler in a tandem canoe using a double paddle was unable to draw sideways to a safe position to pass through a hazard. He rotated at an angle and paddled forward in the new direction, kayak style, only to hit the downed tree sideways. The situation was not unusual for him. It was only hazardous that time because of the high possibility of entrapment or injury if he capsized. Cause: Dificulty of drawing a canoe directly sideways with a double bladed paddle. Unwilling to use a single paddle because the canoe dealer said the double was a better choice.
A different solo paddler in a tandem canoe using a double paddle was unable to draw sideways to a safe position to pass through a hazard. He rotated at an angle and paddled forward in the new direction, kayak style, only to capsize on an unseen stump. The situation was not unusual for him. It was only hazardous that time because he was washed up against a bridge pileing and required assistance. Cause: Dificulty of drawing a canoe directly sideways with a double bladed paddle. Unwilling to learn single paddle skills. Unwilling to use a single paddle.
Yet another solo paddler in a tandem canoe using a double paddle was unable to draw sideways to a safe position to avoid a boulder. Realizing if he hit it sideways he would probably wrap the canoe around the rock or capsize in whitewater, he chose to hit it dead on. The bow slid up on the rock only to have the current catch the stern, swing him sideways and roll him. He landed against something sharp an shaved off a patch of skin. Cause: Dificulty of drawing a canoe directly sideways with a double bladed paddle. Unwilling to learn single paddle skills or use a single paddle for anything other than retriveing his double paddle when he regularly lost it.
It's off the water where injuries are most likely. We have had encounters with poison ivy, a barefoot slip on a dry rock that resulted in a seriously lacerated foot, a slip on a wet rock that resulted in a wickedly pulled groin muscle and one young girl shut her sister's finger in a car door during an argument. If you watch where you squat to pee, wear the proper foot wear and don't piss of your sister, canoeing is a relatively safe sport.